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The First National Atlas of the United States. The Exceptionally Rare 1783 Edition of Jeffery’s American Atlas.
Thomas Jefferys' American Atlas was one of the four great atlases of the Colonies available during the Revolution - along with Faden's North American Atlas, Des Barres' Atlantic Neptune, and Jefferys and Sayer's A General Topography of North America - and it was certainly the most actively published and used. This edition is of particular interest, as it is the first national atlas issued after the cessation of hostilities to proclaim the existence of the United States. Although the title page is dated 1782, in actuality it was almost certainly issued after the June 20, 1783 iteration of the Treaty of Paris, but before August 15, 1783. The operative maps are Stevens & Tree's numbers 4(e) [map 1]; 49(h) [maps 5-6]; and 51(d) [map 7], all of which rank among the very first English-language maps to include "United States" (or some allusion thereto) in the title. Sayer & Bennett were quick to update the American Atlas to conform to the developments across the Atlantic and with the negotiations at Versailles (indeed they went to press before the thing was officially settled), however demand for the book must have been far weaker than it was during the actual fighting, and examples of this edition are rarer than their wartime counterparts. P1169 is a 1782-but-1783 issue, although that example wants the important seventh map declaring the United States. The next post-war edition of the atlas would come more than a decade later, in 1794, when resurrected by Laurie & Whittle.
Other than the incomplete Library of Congress copy, we have found only the Newberry Library (Ayer 135 .J46 1782) copy of the 1782-but-1783 edition of the Atlas. Provenance: William Pyne; Frederic Bronson.
Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794) was a prominent London map publisher. Robert’s father was a lawyer, but his older brother married Mary Overton, the widow of prominent mapmaker Philip Overton and the proprietor of his shop after his death. Mary continued the business for roughly a year after her marriage and then, in early 1748, it passed to Robert. Robert became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company later that year; his first advertisement as an independent publisher was released in December.
Sayer benefited from Overton’s considerable stock, which included the plates of John Senex. In the 1750s, Sayer specialized in design books and topographical prints, as well as comic mezzotints. In 1753, he, along with John Roque, published a new edition of Thomas Read’s Small British Atlas, the first of several county atlases that Sayer would publish.
Sayer’s business continued to grow. In 1760 he moved further down Fleet Street to larger premises at 53 Fleet Street. In 1766, he acquired Thomas Jefferys’ stock when the latter went bankrupt. In 1774, he entered into a partnership with John Bennett, his former apprentice. The pair specialized in American atlases, based on the work of Jefferys. They also began publishing navigational charts in the 1780s and quickly became the largest supplier of British charts in the trade.
Bennett’s mental health declined, and the partnership ended in 1784. As Sayer aged, he relied on his employees Robert Laurie and James Whittle, who eventually succeeded him. He spent more and more time at his house in Richmond. In 1794, he died in Bath.
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