Atlas minimus, or a Book of Geography shewing all the Empires Monarchies Kingdomes, Regions Dominions Principalities and Countries, in the whole World. By John Seller, Hydrographr to the King.

And are to be sold at his House at the Hermitage in Wapping. And in Pope’s Head Alley … [1678?]

12mo., engraved throughout: licence-leaf (with a small circular map above a blank cartouche), title-page within an elaborate border by James Clark, a double-page ‘Mapp of all the World’, and 52 single-page sectional maps on rectos with explanations on the facing versos; the 48-page letterpress ‘Geographical Description of the World’ not present (as often, see below); ownership signature of Timothy Mauleverer on the title-page dated 1705, with copious early annotations and a manuscript index in his minute but entirely legible hand. A fine and entirely unsophisticated copy in contemporary speckled calf, spine gilt with a floral motif, marbled edges.


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First edition in book form, second issue, of Seller’s charming miniature atlas, first published c. 1676 as playing cards, with the 52 maps divided into four suits and so numbered.

Seller’s Atlas Minimus, though not the first English world atlas, was the first composed on an entirely English model rather than from Dutch sources, and has a significance much beyond its diminutive size and its evidently popular audience. Thirteen maps are devoted to the Americas, including ‘New Mexico’, the first English map of New Mexico and California, and ‘Florida’, the first English map of the southern part of North America, from Florida to Texas. This second issue added ‘Pope’s Head Alley’ to the imprint, a premises occupied by Seller in 1678-81. The maps were available both with and without the ‘educational’ letter-press component (see for example the copies of both issues in the Wardington sale, bound as here). ‘The original set of playing cards is believed to have been prepared in 1676 or a year or so later’ (Shirley).

Seller had been a compass-maker and a vendor of navigational instruments, but after narrowly escaping execution for high treason in the early 1660s, he branched into publishing. ‘The trade in printed maritime atlases and charts had previously been wholly dominated by the Dutch. In terms of national mercantile aspiration this was clearly unsatisfactory … and when he proposed to produce English-printed maritime atlases he was soon given a royal licence, granted a virtual monopoly, and appointed hydrographer to the king in March 1671’ (Oxford DNB). In the event Dutch plates formed the basis of Seller’s first atlases, but he moved on to other ambitious projects including a survey of England and Wales, only partially completed. ‘For the remainder of his career, Seller’s output concentrated on less financially challenging material, in particular the production of miniature compendia and atlases of the type exemplified by the undated Atlas minimus and the Atlas caelestis (1680), the earliest British celestial atlas’ (ibid.)

Though he had decried Seller’s use of adapted Dutch plates in The English Pilot (1671), as a naval man Samuel Pepys recognised Seller’s worth, nothing that ‘till Seller fell into it we had very few draughts, even of our own coasts, printed in England’ (Naval Minutes, 238). The Atlas Minimus was the first properly English atlas; its reprint in c. 1705 by Senex and Price (the latter having been Seller’s apprentice) is a demonstration of Seller’s position as father to a generation of great British map-makers in the following century.

Timothy Mauleverer (1680-1753), of Arncliffe, Yorkshire, has annotated every map in the present volume with its geographical extent in longitude and latitude, and the first fifteen maps (Europe, plus China) with material derived from Peter Heylyn’s Cosmographie and Laurence Echard’s Most Compleat Compendium of Geography. For each country or empire he provides lists of regional divisions (and their geographical extent), chief towns, and the numbers of Archbishops, bishops and universities. The title and world map versos are annotated with more general material on poles, zones, tropics, the circumference and ‘solid content’ of the earth, its location according to Copernicus, and its division into ‘imaginary’, ‘real’ and ‘national’ parts.

Wing S 2465; Phillips, Atlases 490; Shirley, British Library, T.SELL-5a; Shirley, The Mapping of the World, 485-1 (the mappa mundi); Landis, European Americana 679/120; Sabin 79025.