An extremely rare copy of the atlas that broke Britain’s final symbolic grip on America following the Revolution is expected to sell for up to $120,000 at Swann Auction Galleries in New York on December 5.
The American Pilot: Containing the Navigation of the Sea-Coast of North-America, originally published in 1791, was instrumental in the United States taking control of its own mapping – a service previously dominated by the British – and at last gave the New England commercial fleets the charts they needed to navigate East Coast waters under American control.
Although published in a number of editions between 1791 and 1816, The American Pilot is one of the rarest of all American atlases, partially because it was designed for use on board ships, where many would have been lost or destroyed. Separate charts from the Pilot occasionally appear at auction, but a complete issue is extremely rare, and it is thought that less than a dozen survive from all of the editions.
Assembled and engraved by John Norman (1748-1817) and based on contemporary surveys, it followed the first American marine atlas, Matthew Clark’s A Complete Set of Charts of the Coast of America, published in 1790, for which Norman engraved two of the charts before deciding to produce his own atlas, the Pilot. The title reflects its challenge to The English Pilot, The Fourth Book, a British publication of 1775 charting the same waters, thus indicating the new supremacy of the United States.
The number of charts varies between nine and 12 among the editions, covering the coastline and waters between Maine and Georgia.
This 1810 issue features 11 charts, from A Chart of Nantucket Shoals. Via Chart from New York to Timber Island. To A Chart of South Carolina and Georgia. It also includes A New General Chart of the West Indies from the Latest Marine Journals and Surveys.
“These charts of the coastline from Maine to Georgia were genuinely significant, offering accurate sailing directions to the growing fleets of commercial pilots in the post-Revolutionary War period,” said Swann specialist Caleb Kiffer.