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Bibliographical Notes on Nineteenth Century British Admiralty Charts
by Andrew David and Tony Campbell
In the December issue we included a general introduction to the history of British Admiralty charting by Tony Campbell. Here, he and Lieut-Commander Andrew David, RN of the Hydrographic Department, Ministry of Defence, Taunton plot a careful course through the bibliographical confusion surrounding the engraved charts. Armed with these comments on various aspects of their publication, particularly that of date, collectors and librarians should have a better understanding of the charts already in their possession or of those offered to them.
ADMIRALTY CHARTS OFTEN remain in print for many years after the initial date of publication, which is indicated in the imprint outside the bottom border. To determine the actual date (or the most likely period) of printing, a number of factors have to be taken into account. The notes that follow are intended to help in the understanding and dating of Admiralty charts. Except, however, where particular changes can be precisely pinpointed by reference to records in the Hydrographic Department at Taunton, the dates attached to them should be considered as no more than approximate. It is also likely that there were delays in incorporating some of these innovations onto the numerous copper plates involved.
Many of the dating criteria depend on observed differences to the constantly changing corpus of Admiralty charts. By the end of the nineteenth century this involved some 3,000 sheets, and it is not surprising that the herculean labour of making a systematic examination of all the widely scattered surviving charts remains to be attempted. Corrections and additions to these notes will be welcomed.
It used to be thought that the first Admiralty chart was issued in May 1801. The recent discovery of this sheet, however, pushes back the beginning of Admiralty chart publishing to at least November of the preceding year. Admiralty charts issued up to the end of Alexander Dalrymple's tenure as Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1808 look very much like the charts which Dalrymple published at the same time in his capacity as Hydrographer to the East India Company, and the two can easily be confused. This chart depicts Houat Island in Quiberon Bay, off the south coast of Brittany (By courtesy of Lieutenant Commander Andrew David RN).
Alexander Dalrymple issued what was probably the first Admiralty chart in November 1800. However, since he retained his earlier position as Hydrographer to the East India Company, and continued to publish charts in that capacity until 10 August 1807, the date of his last known East India Company chart, it is important to be able to distinguish between his Admiralty and East India Company charts. The matter is further complicated by the fact that after Dalrymple's death in 1808 the Admiralty acquired a large number of the copper plates of his East India Company charts and republished them in the Admiralty series. In addition, a considerable number of Dalrymple's East India Company charts were reprinted in the Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty prior to 1808, for use by the Royal Navy.
a East India Company
In their original form, Dalrymple's East India Company charts carry a simple imprint, such as:
Publish'd according to Act of Parliament, by A. Dalrymple Nov. 1st 1802.
East India Company charts with the Hydrographical Office hand-stamp (see note 3a, below) were almost certainly printed in the Hydrographical Office between 1804 and 1806, when Dalrymple made his plates available to the Admiralty for 1,000 guineas, a considerable saving on their commercial price of £3.462.
After Dalrymple's death, the copper plates of his East India Company charts were sold by auction in July 1810 and about 450 were acquired and republished by the Admiralty. With very few exceptions, these post-1810 examples can be distinguished by the addition of the engraved Hydrographical Office seal (see 3b) and, in a few cases, by alterations to the imprint – the name of Dalrymple's successor, Hurd, being substituted for his. Traces of the original imprint can often be made out with a magnifying glass. At the same time, the year was altered (though generally not the day or month). These imprint changes were made in 1810-14, with one noted in 1817, and mostly affected charts of the South Atlantic, south-east Africa and Madagascar. Since these were busier areas for the Royal Navy than points further east, this suggests that the imprint was altered and the engraved seal added on the exhaustion of stocks of the Dalrymple charts which had been printed in the Hydrographical Office about 1805.
At least twenty-five of Dalrymple's plates were held back by the East India Company, who continued to publish them long after 1810. These examples are sometimes found on paper bearing the East India Office device (known as the balemark) in its watermark. As an additional confusion, some of Dalrymple's East India Company charts, when taken over by the Admiralty, did not have the latter's engraved seal added. Unless these versions have a dated watermark of 1810 or later, they can only be recognized as Admiralty charts by their engraved price or chart number (see 4 & 5).
b Admiralty Charts
Dalrymple's Admiralty charts have a different form of imprint, for example:
Hydrographical Office Publish'd according to Act of Parliament Sept. 11th 1801 by A. Dalrymple Hydrographer to the Admiralty.
2 Dated watermarks
Up to the early 1860s, charts were habitually printed on watermarked paper. The mark included a maker's name (usually Whatman) and a date. This will appear on all full sheets (unless they have been trimmed) but not necessarily on those of smaller size. Because of the limited space available in the Admiralty and the need to avoid having to pulp too many out-of-date charts, it is known that, on the one hand, fresh supplies of paper were ordered regularly and, on the other, that limited numbers of impressions were printed for stock. Examination of the charts acquired by the Royal Society of Edinburgh between 1847 and 1861 revealed that the great majority of watermark dates were within a year of the imprint date.
3 Hydrographical office seal
Between 1804 and 1806, Dalrymple made his East India Company copper plates available to the Admiralty, who printed one hundred copies of each. These impressions are distinguished by the use of a specially cut hand-stamp. This was also employed on other privately printed charts purchased in sheet form by the Admiralty (see 10).
b Engraved (foul anchor alone)
The original engraved version of the Hydrographical Office seal consisted of the Admiralty foul anchor surrounded by inner and outer borders containing the words 'Hydrographical Office' with a star beneath, though a few examples without the star have been seen. Since the copper plates of Dalrymple's East India Company charts were only acquired by the Admiralty in 1810, this engraved seal could not have been added to them before that date. Other evidence suggests that the engraved seal was a post-Dalrymple development, anyway. Beaufort's chart of Montevideo, published in 1808, did not initially have an engraved seal, nor did any of the charts in a bound atlas, with printed title page, containing a mixture of Dalrymple's East India and Admiralty charts, which was issued about 1807. (A copy of this is held in the Hydrographic Department).
c Engraved (foul anchor and foliate surround)
About 1830, an additional surround of rose, thistle, shamrock and oak leaves (symbols of the countries in the British Isles) was added to the engraved seal and the initials of the current Hydrographer (see 14) inserted in lieu of the star. This revised form is broadly the same as that in use today.
Although the earliest use of the foliate surround was apparently in Smyth's atlas of Sicily in 1823 and on his subsequent charts of the Mediterranean, the device was not generally adopted until shortly after Beaufort became Hydrographer. A chart without the foliate surround and dated 9 November 1829 has been seen, while a chart of 18 February 1830 has been found with the amended form. The old style seal was rarely altered for charts remaining in print.
A further minor alteration occurred about 1837-8 when 'Hydrographical Office' in the seal was amended to 'Hydrographic Office', a term which had been used in a note in the Admiralty chart catalogue since 1827.
a Red ink
Admiralty charts were put on sale to the public on 30 June 1821. At first, the prices were written in red ink and then probably only on those charts that were offered for sale. A chart with the price added in red ink and with a watermark of 1820 has been seen, as has a chart without a price and with an 1826 watermark.
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