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John Speed the English cartographer

RICHARD NICHOLSON of CHESTER

A WORLD OF ANTIQUE MAPS AND PRINTS

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THE CARTOGRAPHER

JOHN SPEED

An English cartographer who you are likely to have heard of as his maps have been reproduced more than any other early maps

The Theatre
of the Empire of Great Britaine

Maps of England, Wales Scotland and Ireland as well as maps of the English and Welsh Counties, the Islands and the Irish Provinces

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If you go through the little village of Farndon in Cheshire today you are unlikely to see anything to draw your attention to the fact that John Speed was born there. Perhaps, given time, much will be made of the event but today, as in 1552, the happening is, and was, taken as an every day event and John was called John after his father and as soon as he was old enough sewed up the similarity by following in his father's fashion, the trade of a tailor.
At the age of 18 John Speed was admitted to the freedom of the Merchant Tailor's Company in London. He rented somewhere to live and a garden in Moorfields for twenty shillings a year.

At the age of 20 he married and continued his manual employment in the business of garments. Doubtless he was well employed for these were the days of Queen Elizabeth when colour and style in dress left a vivid and interesting image in our island history.

Undoubtedly a fine family man, John Speed could apply only his spare time to history and mapmaking, for tailoring brought in the money to bring up his brood of twelve sons and six daughters. His son Samuel in later years became implicated in a plot against Cromwell and was forced to flee the country for the West Indies where he joined some buccaneers and later became a sea chaplain.

Perhaps we would not have seen the fine maps of John Speed if a courtier of good literary taste and discernment had not used his influence to further the careers of talented men. The courtier was Sir Fulke Greville, the first Lord Brooke, a lifelong friend of Sir Philip Sydney.

Thus is was in 1598, with Speed at the age of 48, that Queen Elizabeth gave him a Waiters room in the custom house and at last Speed was able to pass onto us what had been in his mind.

He first devoted himself to writing a history and preparing a series of county maps of England and Wales. Between 1605 and 1610 he collected material including manuscript maps, coats of arms, portraits, drawings of antiquaries and rubbings of coins which he passed onto Jodocus Hondius in Amsterdam who engraved most of the maps for the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain. During this time Speed must have travelled extensively in the British Isles acquiring information for his unique series of town plans that appear on his maps, which are the earliest recorded plans for many of the towns featured, Proofs of his maps were issued between 1608 and 1610 and in 1611-12 all 67 maps were published in atlas form under the title The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain.

It was a most successful publication. Many copies sold and further editions were to appear for over one hundred years. Speed also prepared maps of the countries of the world, These appeared in A Prospect of the most famous parts of the World.

Maybe you will find a suitable memorial to John Speed at St. Giles, Cripplegate where John Speed finally came to rest on the 28th July, 1629. He was aged 77 and had suffered blindness and gall stones in a none too enlightened era. The good work he did, however, lives after him and the pleasure derived by discerning collectors who own one of more of his original maps is adequate evidence of his being one of the virile hard-working and inspired stars of the Elizabethan era.

Editions

How to Date John Speed Maps

John Speed's maps were so popular during the 17th and 18th centuries that they were published many times. This is a rough guide to the various editions of his atlas.

A very good way to date a John Speed map is by the style of the woodcut initial that starts the descriptive text on the reverse side of the map. The style changes with each change of publisher

Date
Remarks
1611-12
  •  Style of woodcut initial used in John Speed's Theatre in 1611-12

    Style of woodcut initial used in John Speed's Theatre in 1611-12

Style of the woodcut initial on verso

The first edition, fine dark impressions, very often on thick paper. Sometimes have large blank margins at the top and bottom. English text on verso of each map, much of the content being taken from Camden's Britannia. Published by John Sudbury and George Humble although the name of Humble only appears on some of the maps. Printed by William Hall and John Beale
1614
Another good early edition with dark impressions. English text reset on verso. Published by John Sudbury and George Humble, Printed by Thomas Snodham.
1616
A rare edition and the only one to have Latin text on the verso of each map. Good dark impressions Published by John Sudbury and George Humble.
1623
Edition with English text on verso.
1627
A good edition published by George Humble alone although the name of John Sudbury who was now retired continues to appear on some of the maps. The first edition to include the map of the Invasions of England, Wales and Ireland. The English text on verso was reset for this edition. Printed by John Dawson. The first edition in which the Prospect of the World was added. Printed by John Dawson.
1631 - 2
Published by George Humble. Reset English text on verso. Published with the Prospect by John Dawson.
1646
  •  Style of woodcut initial used in John Speed's Theatre in 1646

    Style of woodcut initial used in John Speed's Theatre in 1646

Style of the woodcut initial on verso

This edition was printed by John Legatt and published by William Humble, the elder son of George Humble. English text again.
1650-51-52-53-54
More editions by William Humble
1662 - 5
The only edition to be published by Roger Rea who changed all the imprint panels to accommodate the names of Roger Rea the Elder and Younger. The date of 1610 which had continued to appear on some of the maps is now changed to 1662 on some maps. Printed by Mary and Samuel Simmons.
1676
A popular edition published by Thomas Bassett and Richard Chiswell. The impressions are lighter but the margins are usually wider than the previous editions. There were some specimens printed on a thick paper The English text on verso was reset for this edition, A number of interesting maps of North America and one of the Holy Land were added to the Prospect for this edition.
circa 1690 - 95
A rare edition by Christopher Browne who erased the imprint of Bassett and Chiswell on the maps of Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Yorkshire and replaced it with "Christopher Browne, at the Globe near the West End of St. Paul's Church London". In the past 25 years we have only offered one complete series of these maps, featured in our Catalogue 14 in 1971.
1710 - 43
An edition published by Henry Overton whose imprint appears on the maps. The roads, following Ogilby's survey, were engraved onto the old plates for this edition. Plain on verso.
1770
A rare edition and the last edition published by Dicey & Co. Pale impressions. Plain on verso.

THEATRE OF THE EMPIRE OF GREAT BRITAINE

List of Maps

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British Isles
England and Wales
Saxon Heptarchy
Invasions of England and Wales (added in later editions)
Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumberland
Derbyshire
Devonshire
Dorsetshire
Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Huntingdonshire
Holy Island, Farne Islands, Guernsey, Jersey
Isle of Man
Isle of Wight
Kent
Lancashire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire.
Norfolk
Northamptonshire
Northumberland
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutlandshire
Shropshire
Somersetshire
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Sussex
Westmorland
Wiltshire
Warwickshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire
Yorkshire West Riding
Yorkshire North and East Ridings

Wales
Anglesey
Caernarvonshire
Denbighshire
Flintshire
Merionethshire
Montgomeryshire
Breconshire
Cardiganshire
Carmarthenshire
Glamorganshire
Monmouthshire
Pembrokeshire
Radnorshire

Scotland

Ireland
Munster
Leinster
Connaught
Ulster
Stacks Image 2208
Stacks Image 2210
Stacks Image 2212
Stacks Image 2214

JOHN SPEED

Born in 1552 Died in 1629

The story of how stock of the London map trade was acquired or passed from one to another is a fascinating one. The relationships between surveyors, mapmakers, engravers, publishers and mapsellers is often complex. I hope the following helps to illustrate the history of John Speed's map plates and a few other relationships.

The Story of the Copper Plates

John Sudbury

fl. 1599 - 1618

George Humble

(fl. 1603 - 40). Died in 1640

The business bequeathed to George Humble's Son.

William Humble

(fl. 1640 - 59) Published many editions of the Speed Atlas

Peter Stent


fl. 1641 - 1662. Acquired stock from William Humble but not the Speed plates. Published the series of anonymous county maps in 1650. Died in 1665

William Garrett. Publisher

His daughter married John Overton Purchased the Speed plates from William Humble in 1658 - 9. Did not use them but soon sold them to Roger Rea the elder and younger.

Roger Rea, the elder and the younger

(fl. 1660 - 67) Purchased the John Speed plates and published atlases in 1662 and 1665

Thomas Bassett (fl. 1659 - 93) and Richard Chiswell (fl.1639 - 1711)

Purchased the Speed plates from Roger Rea and published an atlas in 1676

Christopher Browne

(fl. 1688 - 1712) Purchased the Speed plates and published an atlas. Sold the Speed plates to John Overton.

John Overton (fl. 1665 - 1707)

Married the daughter of William Garrett Acquired stock of Peter Stent in 1665 Acquired Speed plates in 1700 from Christopher Browne. Disposed of his stock to his son Henry Overton in 1707.

Henry Overton (fl.1707 - 49)

Reissued the series of anonymous maps in 1708. Published Speed Atlas in 1713 and again in 1743

Cluer Dicey (fl. c.1740-0)

Acquired the Speed plates and published the last edition in 1770.

Hand Colouring

You may come across a few John Speed maps with colouring described as early. The publishers, however, did not advertise or sell the atlases coloured unlike some of the 17th century Dutch map publishers. No doubt you would have had to employ a colourist before the maps were bound into the atlas. The majority of John Speed maps arrived in the 20th century in an uncoloured state. Modern colouring is quite acceptable and the majority of present day collectors like their John Speed maps to be coloured. There are those, however, who would prefer to have a specimen as it was when published. The quality of the modern hand colouring is in my opinion extremely important and poor unattractive modern colouring can greatly reduce the value. I have seen some very poor modern hand colouring and it makes me despair. Did you know that many of the coats of arms on John Speed's maps are colour coded?

  •  Engraved portrait of the mapmaker John Speed dated 1629

    Engraved portrait of the mapmaker John Speed dated 1629

Engraved portrait of John Speed dated 1629

  •  Titlepage for Booke 2, John Speed 1616

    Titlepage for Booke 2, John Speed 1616

Titlepage for Book 2
- Rare 1616 edition

  •  Titlepage for John Speed Theatre Book 4, 1616

    Titlepage for John Speed Theatre Book 4, 1616

Titlepage for Book 4
- Rare 1616 edition

  •  Montgomeryshire by John Speed

    Montgomeryshire by John Speed

  •  Denbighshire by John Speed

    Denbighshire by John Speed

  •  Leinster by John Speed

    Leinster by John Speed

  •  Essex by John Speed

    Essex by John Speed

  •  Surrey by John Speed

    Surrey by John Speed

  •  Flintshire by John Speed

    Flintshire by John Speed

  •  Cardiganshire by John Speed

    Cardiganshire by John Speed

  •  Anglesey by John Speed

    Anglesey by John Speed

  •  Huntingdonshire by John Speed

    Huntingdonshire by John Speed

  •  Yorkshire North and East Ridings by John Speed

    Yorkshire North and East Ridings by John Speed

  •  Map of Flintshire by John Speed c.1710 with later hand colouring

    Map of Flintshire by John Speed c.1710 with later hand colouring

  •  Map of Nottinghamshire by John Speed, 1646

    Map of Nottinghamshire by John Speed, 1646

  •  Map of Bedfordshire by John Speed, 1646

    Map of Bedfordshire by John Speed, 1646

  •  Map of Yorkshire North and East Ridings by John Speed, 1646

    Map of Yorkshire North and East Ridings by John Speed, 1646

  •  Map of Huntingdonshire by John Speed, c.1695

    Map of Huntingdonshire by John Speed, c.1695

Text on Verso of Maps

  •  Merionehshire John Speed text 1646

    Merionehshire John Speed text 1646

  •  Yorkshire North and East Ridings John Speed text 1646

    Yorkshire North and East Ridings John Speed text 1646

List of Maps in the 1611 Edition of The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine

The First Booke
  • The Kingdome of Great Britaine and Ireland
  • Britain as it was devided in the tyme of the Englishe-Saxons
  • The Kingdome of England
  • Kent
  • Sussex
  • Surrey
  • Hantshire
  • Wight Island
  • Dorsetshyre
  • Devonshire
  • Cornwall
  • Somerset Shire
  • Wiltshire
  • Barkshire Desbribed
  • Middle-Sex described
  • Essex devided into Hundreds
  • Suffolke
  • Norfolk
  • Cambridgshire
  • Hartford Shire
  • Bedford Shire
  • Buckingham
  • Oxfordshire described
  • Glocestershire
  • Herefordshire
  • Worcester Shire
  • The Counti of Warwick
  • Northamton Shire
  • Huntington
  • Rutlandshire
  • Leicester
  • The Countie and Citie of Lyncolne
  • The Countie of Nottingham
  • Darbieshire described
  • Stafford countie and towne
  • Shropshyre
  • The Countye Palatine of Chester
  • The Countie Pallatine of Lancaster
  • York Shire
  • The West Ridinge of Yorkeshyre
  • The North and East Ridins of Yorkshire
  • The Bishoprick and Citie of Durham
  • The Countie Westmorland
  • Cumberland
  • Northumberland
  • Northumberland
  • The Isle of Man
  • The Islands of Farne, Garnsey, Holy Iland, Jarsey
The Second Booke
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  • Wales
  • Penbrokshyre described
  • Caermatden
  • Glamorgan Shye
  • The Countye of Monmouth
  • Breknoke
  • The Countie of Radnor dedscribed
  • Cardigan Shyre
  • Montgomery Shire
  • Merionethshire
  • Denbigh Shire
  • Flint-Shire
  • Caernarvon
  • Anglesey
The Third Booke
  • The Kingdom of Scotland
The Fourth Booke
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  • The Kingdom of Ireland
  • The Province of Mounster
  • The Countie of Leinster
  • The Province of Connaugh
  • The Province of Ulster

Modern Reproductins

There are modern reproductions of John Speed maps that the collector should be aware of. It is unlikely that once you have handled an original map by John Speed you are unlikely to be caught out by these reproductions but do take care when purchasing framed maps as it is more difficult to see the features.

I get two or three telephone calls a month about John Speed maps that people who have found them in their loft or been left them. Very often they are from a series of reproduction maps that have been sold widely for many years. They are very easy to spot and usually I can answer a telephone callers concerns by a few questions, such as. What is the paper like that the maps are printed on? If the answer mentions parchment then the answer is simple. It is a modern reproduction of little or no value. The map has no text on the back and no centre fold and the overall colour of the paper is brown. These maps have been sold in their thousands. I remember seeing them back in the 1970's in stationers shops and perhaps Smiths, folded into paper wallets with a transparent panel on the front showing part of the map. The fold lines are usually still evident.

So what to look out for when deciding if you have found an original or a reproduction Speed map

  • Original maps were printed on laid paper. Reproductions are printed on a paper with a flat surface and having no character
  • Original maps have a centre fold and evidence on verso of how the map was bound into the atlas
  • Original maps were printed by an inked copper plate pressing onto the paper. You should be able to find evidence of the edge of the plate where it has left an indentation just outside the printed area. Reproductions will not have this as they are printed by morden technics and lithography
  • Hold the map up to the light. You may see some watermarks but certainly lines showing it is hand made laid paper. Reproduction maps will have an all over similar texture and colour.
  • Original John Speed maps were never printed on a paper that resembles parchment so that is a simple one to identify.

AN ANTIQUE MAP OR PRINT MAKES THE PERFECT GIFT

RICHARD NICHOLSON of CHESTER

Stoneydale
Pepper Street
Christleton
Chester
CH3 7AG

Telephone
01244 336004

International
44 1244 336004

email:
richard@antiquemapscom

Richard Nicholson

I have been buying and selling antique maps since the early 1960's during which time I had a gallery in Watergate Street, Chester for 30 years. I am now able to offer through my websites a personal service to map and print collectors.

John Speed the English cartographer

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