ALCEDO, Antonio de (1735-1812) - THOMPSON, George Alexander (translator and editor). The Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies

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ALCEDO, Antonio de (1735-1812) - THOMPSON, George Alexander (translator and editor). The Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies. Containing an entire translation of the Spanish work of Colonel Don Antonio de Alcedo. London , Cambridge and Oxford : James Carpenter et al., 1812.


7 volumes: 5 volumes of text, 4to., (10 2/8 x 8 2/8 inches). Half-title in volume III only (preliminaries quite spotted). Contemporary diced calf, each panel elegantly decorated with borders of gilt fillets and blind roll tools of lilies surrounding a large central six pointed star of gilt fillets and blind foliate roll tools, spines finely decorated in five compartments with small gilt tools (expertly rebacked preserving the original spine). With 5 MAGNIFICENT AND EXTREMELY FINE large engraved folding maps by Aaron Arrowsmith in 20 folding mapsheets, each with contemporary hand-colour in outline, dissected and laid down on linen, folding into 2 book-style boxes uniformly bound with the text volumes in contemporary diced calf gilt.

Provenance: From the library of the Earls of Bradford, at Weston Park , Shropshire , with their engraved 19th-century armorial bookplate on the front paste-down of each volume.    


First edition in English, first published in Madrid as "Diccionario geográfico-histórico de las Indias Occidentales ó América: es á saber: de los reynos del Perú, Nueva España, Tierra Firme, Chile, y Nuevo reyno de Granada" in five volumes from 1786 to 1789.    

The EXCEPTIONALLY FINE folding maps are in effect the most important printed atlas of the Americas of the early 19th-century, and are of:  

"A Map of the United States of North America Drawn from a Number of Critical Researches", the title within a fine vignette showing Niagara Falls, London: A. Arrowsmith, 1796, Additions 1802, 4 sheets (each 25 x 29 inches), each laid down on cartographic linen in 12 sections, trimmed with blue silk, and with the short-title in manuscript on vellum finger tabs. A FINE EXAMPLE OF ARROWSMITH'S IMPORTANT MAP of America, first issued 1796, this is the second edition with Additions to 1802, third issue with Arrowsmith's address given as "10 Soho Square", and Arrowsmith is now styled "Hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales". The 1802 edition is the last of Arrowsmith's large American maps to be issued before the Louisiana Purchase and it is known that Thomas Jefferson ordered himself a copy at about the same time as the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It is also the edition that Lewis and Clark consulted for their monumental expedition. Arrowsmith's 'Map of the United States of North America' is the most desirable from his well noted career. Stephens 79 (e). 

"A Map Exhibiting all the New Discoveries in the Interior Parts of North America", January 1st, 1795 and additions to 1811, additions to June 1814, 4 sheets (each 25 x 29 4/8 inches), each laid down on cartographic linen in 12 sections, trimmed with blue silk, and with the short-title in manuscript on vellum finger tabs. This issue incorporates Lewis and Clark's discoveries and other explorers, and remaps the entire continent west of the Mississippi. The changes between this and the previous 1811 edition "are monumental" (Rumsey). 

"Outlines of the Physical and Political Divisions of South America Delineated by A. Arrowsmith Partly from Scarce and Original Documents, Published before the Year 1806 but principally from manuscript Maps & Surveys made between the years 1771 and 1806. Corrected from Accurate Astronomical Observations to 1810", with insets of the Orinoco and Meta Rivers, and Patagonia, showing Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands, London: A. Arrowsmith, 4th January 1811, Additions to 1814, 1817, 6 sheets (each 32 x 40 4/8 inches), each laid down on cartographic linen in 16 sections, trimmed with blue silk, and with the short-title in manuscript on vellum finger tabs.

"A New Map of Mexico and Adjacent Provinces, compiled from Original Documents", with insets "Valley of Mexico from Mr. Humboldt's Map", "Acapulco" and "Veracruz", London: A. Arrowsmith, 5th October, 1810, 4 sheets (each 26 x 32 4/8 inches), each laid down on cartographic linen in 12 sections, trimmed with blue silk, and with the short-title in manuscript on vellum finger tabs. FIRST EDITION, with "Hydrographer to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales" in the title, showing the boundary of Texas following Humboldt's map, and without two groups of islands, Lobos, and Otter Island off the coast of California.

Arrowsmith's map if Mexico is an important foundation map of Texas and the southwest, and includes all of the present day southwestern United States from the upper and lower Mississippi river to California, south of the 42nd parallel. The boundary of the Texas Louisiana border runs along the Mermeto river and follows the official Spanish position as reported by Humboldt. This is the first large scale map to depict the important discoveries of Pike and Humboldt in the southwest, and influenced other cartographers of the era. Arrowsmith's "map of Mexico, which first appeared in 1810, was bitterly criticized by Humboldt as a blatant plagiarism of his own maps. While there is no doubt that Arrowsmith did use Humboldt's data to best advantage, his map was no mere copy. For his improved rendering of the Brazos River, if for no other reason, Arrowsmith's depiction of the Texas area merits inclusion as a landmark in the cartography fo the region" (Crossroads of Empire - Amon Carter Museum exhibit, June 1981). "In interior detail. . . the Arrowsmith maps are quite distinct, with [that of] Mexico being far superior. Most noticeably, Arrowsmith added the Brazos River, which he had omitted entirely on the 1803 map, and he correctly named the Trinity River, which he had previously called the 'Rio Arrokisos" (Wheat - Transmississippi West 295 & pp. 27-28). "Relying on information provided to him by the Hudson's Bay Company, [Arrowsmith] added significant details in the Northwest, and his depiction of the California coast was probably taken from the British explorer Vancouver's own charts. In the Texas area he undoubtedly used Pike's renditions of the rivers, particularly of the Brazos and Guadelupe, while he followed Humboldt in tracing the coast from the Spanish Hydrographic Office chart. . .By combining the best parts of Humboldt's and Pike's maps and avoiding their errors, and by adding his own new information, Arrowsmith contributed a significantly improved depiction of the region" Martin & Martin 25. See also Phillips America p.408; Streeter 1046; Taliaferro 202.Streeter Texas 1046A.

"Chart of the West Indies and Spanish Dominions in North America", London: A. Arrowsmith, 1803, Additions to 1810, 4 sheets, joined to make 2 maps (each 24 x 57 inches), each laid down on cartographic linen in 18 sections, trimmed with blue silk, and with the short-title in manuscript on vellum finger tabs.

Thompson, the translator and editor of the "Dictionary", says in his advertisement for the work: "in order to render these volumes as perfect as possible, the position of every place has been carefully revised, and corrected according to Mr. Arrowsmith's several maps of North America, of the United States, of the West India Islands, of Mexico, and of South America, the last of which has been recently constructed form original materials, which till lately remained inaccessible at Madrid and at Lisbon; whilst, at the same time, all the places not heretofore found in his maps have been inserted from the Dictionary, as it issued sheet by sheet from the press. The above maps of Mr. Arrowsmith ... will consequently be ready to be delivered at a somewhat reduced price to the subscribers to this book, about the time of the publication of the last volume, and will form a complete ATLAS to Alcedo, who had no means of improving and illustrating his dictionary by so important a supplement." 

An acclaimed British cartographer, Aaron Arrowsmith drafted accurate, detailed charts that earned him the titles of Hydrographer to the King of England and Geographer to the Prince of Wales, extremely important distinctions during an era when Britain ruled the waves. One of the first great British cartographers of North America, Arrowsmith introduced a new standard of excellence in mapmaking in the late 18th century and almost single-handedly made London the center for the cartographic trade. Arrowsmith built his great success on this ability to attract both commercial and general viewers through his combination of visual and scientific appeal. The most influential and respected map publisher of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Arrowsmith issued maps that were the result of careful synthesis rather than systematic, scientific inquiry. His role in cartographic production was to gather the best available information from a wide variety of sources, weigh the relative merits of conflicting data, and compile the most accurate depiction possible of an area. Arrowsmith accomplished this synthesis better than any other commercial mapmaker of his day and, as a result, his maps were the most sought after and highly prized on three continents. Sabin 368.