JOHNSON, Alvin Jewett (1827-1874). Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas of the World…with Descriptions Geographical, Statistical, and Historical. New York: A. J. Johnson, Publisher, 1873.

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Folio, (18 ½ x 14 5/8 inches). 62 fine lithographed maps (many double-page) plus 9 physical maps, with original hand-color in full; 5 charts; frontispiece; 8 hand-colored plates; numerous in-text illustrations (very slight occasional browning). Quarter black morocco, original publisher’s green gilt pictorial cloth, the smooth spine in five compartments, gilt-lettered in one, all edges gilt (spine worn with loss).


Provenance: Faint contemporary ownership inscription to recto of first blank.

Later issue, first published in 1865. “Awarded the First Prize Medal at the Universal Exposition of 1867, in Paris” (from the title page). Johnson was a prolific map maker and publisher best known for his atlases, which were issued in numerous editions in the second half of the 19th century, beginning with the publication of Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas. Apparently Joseph H. Colton of the Colton family of map publishers sold his atlas plates to Johnson in 1860. That year the Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas was first published, when the territories of Colorado and Dakota were first making their appearance. The plates were based upon maps from previous Colton publications, although the decorative borders are reworked with a different motif. The Colton maps that Johnson appropriated were engraved on steel plates and then transferred to lithographic stones for printing, rather than being produced using the cheaper wax engraving method commonly used by other U.S. map publishers in this period. Cartographic scholars speculate that the Coltons chose the method for its better quality, having set their sights on competing with European publishers in the higher-end atlas market. The Johnson atlas was published in revised editions until 1885. Because of the time period spanned by its publication, the different editions of the Johnson atlas are an excellent chronicle of the westward expansion of the United States, as well as the geographical effects of the Civil War. Johnson maps are recognized by red and green hand coloring and visually distinctive borders, referencing iron scroll work and Celtic inspired motifs.