The history of the so-called miniature Speed atlas is long and complicated. Its beginnings present unanswered questions as three of the plates are dated 1599 by the engraver Pieter van der Keere. There was, however, no published edition until that of Willem Blaeu in 1617. The success of John Speed’s folio atlas first published in 1611- encouraged the publisher George Humble (1572-1640) to acquire this series of plates for a miniature version of the atlas. Some plates were re-worked, and several new ones engraved to expand the number of maps from 44 to 63. The first edition of ‘England Wales Scotland and IreLand Described’ was published in 1627. In 1646 a ‘Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World’ was published by his son William Humble (1611-86) to accompany it. The British atlas could be found bound with or without it.
In 1658 Humble sold his rights and the plates to William Garrett. By 1662 Garrett had transferred those rights to Roger Rea (1606-65). In that year Roger Rea, both father and son, published both works. Skelton, in his study of British county atlases, identified an edition between that of 1662 and 1666. He described it as being printed by Mary Simmons with reset text. The 1662 edition bears paragraph numbers. For the 1666 edition they were placed in brackets. The Gardner copy bore brackets, but the text had different speeling in several places. There was no title page present and on the basis that it contained the ‘Prospect’ dated 1665, it was assigned that date. Its present whereabouts are unknown. He speculated that the lack of a title page to the British section was due to a much-worn plate. Indeed it was, because this example contains the same title page but here re-worked. The most notable difference is the omission of the imprint engraved lower left and the entire base upon which the two figures stand is re-engraved. It can be shown that this example is that listed by Skelton as the title page still bears ‘privilegie’. For the following edition it is altered to ‘privilegio’.
The most important discovery is that the title is dated 1666. It is a logical conclusion that this edition was issued prior to the Great Fire of London, explaining its rarity. The subsequent edition may logically be seen as a post-fire production as it is more readily seen. We acquired an example of the British atlas alone in June 1994 with engraved title but lacking the two folding maps. It was that work which answered the question of dating. This example is complete in all regards, including the ‘Prospect’ world atlas. It is the only known complete example. Provenance: with manuscript notation in blank endpaper between the two works “Thomas Burnish His Book the Gift of Bridgett Colley at the Fox Low-Town Brigenorth”, a Thomas Burnish was christened 7 December 1644 at Quatford, just 3 miles southeast of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, he would marry a Sarah and have four children between 1673 and 1688. The Fox may well have been a public house in the Low Town, so-called to this day, it is the west side of the town on the River Severn; Paul Bentley (1931-2022) collection; Sworders auction 10 October 2023 lot 140. Refer Chubb (1927) 16; not in the ESTC; refer Hodson (1974) 5.3; refer Kingsley (1982) 8.2; refer Shirley (2004) T.Kee 1a and 2a; Skelton (1970) 82.
A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World [bound with] England Wales Scotland and IreLand Described and Abridged With ye Historie Relation of things worthy memory from a farr Larger Voulume