THE RARE FIRST STATE. The highlight of the atlas by Christopher Saxton is undoubtedly the first map in the book, that of England and Wales. It was engraved to a very high standard by the native Augustine Ryther and is one of his finest productions. Speculation surrounds the origins of Ryther. Ralph Thoresby stated in 1715 that he was ‘probably of Leeds’ and may well indeed be related to the ennobled family of that name from Yorkshire. He was one of the earliest English born copper plate engravers and signed five of Saxton’s maps. It is quite likely he was the author of others. He went on to collaborate on the sale of the Saxton atlas. Certainly there is evidence to show that he continued to sell it after Saxton’s ten-year privilege expired. His finest works are the plates for Robert Adams depicting the Spanish Armada published in 1590. Ryther was however in debtor’s prison for the winter of 1594-95 and thereafter there is no record.
As with the rest of the atlas the map provides a major advance in accuracy. It of course draws on all the individual surveys undertaken for the atlas with one or two deviations. Bower’s excellent recently published article examines this and concludes that some of the individual county maps were rotated to fit in a finished map and that therefore Cornwall needed to be rotated back for the general map. It is this process which appears to have created the worst of the inaccuracies. For the first time we have a reasonably proportioned depiction of the country, it was so accurate that it was immediately taken up by such great cartographers as Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. It would continue to influence the maps of the country for 200 years. One of its great achievements is the combination of so much topographical information with a considerable amount of ornamentation in a manner that achieves perfect balance. For the first time the toponyms are all anglicised although much of the written word on the map is still in Latin such as the title and legend noting the character of the towns. Even the four cardinal points each with accompanying semi-circular compass rose are in Latin. A key set in Ireland names the individual counties numbered on the map. The title upper right is finished with the arms of Queen Elizabeth supported by the lion and gryphon and lower right the arms of Saxton’s patron Thomas Seckford. This is an example of the EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST STATE. It is identifiable by the omission of numeric values of longitude and latitude inside the margins. In 1583 Ryther engraved Christopher Saxton’s 20-sheet wall map which survives in two known examples. The same feature is also found on that map so the second state of this single sheet map is traditionally given the date of 1583. As the atlas was not generally available to anyone outside a very tight circle until after the Spanish threat was removed, following the Armada defeat in 1588, examples of the first state are extremely rare.
Christopher Saxton produced one of the earliest national surveys of any kind and the first uniformly conceived cartographic survey of England and Wales. It was begun in about 1574 and completed by 1579: ‘in the long list of British atlases the first name is also the greatest, the name of Christopher Saxton’ (Chubb). Saxton (c.1542–c.1610) was born in the Dunningley, West Riding of Yorkshire. While the details of his early life are sketchy, it is known that he attended Cambridge University, and in 1570 he was apprenticed as a map maker to John Rudd, vicar of Dewsbury. Saxton began work on his county maps in about 1574. In 1577 he received letters patent from Elizabeth I protecting his maps against plagiarism for the next ten years. As well as the Queen’s protection, Saxton also enjoyed the patronage of Thomas Seckford, Master of the Queen’s Requests, whose mottoes are found on the maps. The maps were available singly or, after the last one was complete in 1578, bound up as an atlas. The atlas was priced at £5 in 1585. A very high price when Abraham Ortelius’ atlas was available for 10s. Evans and Lawrence wrote that he ‘left a legacy of maps of the counties of England and Wales from which succeeding generations of map-makers drew extensively … amazingly accurate in detail, [the atlas] survives as testimony to his expertise when surveying techniques and comprehension of the mathematical sciences were still limited.’ They are arguably the most highly prized by collectors of county maps.
Provenance: Colonel O J Viney; sold Sotheby’s London 12 February 1968 as part of an atlas, acquired by Laurence Baynton-Williams for £2,200; broken and this map sold to Rodney Shirley July 1968 for £150 where it remained to today. Barber ‘Mapmaking in England, ca.1470-1650’ in The History of Cartography volume 3 part 2 pp. 1623-31; Bower (2011) ‘Saxton’s Maps of England and Wales: The Accuracy of ‘Anglia’ and ‘Britannia’ and Their Relationship to Each Other and to the County Maps’, in ‘Imago Mundi’ 63 pt. 2 pp. 180-200; Chubb (1927) I; Evans & Lawrence (1979) pp. 9–43; Harley, Brian The Map Collector no. 8 pp. 2-11; Hind (1952-55) vol. 1 p. 73; Lawrence, Heather ‘Christopher Saxton’ in The Map Collector 27 pp. 16-18; Schilder (2007) ‘Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica’, vol. 8. pp. 109-13 figs. 8.5, 8.8-8.10; Shirley (1980) no. 128; Shirley (2004) T.Sax 1b-e; Skelton (1970) 1; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).