AN EXTREMELY RARE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ENGLISH WORLD ATLAS. John Seller (1632-97) was born the son of Henry Sellers, a cordwainer, between 1627 and 1630 in Wapping. He was apprenticed to Edward Lowe, who was presumably an instrument-maker as this was the profession chosen by Seller. He became a Freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Company on 25 October 1654, the same company as his original employer. This company was one of the oldest and by the end of the Middle Ages had stopped consisting solely of Tailors. Seller appears to have been a Baptist at a time when Nonconformists were not popular. Following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, there were understandably several treasonable plots against him. In 1662 six men were arrested in one such plot led by Thomas Tonge; amongst them was John Seller. The trial was held in the Old Bailey on 11 December. The published details show that Seller was clearly not involved, although he was a friend of one of the men and had been seen talking to another. Despite the evidence, he was convicted and sentenced. Seller and one James Hind escaped execution; the others being hanged on 22 December. Seller remained in Newgate Prison until the spring of 1663. He was granted release on bail and eventually given a pardon.
Seller’s main income derived from instrument-making and navigation, and he was even interested in their use. In the March 1666 issue of the Philosophical Transactions one Sir Nicholas Millet wrote some Magnetical Inquiries, to which Seller replied in June of the same year. In 1667 he was admitted to the Clockmakers’ Company, one which more closely related to his trade. He wrote Praxis Nautica or Practical Navigation in 1669, dealing with all aspects of navigation such as instruments, mathematics, almanacs and tables. It was an immediate success and was issued in numerous further editions.
Ever the opportunist, he saw a domestic market reliant upon buying Dutch imported maps and he set himself up to be the domestic supplier. His works are among the earliest English world atlases to be published. Of the ten examples I am aware of, this is one of only five that have substantial collections of maps:
Library of Congress c.1700 529 88 maps and 18 plates
[This copy] 82 maps and 38 plates
British Library Maps C.39.a.12 80 maps and 35 plates
University of Illinois, Urbana 71 maps and plates
Lord Wardington sale Sotheby’s 2006 69 maps and 3 plates
The following institutional examples have much smaller content:
Yale 18 maps
Newberry Ayer 135 S4 1700 35 maps
NYPL 24 maps
Univ. of Michigan Clements 18 maps – not collated
Macclesfield sale 2008 24 maps + 49(of 52) Atlas Minimus maps
This example is closest in content to that in the British Library. The two world maps present in their example are two different plates and that of Namur is also dissimilar. The full complement of six very rare North American maps is present. It contains the plate illustrating the landing of the Prince of Orange at Torbay in 1688. The introductory text of fourteen pages entitled ‘A General Description of the World’, is not always found. A number of the European maps bear bracketed plate numbers in the margin introduced for the second edition of ‘A New Systeme of Geography’, 1690. The atlas is first noted in an advert in John Seller’s ‘An Almanack … of Virginia & Maryland’ published late 1684 (Burden 599 & 602). It was available for sale to the turn of the century. Provenance: private English collection. Burden (2007) nos. 492, 550, 551, 552, 599, 600 & 673; ESTC R14931; Phillips 529; Shirley (2004) T.Sell 8a; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).