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BLOME, Richard

Britania: or, a Geographical Description of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Printed for Tho. Roycroft for the Undertaker, Richard Blome, London, 1673
Folio (330 x 210 mm.), 2 parts in one volume. Full contemporary calf, repaired corners, ribbed spine with extremely ornate gilt decoration to the panels, gilt red calf title label. Typographic title verso blank, dedication to Charles II verso blank, Preface 5 pp., Table of Benefactors 5 pp., paginated 1-341, typographic title page ‘Alphabetical Account’, verso blank, paginated 345-464. With 51 engraved maps (50 double page or folding maps, one single page map of London by Wenceslaus Hollar), 24 pages of engraved coats of arms on 12 leaves in the FIRST ISSUE numbered to 806, with original blank endpapers. In very good condition.
Richard Blome (1635-1705) was the son of Jacob Bloome a member of the Stationers’ Company. Although his family name is written in contemporary documents as Bloome he himself used Blome. He was made free of the Stationers’ Company in August 1660 at the time of the Restoration of Charles II. According to Skelton he began as a ruler of paper and a heraldic painter, both features which are seen in his later works. His earliest known work is a geographical treatise published in 1663. From 1667, the first of a series of maps of the world was engraved for ‘A Geographical Description of the Four Parts of the World’ published in 1670. The maps were openly described as copies of those of Nicolas Sanson in Paris and Blome’s work was derided by earlier commentators. This was a very early phase of English map publishing and the undertaking was full of peril.

Arguably the most difficult part of atlas production was the finance; these were expensive works to produce. Although the system of selling subscriptions was not a new one at the time, Blome became one of the best exponents of the practice. In return for an early deposit to finance its publication the subscriber would not only receive a copy of the final work but his coat of arms engraved on a particular map or elsewhere in the book. This is particularly well illustrated in the ‘Britannia’ published in 1673 where twenty-four pages of coats-of-arms of subscribers are included, a grand total of 806 in this the first issue. Each subscriber was charged 20s., 10s. paid in advance. Pandering to that market he included at the end of the work ‘An Alphabetical Account of the Nobility and Gentry Which are (or lately were) related unto the several Counties …’ This 118 page catalogue contained the names, titles, seats and offices held of the nobility as Blome claimed ‘the like never before published’.

The ‘Britannia’ it appears was first conceived in 1668. On 28 July 1668 Richard Blome entered the title ‘English Atlas’ at Stationers’ Hall. Shortly after he issued a Prospectus in which he announced that Volume I would be an English translation of Bernhard Varenius’ ‘Geographia Generalis’ with 100 maps, first published in Latin in Amsterdam 1650. Volume II was to be a world atlas with the text and maps drawn from that of Nicolas Sanson. Volume III was to be a description of Britain. The second volume was published in 1670 and soon after a further prospectus was issued claiming that the work would be printed by Trinity Term 1671. It was announced as being ready for the press on 13 February 1671 followed by a further prospectus promising it by Michaelmas Term 1671. It was finally advertised in the ‘Term Catalogues’ on 24 November 1673 for 30s.

This is a fine example of the FIRST ISSUE with only 806 coats of arms. Variants exist with 806, 807, 808, 811, 812 and 827 coats-of-arms. Similarly, it bears the earliest states of the four maps which were later altered: Cumberland, Middlesex, Warwick and the West Riding. Blome conceived his work as a successor to William Camden’s ‘Britannia’ of which he stated it was “scarce, much out of print, and never like to be reprinted” (Robert Morden would publish a further edition in 1695). The maps are largely copied from Speed reduced to about two-thirds in size and the text from Camden. Both led later commentators to deride the work not entirely undeservedly. However, as a feat of publishing it has to be admired. Blome did request new material from people with local knowledge to correct and update the existing authorities. Each chapter is headed by a map of the region with the notable exception of the 17 page one on the ‘Isles and Territories Belonging to His Majesty in America’. Four of the maps are signed by their engravers: the general map of the British Isles is by Francis Lamb, Berkshire is etched by Wenceslaus Hollar, Scotland and Ireland are by Richard Palmer. There are five maps of Yorkshire, an unusual one being of Richmond Shire. Provenance: seventeenth century manuscript ownership inscription on the title page ‘Tho. Mostyn of Gloddaeth’, Sir Thomas Mostyn, 2nd baronet (1651-92), with and a mid-nineteenth century book label of the Gloddaeth Library pasted inside upper cover; the Mostyn sale took place at Sotheby’s 3 July 1920. Arber (1903-06) I. 69; Chubb (1927) 99; ESTC R7330; Pennington (1982) no. 659; Shirley (2004) T.Blom 2a; Skelton (1970) 90; Wing (1945-51) B3207; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).
Stock number: 9121

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