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OGILBY, John

Britannia, Volume the First. Or An Illustration of the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales: by A Geographical and Historical Description of the Principal Roads Thereof

London, 1675-[76]
Folio (430 x 290 mm.), contemporary vellum, lettered in gilt on the spine ‘Ogilby’s Roads’. Engraved title, verso blank, typographic title page, verso blank, dedication to Charles II pp. (3), blank verso, Preface pp. (5), Post Roads pp. (3), Catalogue of the Roads pp. (4), engraved double page general map, London description pp. (8), pp. 1-200 with 100 maps interspersed, A table directing to the Cities … pp. (4). A few minor paper flaws, upper right margin of engraved title, small worm track around page 65, otherwise a fine fresh contemporary example.
A fine tall paper copy of John Ogilby’s seminal work ‘Britannia’. The first edition with the plates still in their unnumbered state. It “remains unchallenged as the greatest advance in the mapping of England between the sixteenth-century surveys of Christopher Saxton and the county surveys of the second half of the eighteenth century” (Harley). It was the first national road-atlas of any country in Western Europe and a landmark in the mapping of England and Wales. Ogilby (1600–1676) had a remarkable life and this is arguably his finest achievement published just before his death the following year.

The 100 double-page engraved road maps were composed of seventy-three major roads and cross-roads, presented in a continuous strip-form. For the first time in England, the atlas was prepared on a uniform scale, at one inch to a mile. In the Preface Ogilby justifies his employment of 1760 yards to the mile, later named the Statute Mile. It was the influence that the ‘Britannia’ was to have through this work and others that made the Statute Mile the standard. Ogilby claimed that 26,600 miles of roads were surveyed in the course of preparing the atlas, but only about 7,500 were actually depicted in print. “In its comprehensiveness, its incorporation of new devices of computation and delineation, and its opulence of paper, design and decoration, it immediately set a new standard for map-making in England … this volume was an attempt at a scientific study not only of the roads but also the terrain and habitations on either side of the roads” (Eerde).

This example is according to Hodson’s intensive study issue number 5 of 12. The first two being issues for the King and for dedication copies. Here the general map is in its second state (only the King’s example bears state 1) and the road strips are in their corrected second state. The introductory descriptive text of London is in its revised 8 page form. This particular issue was in reality the first finished version of the atlas available for the wider public. The next phase of development was the addition of plate numbers to allow the maps inclusion in the ‘Itinerarium Angliae’ soon to be published. The ‘Britannia’ was first advertised as being available in November 1675. The ‘Itinerarium’ was advertised in the ‘London Gazette’ for 13-17 January 1676. This indicates the speed at which these alterations were introduced and supports the thought that this is indeed a very early issue.

Provenance: with the manuscript ownership inscription of “Sandn Miller Sept: 20. 1735 / O. Payne” on first free front endpaper. Bennett (1996) pp. 12-13; Chubb (1927) no. 100; Eerde, K. S. (1976) ‘John Ogilby and the Taste of his Times’, p.137; Harley, Brian (1970) Introduction to ‘John Ogilby Britannia London 1675’, Amsterdam, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd.; Hodson, Donald ‘The Early Printed Road Books and Itineraries of England and Wales’ B5; Shirley (2004) T.OGIL-4a; Wing O168.
Stock number: 9087

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