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COLLINS, Captain Greenville

Great Britain's Coasting Pilot. In Two Parts. Being a New and Exact Survey of the Sea-Coast of England and Scotland ...

W. and J. Mount, T. Page & Son, on Tower-Hill, London, 1756
Folio (520 x 335 mm.), two parts in one volume, later half calf, cloth boards, blind ruled, ornate ribbed spine with decorative gilt and blind compartments, burgundy calf gilt title labels. Engraved frontispiece, typographic title printed in red and black, dedication and Preface and descriptive text pp. (4), 26, with 51 engraved plates consisting of engraved frontispiece title, 1 small coastal chart printed in the introductory text, 5 large folding charts, 39 double page charts, 3 single sheet charts, 1 double page and 1 single sheet of coastal profiles, the folding Scilly Isles chart with a description of tides by Abraham Tovey pasted to the lower margin, with some light water stains and marks to the introductory text and charts of Rye, IOW, and Portland, River Avon with creases and surface dirt, some loss to lower right corner of Harwich and Aberdeen, otherwise a good example.
“The first systematic survey of British coastal waters and the first marine atlas of British waters engraved and printed in London from original surveys” (Verner). Since the late sixteenth century navigators in the waters of the British Isles had utilised the printed charts of the Dutch. During the mid-seventeenth century England fought three wars with the Dutch and her reliance on the work of the enemy was a clear source of embarrassment. The Dutch had private charts which were clearly superior to English sources.

On 23 June 1681 Charles II commissioned Captain Greenville Collins to make a survey of the coasts of Great Britain, a task undertaken between 1681 and 1688. Collins was an officer in the Royal Navy who from 1669 to 1671 had sailed with Sir John Narborough on his expedition to the Straits of Magellan and the Chilean coast. He was master of the frigate ‘Charles’ from 1676 to 1679 and served extensively in the Algerian war. He was promoted to Commander in 1679 and retained that rank until his death in 1694. In carrying out his survey Collins used two vessels, first the Merlin and then the Monmouth. Page twenty-four of the introductory text details the areas surveyed in specific years. In 1694 Collins petitioned the Navy Board for a total of £1,914 10s. The Admiralty recommended the sum of £1,414 10s be paid. Many but not all of the original manuscript drafts still survive.

A total of forty-seven charts were engraved for the ‘Coasting Pilot’ which was announced in the ‘London Gazette’ of 27 February 1693. The engraving was skilfully carried out by principally John Harris Sr. and Herman Moll, with James Collins and Nicholas Yeates engraving most of the cartouches. All but the first two plates are included in all later editions although some of the plates are replaced over time and many went through different states. The ‘Coasting Pilot’ is notoriously difficult to collate. As Verner put it ‘The Charts used with each part are identified differently but there were several errors that were not corrected. Charts for part one are numbered to 39 but not every number is assigned to a plate. There are five undesignated plates in part one … The unused numbers suggest that Collins may have intended to add more charts to the volume later. The charts in part two are lettered but again the same kinds of errors occurred’ (Verner).

Hampered as so many English cartographers of his era were by lack of funds, the finished work is not quite as accurate as it could have been. However, the ‘Coasting Pilot’ is a remarkable surveying achievement, and a landmark in the charting of British coastal waters. It remained in print for a hundred years, long after it had been superseded. This example of the 1756 edition shows signs of practical use.

As indicated by Verner in his excellent study the engraved title page is in the fourth state first issued in 1744 with the imprint altered to ‘Willm. Mount and Thomas Page’. This edition includes the first printing of the replacement plate 12 of Portland Bill. The previous plate had for many years included a second plate for the lower left corner. Also making their first appearance in this edition are the second state of Plate M of Holy Island which is slightly re-touched and Plate S in its third state. Additional charts are Verner’s numbers 50, 51 and 54, all as called for. There are five larger folding charts; a general one of the English Channel, the Scilly Isles, River Avon, Thames Estuary and the Isle of Wight. Provenance: private English collection since 2004. Sanderson (1971) no. 335; Shirley (2004) M.Coll 1f; Verner ‘Captain Collins’ Coasting Pilot’, in ‘Map Collectors’ Circle’ no. 58.
Stock number: 9765
£ 4,500
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