An exceedingly rare John Speed map in broadsheet format, i.e. with descriptive text pasted around the map. This ‘edition’ is little understood and requires further study, not having been worked on since Skelton in the 1960s. The ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ by John Speed is arguably the second most important English county atlas ever printed and quite probably the most famous. It is the earliest published atlas of the entire British Isles.
The first edition was long in preparation. The engraving of the maps is the work of Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612), thirty-three of them bear his signature, including this one. Needing to find a competent engraver, the publisher George Humble had turned to the ever present Dutch and in May 1606 was in Amsterdam. He may well have carried a letter from Camden to Hondius dated 27 April  which recommends Speed’s work to his care. On 12 May a notarial act records the contract between Humble, Jodocus Hondius and Cornelis Claesz.
The dates on many of the proof maps surviving are given as 160’_’ suggesting an earlier completion than occurred. Indeed, the date 1608 is suggested by the granting on 29 April that year to Humble of a royal privilege for 21 years. The cause for the delay in publication is unclear but may have been due to the death of Claesz in May 1609. Hondius was executor of the will and no doubt the whole process caused delays. Hondius was also suffering his age and died in 1612. The engraving was completed by 1610, a date which appears on 54 of the maps. The general title page of the ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ is dated 1611 but 1612 appears in the imprint of the Third and Fourth books. The final work was printed by William Hall and John Beale for John Sudbury and George Humble.
The work was clearly successful as within a short space of time a further edition was envisaged. It was to be the work of the printer William Hall however his death in 1614 left the project incomplete. It was completed by Thomas Snodham (fl.1603-25), a printer ‘at St. Botolph’s without Aldersgate’. The text was entirely reset and finally published in 1616, the date appearing on the titles to the second, third and fourth parts.
Two separate sets of text survive differentiated by the separate colophon that each contains. That for the map of England reads ‘Printed at London by William Hall for John Sudburie and George Humble’, with the date unfortunately being defective. All the others bear Snodham’s name in place of that of Hall’s and the date 1615. The British Library set (C.175.i.19) lacks any accompanying maps.
The second example is found at the Bodleian Library (C.17.b.1) and is with the text pasted around the maps as here. However, it contains some maps in a later state which are found in examples of the regular format of the atlas dated to 1623. Whittaker’s study of the maps of Northamptonshire does not identify any differences to this plate. Skelton suggests that ‘the text is accurately printed, and the line-endings correspond to those of the 1614 edition. It appears probable that the text was imposed, in the form exemplified in the B.M. [British Library] and Bodleian copies, for pasting round the edges of each map for sale or display as a sheet or broadside; for this practice there are contemporary analogies’. The text itself is largely derived from that of William Camden’s ‘Britannia’.
The map contains two significant town plans of Northampton and Peterborough. The draft manuscripts for many of these reside at Merton College, Oxford. Examples of the county maps with text pasted to the verso do appear, the last known to me being in 2010. However, examples with the text pasted in broadsheet format are excessively rare. We acquired Sussex in a smaller auction in the 1970’s. The only other example we can trace was sold at Sotheby’s London 24 April 1967 lot 2. It was acquired by Francis Edwards and now resides at the British Library (Maps * 2050.(42.)).
Bendall, Sarah (2002) ‘Draft Town Maps for John Speed’s ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’, in Imago Mundi 54 pp. 30-45; Chubb (1927) 24; ESTC S519; Hind (1952-64) II pp. 67-95; Shirley (2004) T.Spe 1b; Skelton (1970) 10 & 14; Tooley (1977); refer Whittaker (1948) no. 23; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011) pp. 328-9, 335-6 & 641-2.