A VIRTUALLY UNRECORDED TITLE. Bound with and not unrelated to, what appears to be the first two parts of James Baker’s ‘The Imperial Guide, with Picturesque Plans of the Great Post Roads’. Baker (fl.1791-1806) is first noted from ‘A Picturesque Guide to the Local Beauties of Wales and the Marches’, 1791-94. ‘The Imperial Guide’ is a beautifully engraved aquatint road book which like many, was published in parts. Its unusual feature is that the roads are represented by a series of vignettes of the views found along the route. It has a complicated bibliography which is not fully understood. This is not helped by the fact that each example appears to include differing content.
This example does not have the title of the ‘Imperial Guide’ but includes similar content with a mix of descriptive text, ‘road’ maps and accompanying aquatint views. The title provided is exceedingly rare, only two auction records could be traced. NONE could be found listed in Library Hub, a database of 174 institutions holdings. Volume I, published in four parts, was completed in 1802. Despite intending further parts, no record of any exists. Five of the plates in this example are variously dated between 1800 and 1801, the balance bear no dates. There are recorded examples in which some of the earlier plates are dated between December 1798 and March 1799. The first part appears to have been issued in 1799. After a delay, there appears to have been a rush to finish the ensuing three parts to complete the first volume. It would also appear that as publication drew close, by the end of 1802, Baker had the plates with dates from the previous century updated.
Smith and Webb describe the poor organisational skills of Baker supported by the number of examples of the atlas which vary in content. The text found here matches that found in the completed work. There is a larger compliment of aquatint road maps than usual, 16, all found in the preferred early wash coloured format. These are accompanied by the aquatint topographical views for which the present title page appears to have been prepared. Indeed, this example may well have been bound up from the parts, the views and roads are normally grouped together. We also have early states. Usually, the dates of the imprints on the roads vary between 1800 and 1802. Here they vary from 1798 to 1801, 3 are dated 1798 and 2 bear 1799. All in all, a fascinating insight into the initial publication of a rare item. Provenance: private English collection. Refer Abbey Scenery (1952) 8 & 514; Fordham (1924) p. 46; Smith & Webb (1988) ‘James Baker’s Picturesque Plans’ in ‘The Map Collector’ no. 42 pp. 20-26; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).