John Seller (c.1627-97) was born the son of Henry Sellers, a cord wayner, between 1627 and 1630 in Wapping, London. He was apprenticed to Edward Lowe who was presumably an instrument maker as this was the profession chosen by Seller. He appears to have been a Baptist at a time when Nonconformists were not popular. Following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, there were understandably a number of treasonable plots against him. In 1662 six men were arrested in one such plot led by Thomas Tonge, amongst them was John Seller. The trial was held in the Old Bailey in December. The published details show that Seller was clearly not involved although he was a friend of one of the men and had been seen talking to another. In spite of the evidence he was convicted and sentenced. Seller and one James Hind escaped execution, the others being hanged on 22 December. Seller remained in Newgate Prison until the spring of 1663. He was granted release on bail and eventually granted a pardon.
Seller’s main income derived from instrument making and navigation, and he was even interested in their use. He wrote ‘Praxis Nautica or Practical Navigation’ in 1669, dealing with all aspects of navigation such as instruments, mathematics, almanacs and tables. It was an immediate success and was issued in numerous further editions. It was at this time he turned to publishing maps, at first specialising in sea charts for which he saw a domestic market. Expanding in to topographical maps he entered in to all sorts of projects but lacked the commercial ability to carry them through successfully. In the ‘London Gazette’ for November 1679 John Seller along with John Oliver the surveyor and the engraver Richard Palmer announced their intention to publish a folio English County atlas to be titled ‘Atlas Anglicanus’. At the beginning of the following year they announced in the ‘Term Catalogues’ that maps of Middlesex, Surrey and Hertfordshire were available and that Kent was underway. Unfortunately only two more counties were produced, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The project languished until the partnership broke up in 1693 when the maps were sold to Philip Lea.
Philip Lea would include them in some examples of his Christopher Saxton atlas entitled ‘The Shires of England and Wales’ available from c.1693. For this issue the imprint of Philip Lea is added along with 15 roads. A further state by Lea adds the eight coats of arms across the bottom, one of which is empty. Following the death of Philip Lea 25 February 1700 his widow Anne continued the business. Although it is recorded that she sold some copper plates to George Willdey shortly after 1715 those belonging to the Saxton atlas were not amongst them. The date of her death is unknown but on 5 August 1730 the ‘Daily Journal’ carried an advertisement announcing the sale by auction of ‘all the Copper Plates belonging to the Estate of Mrs. Anne Lea, deceased … with all the County Maps of Great Britain and Ireland’. The plate for Surrey along with others was acquired by Thomas and John Bowles. The owners imprint replaced that of Lea with short thrift along with the date 1730, the latter recording his address as Mercers Hall in Cheapside. In 1733 he moved to the Black Horse in Cornhill when the imprint of this map was altered again to reflect this with a date change to 1733. It is an example of this very rare map in superb early wash colour which we offer here. Roger Baynton-Williams produced a list of the known states published in a letter by Robin March in 1994. According to that this is an example of the final sixth state.
Provenance: private English collection. Hodson (1984-97) I pp. 186-8, Appendix III; Marsh, Robin (1994) ‘How many states of John Seller’s map of Surrey?’, in ‘The Map Collector’ 67 p. 55; Shirley (2004) T.Sax 1h no. 40, T. Sax 1i no. 30, T.Sell 6a no. 9; Skelton (1970) pp. 179, 186-187.