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The Mapping of North America

Mr. Philip D. Burden​
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FIRST EDITION SECOND ISSUE of an EXCEEDINGLY RARE ATLAS COMPLETE. John Bill (fl.1591-1630) was the son of Walter Bill a husbandman of Wenlock in Shropshire. Making his way to London, John Bill was apprenticed to the successful publisher and bookseller John Norton 25 July 1592. His scholarship particularly in Latin attracted the attention of Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) founder of the Bodleian Library who commissioned Bill to travel and acquire books on his behalf from about 1599. In 1601 he was freed and joined the Stationer’s Company setting up in business on his own in 1603. He became the King’s Printer in 1604, an honour he was to hold until his death in 1630. He was an active attendee of the Frankfurt Book Fair. His only other cartographic contribution was as co-publisher with Norton of the English edition of Abraham Ortelius’ ‘Theatre of the World’, 1606, the first folio world atlas in the English language.

Norton held the patent for what was generally perceived to be the production of ‘all charts and maps’. Upon his death in 1612 this passed to several ineffectual individuals who produced nothing cartographic. In 1619 a further grant was made to Marin de Boisloré, an esquire to the King, for the bizarre right to print everything on one side of paper! This clearly referred to maps and prints and created conflict with the other patentees which began a long running legal dispute that was not settled until 1631 with its annulment. The result was a suppressed market for such material. It was with this background that John Bill challenged these monopolies both legally and with a miniature version of Camden’s ‘Britannia’. Indeed, it had been his intent since at least 31 January 1620, the date on which it was registered at Stationers Hall, an early form of copyright law. Bill was no doubt soon made aware of the efforts of George Humble to publish a miniature version of John Speed’s highly successful ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’. The plates for this were those of Pieter van den Keere which Humble acquired from Willem Blaeu c.1623. Humble’s project does not appear to have been registered, although he already enjoyed a Royal privilege for the folio ‘Theatre’ which expired in 1629. Some of Humble’s legal action may have entailed attempts to extend this protection to a miniature version. Despite earlier versions of Humble’s work surviving, it was Bill whose work was finally published first.

The frontispiece with the title is a fine piece of engraving with depictions of Euclid and Ptolemy. The engraver of the county maps is unidentified but cartographically they are derived from those of Saxton. One noted improvement is the addition of longitude and latitude markings to the left and lower margins, the earliest set of printed county maps to do so. The Prime Meridian is given as the Azores. The matching descriptive text is placed opposite the map for easy reference. That of Cornwall is cartographically improved with the peninsula being orientated more correctly on a north-east to south-west line than found on Saxton or Speed’s maps. This fact was not however to be picked up by any future works. It has been suggested that possibly only 200 copies were printed, the origin of this statement has not been identified. Bill died the 5 May 1630; he was succeeded by Jane Bill and his son John Bill II who was certainly working in London by 1630. Earlier references place him in Bristol and Exeter.

Shortly after printing began it was noted that signature ‘b’ contained several errors. A revised signature was printed which is found in this example. No record of this examples’ earlier provenance has been identified. It does not appear to have been in auction in the last forty years or more. Provenance: inscription on title of ‘? Tho. Brogden Book 1821’; stamp of Sutherland on front free endpaper; private English collection. Chubb (1927) 41; ESTC 107395; Shirley (2004) T.Camd 3a; Skelton (1970) 15; Worms ‘History of Cartography’ Volume 3 part 2 pp. 1711-12; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011) pp. 80-1.
BILL, John

The Abridgement of Camden's Britannia With the Maps of the seuerall Shires of England and Wales

Printed by Iohn Bill Printer to the Kings most excellent Maiestie, London, 1626
Oblong octavo (145 x 190 mm.), early half calf, marbled paper boards, spine with gilt ruled bands. With engraved title page backed and slight loss of margin only lower right corner, pp. 24 of introductory text including 1 engraved general map, followed by 51 engraved maps, each with opposing descriptive text, Lancashire with repaired lower margin tear, Merionith and Flint with margin repair, otherwise in good condition.
Stock number: 10715

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