Chromolithograph, dissected into 24 sections and laid upon original linen, folding into original blue cloth covers with yellow printed pastedown label and advertisement sheets pasted to inside cover (Very Good, some minor old areas of creasing to the lower right of the North Pole, some small tack marks to corners and some areas of minor toning and discolouration; cover with shelf-ware and spine a little frayed, but overall still very attractive), 67.5 x 69.5 cm (26.5 x 27.5 inches).
This excellent production is the first edition of Edward Stanford’s map series of the Arctic Circle, the most authoritative and influential general map to issued during the great age of exploration in the Northern Polar regions. The map is centred on the North Pole and embraces all of the Northern Hemisphere as far down south as 50° North. The geography of the known lands is very precisely delineated, while the high polar regions not yet encountered (such as Northern Greenland, much of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago and the extremities of certain Russian Arctic Islands) is shown to remain an enigma, part of the enormous ‘Unexplored Polar Region’. Each nation is distinguished in its own attractive colour, and the treeline is shown running across North America. As noted in the inscription in the lower right corner, the dark blue seas are free of ice, while the seas coloured light blue seas usually feature pack ice, while the hard white areas represent permanent ice sheets and glaciers.
Through the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, the exploration of the Arctic regions was seen not only as the last frontier in exploration, but the ultimate ‘extreme sport’. Over this period the focus gradually shifted from the 400-year old economic dream of finding the supposed ‘Northwest’ and ‘Northeast’ Passages, towards the more idealistic goal of reaching the actual North Pole itself. The distances through the Arctic’s icy waters and lands were so vast, and the conditions were so severe that expeditions were often literally frozen and crushed, ensuring that many of the explorers never made it home. Even surviving the Arctic, let along making important discoveries, was a great badge of pride for European and American naval officers, noblemen and scientific societies, and a multinational race ensued to see who could become the first to reach the North Pole (or, at least, make it to the northernmost point attained) – with both personal and national honour at stake.
The most interesting aspects of the map are the ‘The names of the chief ‘Arctic worthies’’, being Arctic and Northern explorers, along the dates and locations of their northernmost points reached on their respective expeditions, all printed in Red. This labelling is exceedingly extensive and commences with Sebastian Cabot’s voyage to Newfoundland in 1497 and running all the way up to label the Austro-Hungarian Expedition to Franz Josef Land (off of Northern Siberia) in 1874, while noting literally dozens of other great names, including, but not confined to: Frobisher, Davis, Hudson, Baffin, Barents, Bering and Franklin.
Amazingly, given the large number of expeditions that aimed to reach the North Pole in the decades leading up to when the present map was made, the record for the northernmost point reached, of 82°45′ North, attained by Rear Admiral Sir William Edward Parry, RN, in 1827 (marked on the map just to the north of the Spitzbergen (Svalbard) Islands) still survived. The American explorer Charles Francis Hall (1871) and the aforementioned Austro-Hungarian expedition came close, but Parry’s achievement would remain unsurpassed until Albert Hastings Markham reached 83°20′26″ in 1876, the year after the present map was published. Indeed, the attainment of the North Pole would remain the last great achievement of Earthly exploration, and would not be definitively reached until the Roald Amundsen Expedition of 1928. Beyond that, the lands within the Arctic Circle would not be fully mapped until the years after World War II, when aerial cartography had reached a sufficient level or proficiency.
The present map was issued by Edward Stanford (1827 – 1904), who founded his eponymous firm in 1853, and which by the late 1860s had become the leading cartographic publisher in the British Empire, if not the world. Stanford had good connections with academic institutions, such as the Royal Geographical Society, as well as government bodies, such as the Admiralty, in addition to communicating with many of the actual contemporary explorers themselves; so he was always able to gain the most accurate, breaking information. He issued the present map in an effort to capitalize on the great interest amongst both the public and the intelligentsia in Polar expeditions. The overall form of the present map was inspired by Aaron Arrowsmith’s Map of the Countries Round the North Pole (first issued in London, 1818), although Stanford’s editions featured vastly more, and more accurate, information. The present 1875 edition represents the first issue of what became Stanford’s Arctic map series, which ran into several regularly updated editions published all the way up to the 1930s. The series was considered to be by far the most authoritative and influential general mapping of the Arctic Circle to be produced during this critical period of exploration.
The present first edition of Stanford’s map is quite scarce on the market, and is a cornerstone of any Arctic collection.
References: Verner & Stubbs, The Northpart of America, p.162; OCLC: 8660287 and 606366989.