Archival collections often have variety of printed material and ephemera such as pamphlets, broadsides, books, and maps. Periodically, these offer unexpected perspective on an aspect of history, as is the case with a smallish, three-dimensional 1872 relief map titled Map of the White Mountains N.H. nestled in the papers of Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the navy, Gustavus Vasa Fox. As its name suggests, the map represents all of the peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountain range.
The Fox Papers have long been part of the New-York Historical Society manuscript collections, having arrived as part of the Naval History Society Collection in the 1940s, and processed more than 10 years ago; however, in a library with millions of items, it’s not surprising that this map has attracted much particular attention.
Perhaps the opening question is why did Fox have the map? Fortunately, this is among the easier questions to answer. Fox was born in neighboring Massachusetts, and in 1877, later in his life, Fox researched and published Facts about the Carroll County Kearsarge Mountain of New Hampshire to address a running dispute over its name. The following year he and his New Hampshire-born wife even spent 81 days in the White Mountains.
Though unremarkable in appearance, a three-dimensional map, especially from the late 19th century, isn’t a common discovery. According to at least one rare book dealer it even may be among the earliest commercial raised relief maps produced in the United States. Of course, these relief maps have a much longer history, and can be traced back as early as ancient China, with many impressive European examples surviving from the Early Modern period on. Yet their commercial production is far more recent. A safe guess as to a pivotal factor is the balancing of production cost with affordability, especially compared to two-dimensional maps.
However, the map is also a compelling way to illustrate America’s changing relationship with nature in the 19th century. By late in the century, railroads carved through America’s forests opened previously inaccessible wilderness to tourism. As a result, early ambivalence and even outright hostility toward nature gave way to Americans “of means” taking notice of the nation’s impressive natural beauty. Boasting the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S., New Hampshire’s White Mountains was a popular destination. Infrastructure followed, and according to a contemporary guide book, “a vast and increasing number of travellers.”
Popular use of raised relief maps has commonly been as instructive devices since they allow relatively easy visual comparison of landscape features. In fact, the Boston Public Library’s 2014-2015 exhibit “Back to School: Geography in the Classroom” featured a Map of the White Mountains N.H. Still, contemporary evidence shows it was marketed to those interested in touring the White Mountains, making it unlikely that education was the map’s sole intent. As evidence, not only does the map depict existing railroads, but a cover on other extant copies is emblazoned with advertisements for rail service to the White Mountains, with connections from cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Also advertised is Snow’s Pathfinder Railway Guide by George K. Snow, a Boston printer, and one of the map’s publishers.
In fact, the publishers are a potentially informative element of the map. The statement reads “Based on the best surveys, and published by Geo. K. Snow and Bradlee.” Existing cataloging records C. H. Bradlee (“Charles Horace Bradlee”) as a creator, but there’s no reference to his brother John Emery Bradlee who had published his own Pocket Guide to the White Mountains as early as 1862. While Charles is named with Snow elsewhere, the somewhat enigmatic “Bradlee,” lacking a first name, is curious. Perhaps all three were in partnership?
Records do reveal that Snow was a brother-in-law to John and Charles, and both the 1865 Massachusetts State and 1900 Federal censuses list Charles as a printer, while John’s death record indicates that he was in “real estate.” It’s tempting then to speculate that John had property interests that might benefit from promoting the White Mountains region through this distinctive map.
During the 1870s, a handful of advertisements appear in publications associated with either Snow, or Charles Bradlee, for a relief map that represents what “would appear to the eye of a balloonist when elevated far above the entire range.” It includes a description of its physical attributes:
It measures 9 by 11 inches, and is enclosed in a framework to protect it. The material used in its manufacture is Papier-Maché, and the work was executed in Germany for the Publishers, and is offered at the low price of $1.50.
These details appear consistent with the map in question. Interestingly, the price seems generally consistent with ads for contemporary guidebooks and would be roughly around $35 in today’s dollars. Neither expensive–nor cheap–it fits nicely with a demographic possessing disposable income, and leisure time to journey to the White Mountains. This appears to correspond with Fox, as well. A man of means, with a demonstrated interest in the area, it makes perfect sense that he would have acquired it.
Unfortunately, if this is our map, the “executed in Germany” almost certainly deflates hope of this being the first commercial raised relief map in the United States. So, perhaps this isn’t the landmark of commercial mapmaking it originally appeared. And yet it doesn’t much diminish the utility of the map as a historical artifact, especially since it presents such a great example of America’s ever-evolving relationship with its natural landscapes.
This post is by Ted O’Reilly, Curator of Manuscripts.