Part 6: The Market-Place – ‘On this day is published ….’


We know that the Nottinghamshire map was published by subscription and that ultimately the plates were acquired by a London publisher, William Faden. Beyond that we know little of the fate of Chapman’s map in the market-place. Once more all we can do is draw parallels and highlight the isolated references to the map in relevant contemporary sources. In the process we can speculate on whether the large-scale county maps were a commercial success for Chapman and the other publishers.

Publishing by Subscription

Publishing by subscription was a common practice in the book, print and map trade during the 18th century, both as a means to test the level of interest amongst buyers and to defray some of the production costs. The new county surveys were a substantial enterprise for land surveyors who may previously have only had experience of surveying estates. With county surveys typically taking 2 years to complete, subscriptions from the Gentry of the county offered some comfort and security in relation to the cost involved. The point was often explicitly made in Proposals:

The great Trouble and Expense to render this Work compleat’ (Derbyshire); and

will be attended with a certain large Expense’ (Cheshire).

In addition there were often conditions on the number of subscriptions:

Mr. BURDETT will not venture to begin it till he obtains Subscriptions for 400 Maps’ (Cheshire); and

The work shall begin as soon as four hundred copies are subscribed for’ (Lancashire).

Whilst we have the maps for every county, and surveying and publishing proposals for some, contemporary accounts of their commercial success or otherwise are frustratingly absent. It is a reasonable assumption that the subscription list determined the size of the initial print run: 500 for Northumberland; an estimated 400 for Lincolnshire (Carroll 1996); and perhaps 300 for Leicestershire (Welding 1984). Another reasonable assumption is that fulfilling the subscription list would have satisfied local demand for the map with perhaps a few more sold via local booksellers in response to newspaper adverts. We might expect that demand was localised, and yet 14% of the subscribers for the Leicestershire map lived outside the county, admittedly some close to its borders, but a few as far afield as Birmingham, Cambridge and London. In fact, as we will see later, these county maps were present in libraries throughout Georgian England and beyond. This distribution is not explained simply by the geographic spread of the subscription list and other factors must have been present. For example we know that Burdett advertised his Derbyshire map in at least one London newspaper (Harley 1975), and Harley recognised that such publications were a largely untapped resource in research on the history of the county surveys. We also know that London engravers and printers had collaborated with local surveyors in the production of many of the new county maps. This provided a link to the London map publishers but what role, if any, did they play in the market for these new maps?

London Publishers

By the middle of the 18th century there was a thriving map trade in London and other cities of Britain. Among the established names were: the engravers and map-makers Emanuel Bowen and Thomas Kitchin; engraver and map publisher Thomas Jefferys; the print, map and chart publishers Robert Sayer and John Bennett; and the print and map-seller Carrington Bowles. All were prolific publishers of maps, before, during and after the appearance of the large-scale county maps, but only Jefferys engaged in actual surveys, with disastrous financial consequences for his business (Harley 1966). If the London publishers acquired the plates of the large-scale maps we might expect to see evidence in their published catalogues.

The Sayer and Bennett catalogue of 1775 (Sayer & Bennett 1970) includes maps of four of the large-scale surveys. John Rocque died in 1762 and although his wife Mary Ann carried on the business for a few years, she retired in around 1770 and presumably sold off the stock and assets. Possibly Sayer and Bennett acquired these plates at that time. The catalogue records that ‘Numerous errors of the former editions’ had been remedied on the Yorkshire map, which implies some control over the plates. During his bankruptcy Jefferys received help from his friends in the business and relinquishing some interest in the large-scale maps may have been the quid pro quo (Harley 1966). William Faden’s catalogue of 1778 (BL Map6) has 150 entries for maps, plans and charts. The only county maps based on the 1 inch surveys are those published by Jefferys:

Bedfordshire-1770               8 sheets @ 2 guineas

Buckinghamshire-1770         4 sheets @ 1 guinea

Huntingdonshire-1768           6 sheets @ 1 ½ guineas

Oxfordshire-1769                 4 sheets @ 1 guinea

Westmoreland-1770             4 sheets @ 1 guinea

Yorkshire-1772                    20 sheets @ 3 guineas

The inclusion of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Yorkshire implies some arrangement with Sayer & Bennett. Carrington Bowles’ catalogue of 1784 (Gale Digital Collections) lists a diverse range of map, plans and charts spread over 36 pages, but the only large-scale map is Rocque’s survey of London. This is offered at the same price as Sayer & Bennett but under what commercial arrangement we can only guess.

At the date of the Bowles catalogue, maps from large-scale surveys had been published by subscription for 35 counties, even at the date of the earlier Faden catalogue, 28 had been published, but only 7 had found their way into these catalogues. What was the publishing history of the remainder? The cartobibliographies of printed county maps are likely to reveal much of the story, but a detailed analysis of these is not relevant to this dissertation. That the ownership of the plates changed over time is clear. We have already seen that Faden acquired the Nottinghamshire plates and he continued to be an active purchaser. Nearly thirty years later, his catalogue of 1822 (Faden 1822) listed 24 of the large-scale county maps, including Nottinghamshire, nearly all in revised editions. Who had ownership of the remaining 15, and how many had already been scrapped are questions that remain to be answered.

Commercial Success or Failure?

Some surveyors, especially those who only published one map, may have been satisfied to recover their costs, although there is no evidence for this. Others such as Taylor (4 maps) and Armstrong (4 maps) must presumably have found the enterprise financial rewarding. Even so they may have treated each as a separate venture. According to Carroll (1996), the Northumberland plates were never used again, and in 1782 Armstrong offered them to the Royal Society for £20, and was refused.

The various Proposals we have looked at include details of subscription prices (Map Prices from Proposals). Even allowing for differences in the number of sheets, there is less uniformity than might have been expected, which may reflect differences in the underlying costs, although the prices were set in advance of the survey. Whether enough maps were sold at these prices to cover the actual costs is an unknown. It certainly appears so for Armstrong’s maps of Northumberland and Lincolnshire, and for Prior’s map of Leicestershire (Appendix 4), but is less certain for Chapman’s map.

We have looked at the subscription prices and speculated about the economics of publishing maps by this means. Once the plates were in the hands of the map publishers, prices were set to recover their outlay and presumably to reflect what the market would bear. On the little evidence we have, although often purchased at auctions, these plates seem to have been sold at modest prices. Armstrong’s offer to sell the Northumberland plates for £20, was equivalent to only 13 maps at the subscription price. Faden paid rather more for the Staffordshire plates £95 (Phillips 1984), the equivalent of 90 maps at his catalogue price. The Nottinghamshire plates sold for £45, Derbyshire for £56, Essex for £109 and Newmarket for £57 (ERO). A comparison of subscription and catalogue prices (Map Prices Compared) provides a rather confusing picture with some of the county maps holding their prices well into the 19th century, albeit that, even as revised editions, their topographical value had considerably diminished. As they were gradually replaced by the 1 inch series of the Ordnance Survey, perhaps their value lay more in their historical and decorative qualities.


The new county maps were presented to a largely local market by means of the subscription list. Over time they were incorporated into the catalogues of London map-publishers who acquired the copper-plates and made them available to a wider market. There is little evidence on which to judge the commercial success of these maps for their original publishers, but what there is suggests it was possible to recover the initial costs and to make a small profit. With the map now in the marketplace we turn next to look the purchasers and what value they derived from their ownership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *