One of the features of the literature of the eighteenth century was the proliferation of atlases and geographies, reflecting the growth in voyages of exploration, scientific advances in cartography, and the expansion of publishing which was built upon improved and cheaper methods of producing books. These changes led directly to the popularisation of small (usually 8º size) but dense geographies or gazetteers, containing a mass of information about the countries and peoples of the world – much of it speculative and sensational rather than factual – and usually a set of maps (anything between half a dozen and two dozen) crudely illustrating the major regions. These books were designed to sell to the middle classes as well as the wealthy, and to appeal to the desire for self-education and the education of children. Amongst the most common of these can be cited Patrick Gordon’s Geography Anatomiz’d, first published about 1700: Richard Brookes’ Gazetteer (first edition 1762): William Guthrie’s Geographical Grammar (first edition 1771): John Walker’s Universal Gazetteer (first edition 1795): and Thomas Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar (first edition 1749) and Modern Gazetteer (first editon 1762). Such works were commonly republished many times, often with scant regard for the rapid development of geographical knowledge. As a result much of the text and many of the maps were woefully out of date when the “latest discoveries” were presented to an eager public. But, not for the only time in the history of the trade, the publishers’ main concern was not for accuracy of information but minimisation of costs.
Nevertheless the maps engraved for these works have an unsophisticated charm, which is perhaps slightly misleading even to the modern reader as to the state of geographical knowledge in the eighteenth century. They were rarely coloured for publication, though occasionally a set would be perfunctorily coloured in outline. Many have been removed from their books and coloured since, however, and a selection are available in the catalogue on this site, as are a number of examples of the complete volumes themselves. Sound complete copies of these books are now quite scarce partly because of their fragile nature and partly because of the depredations of the more ruthless species of printseller. My policy is to sell on any decent complete copies, though in most cases this involves some degree of restoration.
These books continued to be published into the early years of the nineteenth century, but in much smaller numbers, and were soon overtaken by the more efficient printing and production methods being introduced and the spread of education, which led readers to demand a higher standard of information and cartography.