Lot 30
  • 30

Speed, John

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, Presenting an Exact Geography of the Kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and the Isles adjoyning... A Prospect of the most Famous Parts of the World... With many Additions never before Extant. London: Thomas Bassett and Richard Chiswell, 1676
  • Paper
Folio (440 x 308mm.), engraved title and achievement of Charles II, additional title printed in red & black, dedications to the Lord Mayor of London, King James and "the Well-Affected and Favourable Reader", contents and sectional titles, 68 engraved general and county maps, 5 printed road tables, the Prospect with 28 maps of all parts of the world (including the double-hemisphere map of the world), TOGETHER 96 ENGRAVED MAPS IN HAND COLOUR, title, achievement, and woodcut initials throughout also hand-coloured, near contemporary mottled calf with central blind-stamped panel, preserved in a clamshell box, short tears mostly at lower folds, minor offsetting, repairs and strengthening on verso, minor browning, map of Spain shaved to neatline, binding lightly rubbed and scuffed, neatly rebacked and recornered


Chubb XXVII; Shirley, British Library T.Spe-1j; Skelton 92; Wing S4886

Catalogue Note


John Speed (1551/2-1629) was the author of the most important and prestigious atlas of his day, and his maps are highly sought-after today. Speed is best known for two atlases, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (first published in 1612), and the Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World (produced in 1627). The present posthumous 1676 edition has the general title page for both works, showing that it was intended to precede the Prospect.

The Prospect includes eight maps (on seven mapsheets) appearing for the first time: Virginia and Maryland, New England, Carolina, Jamaica and Barbados, East India, Russia and Canaan.

"The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine followed the model of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum—first published in English in 1606—in its title and its format, with map sheets backed by historical and geographical texts and gazetteers of place names. This was the earliest English attempt at producing an atlas on a grand scale, with the first detailed maps of the provinces of Ireland, the first set of county maps consistently attempting to show the boundaries of territorial divisions, and the first truly comprehensive set of English town plans—a notable contribution to British topography. Perhaps as many as fifty of the seventy-three towns had not previously been mapped, and about fifty-one of the plans were probably Speed's own work. In 1606 Speed might have been helped by his son John in surveying towns. A balance is struck between the modern and historical, with information placed on the edges of the maps about antiquarian remains, and sites and vignettes of famous battles, together with arms of princes and nobles. This additional information is one of the Theatre's most significant contributions. Scotland is covered in less detail, as Timothy Pont was surveying there. Individual maps for the Theatre were prepared from about 1602, plates were engraved by Jodocus Hondius—noted for his skills in decoration—from 1607, George Humble was granted a privilege to print the Theatre for twenty-one years from 1608, and the Theatre and History were published together in 1611–12. They were an immediate success: three new editions and issues of each appeared during Speed's lifetime, and a miniature version was first published about 1619–20. The maps in the Theatre became the basis for subsequent folio atlases until the mid-eighteenth century" (ONDB).