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Map, Military, Civil War, Timby’s System of Coast Defense, 9 Antique Prints, New York, 1881

Theodore Ruggles Timby (1822-1909) (after)
System of Coast Defence [Defense]
New York: 1881
Set of color lithographs (9 from original set of 11)
15 x 24 inches, ruled border
22 x 28 inches, overall

Rare set of diagrams, illustrations and a map explaining a plan for the defense of coastal waters proposed by the American inventor Theodore R. Timby. They show an innovative system utilizing revolving gun turrets in stationary cylindrical fortresses made of steel or iron, using New York City Harbor as an example of how it could be deployed. The plates are introduced with a Map of the Narrows, Lower Bay and Sandy Hook of New York City drawn by Timby, showing the theoretical placement of two towers with revolving turrets. Timby’s invention of the revolving gun turret had already revolutionized maritime warfare when it was first used on the Monitor, an ironclad battleship, in its famous encounter with the Merrimack at Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the Civil War in March 1862. The text in the lower margin of the map gives an overview of the plates. All the plates as issued except Figure 5 and Figure 9 are included in the set offered here. The key concept is explained in the caption for Figure 1: a cylindrical tower, mounted on a circular base, both of which can revolve independently or simultaneously, affording “a practical basis for automatic training, sighting and firing heavy ordnance with rapidity and exactness. And with a semi-revolution of the base (if desired), the Tower is at once moved out of a fixed range of an enemy’s fire.”

Product description continues below.


List of Plates: 

Note: The Figures are each titled and captioned in the lower margin and bear Timby’s emblem of a tower surrounded by flags under the slogan “Dieu et Mon Droit 1841/1881” and the text, “This System patented in the United States, England, France, in the Empires of Germany and Austria, in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Turkey, by T.R. Timby.” Some have additional explanatory text in the lower margin. Quotes below are excerpted from the map caption unless otherwise noted. Timby spells “defense” as “defence” throughout.

Map of the Narrows, Lower Bay and Sandy Hook by T.R. Timby
Map of the entrance to New York Harbor, with portions of New Jersey, Staten Island and Brooklyn, from Sandy Hook, NJ, to the west, to New York Bay to the east, and Raritan Bay and Lower Bay in the center. It shows the placement of two moles and towers at the entrance to The Narrows leading to New York Bay, with a diagram of the arc covered by the towers, allowing artillery to reach a wide arc protecting the channel. The map inscription states, “These PLANS are DESIGNED for, and ADAPTED to, the DEFENCE of ANY POSITION or LOCALITY.” 

Figure 1: Timby’s Planetary System of Coast Defence
Diagram of the revolving tower atop the revolving base, flying an American flag.

Figure 2: Vertical Section, Timby’s Planetary System of Coast Defence
Vertical section diagram of Figure 1.

Figure 3: Plan of the Timby Planetary System of Coast Defence
Diagram of the revolving tower and base shown in Figures 1 and 2 from above, “as seen from a position on the flagstaff of the Tower.”

Figure 4: Timby’s Cordon of Revolving Towers for Harbor Defence
This view of the harbor illustrates the placement of a cordon of towers, placed on “terra-firma,” i.e. existing coastline, “with chains and floats submerged.” The drawing depicts the harbor on a typical day, with an assortment of boats sailing past the towers.

Figure 6: Timby’s Cordon of Revolving Towers for Harbor Defence
A diagram from above and an illustration of a side view of the harbor, both showing three towers, with connecting chains and floats. The chains and floats are shown “In Position,” raised for defense to block ships from passing through the channel, and “On Bottom of Channel,” lowered for everyday boat traffic.

Figure 7: The Timby Mole and Tower System for Harbor Defence
A pictorial illustration of “A view of the Mole and Tower system, as it would appear if located on either side of the Narrows just below Fort Lafayette, N.Y., looking toward Sandy Hook,” on a typical day with sailboats in the water.

Figure 8: The Timby Mole and Tower System for Harbor Defence
A large diagram of the tower and mole system from above with an elevation illustrated below. The mole is a large circular platform with sloping sides, that the figure’s caption states “may be of Earth, Brick, Stone or Iron” with a diameter between 500 and 600 feet. Its purpose is to protect the adjoining tower made from steel or iron with a diameter between 80 and 100 feet.

Figure 10: The Timby Mole and Tower System Vertical Cross Section
Diagram of the mole and tower in cross section from the side.

Theodore Ruggles Timby was an American inventor. Born a farmer’s son in New York State, he began producing ingenious models for inventions while still in his teens. At age 19 he obtained his first patent, for a revolving ironclad gun turret, which he brought to New York City and exhibited, although he did not succeed in having it adopted by military authorities he approached: both in the US and the government of Napoleon III in France. He turned his attention to other inventions until the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861, when he finally saw an opportunity to revive the project. John Ericsson, designer of the Monitor battleship agreed to pay Timby a royalty for the revolving gun turrets based on his design that were placed on the vessel. The value of the invention was finally battle tested and proven in March 1862 in the ship’s famous encounter with the Confederate ship, the Merrimack, at the Battle of Hampton Roads, but Ericsson publicly took credit for the turret invention. In 1862, Timby also developed a plan of sighting and firing heavy guns by electricity. For over 40 years, he attempted in vain to have both inventions officially acknowledged and paid for by the US government, despite the fact that several naval officers, the New York Legislature, and the New York Supreme Court and Court of Special Appeals advocated or ruled on his behalf. In the 1880s, he designed a variety of coastal defense systems incorporating revolving towers and barriers. Timby also held several patents for non-military devices, including a barometer, a water wheel, a paper cutter, a door sash, and a series of world globe clocks.

Condition; Each map generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with only minor remaining toning and wear. Some maps with restored chips and short tears at edges.  Map plate with some slightly greater discolorations, also chips (losses) and tears in lower margin, partly affecting text, restored and tipped in, backed on Japanese tissue.


Parton, James. People’s Book of Biography; or, Short Lives of the Most Interesting Persons of All Ages and Countries. New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1873. pp. 233-237. Online at Google Books: (25 April 2019).

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Vol. 9. p. 116. New York: James T. White & Company, 1899. Online at Google Books: (25 April 2019).

“Theodore R. Timby Dead.” New York Times. 11 November 1909. p. 9. Online at: (25 April 2019).

Additional information


19th Century