Samuel Augustus Mitchell and his son and successor, S. Augustus Mitchell Jr., were successful Philadelphia-based map publishers. According to the map historian Walter W. Ristow, “[b]etween 1831 and 1890, general map and atlas publishing in the United States was dominated by the companies founded by S. Augustus Mitchell in Philadelphia and Joseph H. Colton in New York City.” Neither Mitchell nor Colton had formal training in geography or cartography; “[t]heir principal contributions to the success of their respective firms, therefore, was in administration, management, and distribution.” (Ristow, 303, 315).
Samuel Augustus Mitchell Sr. began his career as a teacher. He thought American geography books were not of sufficient quality, so he decided to publish better ones by starting his own business. He had no training in cartography; thus he purchased engravings from other cartographers and atlas publishers such as Anthony Finley and Henry Tanner. Mitchell hired Finley’s chief engraver, J.H. Young, to improve and update the plates to show changes in American geography, such as those that regularly occurred with the expansion of the American west. Mitchell was a shrewd marketer and distributor. In addition to providing updated maps, he made them more desirable by adding aesthetic elements such as decorative borders. He also adopted lithography rather than engraving which allowed for greater printings at lesser costs, though the maps continued to be hand-colored. S. Augustus Mitchell Jr. took over the business upon his father’s retirement in 1860, and continued the family tradition with prolific map and atlas publishing.
The Mitchell family’s famous annual atlas, the New Universal Atlas, was first published by Henry Tanner starting in 1836. Mitchell published it under his own name starting in 1846, and he continued publishing it until 1849. In 1850, the copyright to Mitchell’s atlas was first acquired by Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., and then in 1856 by Charles DeSilver, both Philadelphia publishers. Thomas, Cowperthwait added five maps for their 1853 edition. DeSilver still owned the copyright in 1859, when another edition came out published by Cushings & Bailey, Baltimore, which added 23 more maps. In 1860, when S. Augustus Mitchell, Jr. succeeded his father, the Mitchells published the atlas again, and the name of the atlas was changed to the New General Atlas.
The New York City map in Mitchell’s atlases evolved through three formats. In Mitchell’s atlas from 1846 to 1859, the single-page map focused on old Manhattan, color and number coded by wards, with a key to important buildings and churches. From 1860 to 1867, the single-page map extended to midtown, and incorporated ferry routes for local travelers to surrounding Brooklyn and New Jersey. In 1867, the double-page map of New York City was introduced, showing Central Park and the Upper East Side and Upper West Side (as well other areas of Manhattan and the metropolitan area).Full publication information: S. Augustus Mitchell, Jr., 31 South Sixth Street, Philadelphia
Condition: Please inquire as to condition of maps currently in stock. Generally they are very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. The double page map has a vertical center fold as issued. Sometimes the center fold is lightly separating at the top or bottom but that can be matted out. Sometimes there is light edge wear, chipping, or short tears to the margin, also to be matted out.
David Rumsey Map Collection. 2003. http://www.davidrumsey.com/view.html (9 November 2006).
Ristow, Walter. American Maps and Mapmakers. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1985. pp. 303, 315.