'DEVONSHIRE WITH EXCESTER DESCRIBED...' by John Speed c.1611/1612 (first edition / proof copy)

'DEVONSHIRE WITH EXCESTER DESCRIBED...' by John Speed c.1611/1612 (first edition / proof copy)
SKU: spee/devo/002

A very decorative and detailed early 17th century map of Devon which was based on the survey by Christopher Saxton, engraved by Jodocus Hondius and published in John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (London: Sudbury & Humble, 1611 / 1612 [first edition]). The inset plan of Exeter, probably surveyed by Speed himself, is the earliest known of the city. On the reverse of the map there is a complete set of text briefly describing the history and topography of the county.

This is not only a much sought after first edition (identified by the large woodcut initial of the printers, William Hall and John Beale, on the reverse) but an extremely rare 'proof' copy. The map would have been printed before its completion and sent by Hondius, the engraver, (in Amsterdam) to Sudbury and Humble for their inspection. After their approval, the last details were added to the plate, including the distinct 'water silk' effect in the sea.. In the meantime, the 'proofs' were kept by the publishers and then issued in the first edition of the atlas.

John Speed (1552-1629) was born in the Cheshire village of Farndon and from his youth pursued his father's profession of tailoring. He later moved to London to continue this trade, though Speed's real passions lay elsewhere, namely in the fields of antiquity and cartography. He joined the Society of Antiquaries where his enthusiasm soon attracted the attention of notables such as William Camden and Sir Fulke Greville. In 1596 Greville provided Speed with a full time allowance to write a 'Historie of Great Britaine'. It was during this project that Speed decided to add a cartographic supplement to the work and it was from this that his famous atlas, 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', was born.

When published in 1611/12, his atlas was an immediate success, outdoing the one established by Christoper Saxton in 1579. There were a number reasons for this: Speed's atlas showed each county separately with its hundreds, was resplendent with heraldic shields but most significantly had one or two town plans. Displayed from a bird's eye view perspective, many of the towns were surveyed by Speed himself using a distinct 'scale of paces' and are the earliest known plans of these places. The aesthetic beauty of the maps were also down to the Dutch engraver, Jodocus Hondius, whose fine calligraphy and decorative strapwork are a feature throughout.

Speed's legacy was to live on long after his passing, the ' Theatre' itself was published in many editions until 1676. The maps were then re-published in the early 18th Century by Henry Overton and then finally in the 1780s by Dicey & co. giving them a life of 170 years.

  • This is an original copperplate engraving with later hand colour.
  • Printed area is approximately 50.9cms by 37.6cms.
  • The map is in excellent condition for its age and has decent mountable margins. Click on image for a better view.
  • Click on 'Delivery Policy' for postage costs.
  • Guaranteed to be over 400 years old.