Thomas Jefferys’ Theodolite

Atlases at Daniel CrouchLondon is blessed with a number of really first-rate shops selling antique maps.  Some have already been featured here on the blog – others most certainly will be in posts to come.  To visit any one of them is in some ways an even better experience than visiting one of the world’s great map libraries: many of the maps are manifestly of museum quality; there is no limit on how many maps you can ask to see and to handle, and there is expert guidance and a fund of professional knowledge on hand to be tapped into.  Best of all, you can actually buy them.

Bennett Map FanI made my way to the most recently established of these superlative map-shops just yesterday – Daniel Crouch Rare Books in Bury Street.  Just have a look at the website  to get the flavour.  I’ve been dealing in maps for over forty years.  I’m not easily impressed, but this is a seriously impressive shop.  The shelves lined with impossibly and improbably beautiful atlases.  Two of the ‘great’ maps of London hanging on the walls.  A gorgeous Richard Bennett map of London on an eighteenth-century fan. Several maps I knew of but had never, ever, seen before.  WaywiserAnd not just maps and atlases, but other articles of delight – not just one, but two original waywisers – the pedometers used for measuring the roads by early mapmakers.

So many things to covet, and covet I do, but what I am really here for is to have a look at something very special – a theodolite which we believe once belonged to that great eighteenth-century mapmaker, Thomas Jefferys – the man primarily responsible for the surveying and re-mapping of large swathes of England in the 1760s.  Some years ago, I wrote the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Jefferys and then followed that up with a longer and more detailed essay published in the now defunct journal Mapforum.  You can now read that, if you have a mind to, on a new parallel blog I’ve created as a home for my occasional formal essays and lectures – many of them previously unpublished or only published in not readily accessible journals.  There is a link under “Essays” at the top of the page.

Thomas Jefferys' TheodoliteKnowing my long-established interest in Jefferys, Daniel kindly invited me to have a look at the theodolite before it travels to its new home.  In a shop full of covetable things, how covetable is this?  Just as well it’s already sold.

Bennett's MarkLacking its original tripod, but still a beautiful example of an eighteenth-century precision instrument.  Made by the London instrument-maker John Bennett of Soho (1708-1770) and featuring what was still quite a new development, the sighting telescope at the top, an innovation which transformed the utility of the theodolite and hence transformed the accuracy of mapmaking.  The first sighting telescope theodolite had been made in London while Bennett was still an apprentice.

John Bennett Card

John Bennett’s trade-card © British Museum – 1958,1006.2763

It is an object which would not be out of place in Moira Goff’s current Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library (something not to be missed).  An object fully worthy of a place there – quite extraordinary what treasures turn up in the London map trade.  

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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