Monday 17th September 2012

All a Matter of Size ...

Herewith, a charming – and as it turns out – educative item, that recently arrived from the U.S. A map in two parts, the lower half being the COMPARATIVE SIZE OF CITIES, and above it, ditto, the HEIGHT OF MOUNTAINS.It is a wood-engraving published by William c. Woodridge – ‘Late Instructor in the American Asylum’ – of Hartford, Connecticut, in or about 1823.

The plans of the cities of New York and London in particular are beautifully engraved; the wharves of Lower Manhattan like alligator's snout cutting through the Hudson and East Rivers; the cut of London, to my mind reminiscent of an old ten-bob note, is enhanced by the flow of the Thames as it curls through its midst, culminating in the loop formed as it bends round the Isle of Dogs. And look how the engraver has enjoyed making tiny depictions of the shipping and craft, including the forest of ships’ masts that crowd around Millwall waiting entry to the docks. All very redolent of trade and commerce, no doubt.

At a glance it is a simple thing, and as aforesaid, pleasing to the eye but revealing little more than its titles suggest. There is no obvious intent in the design to give anything more than the salient details of the streets, and certainly it isn’t going to oblige with directions from A to B. But a dip beneath its surface soon reveals its complexities. It is in fact, as you might expect of a leaf from a School Atlas, a receptacle of quite copious amounts of information; a sort of early nineteenth century Google page.

The key is in the word ‘comparative’. Comparison lends itself to universality, i.e. an understanding of the relative size of places, and in the case of mountains, things, also gives some idea of the numerous dimensions and intricacies of the world around.Thus, from this visual we learn that London is roughly five times the size of New York; ditto its population. Furthermore, the notes in the margin provide further information regarding comparison to other major cities: New York’s inhabitants are equal to those of Manchester and Moscow, for instance, whilst many of cities of the east were up to three times larger. Pekin ‘is estimated by some’ to have a population a whopping eight times larger – the Big Apple had some growing yet to do.

The same method of comparison is employed in the chart illustrating the varied height of mountains above. They range from Gibraltar (c.1500 ft) in the foothills to the snow-capped ‘Himmalay’ up aloft at 29,000 ft – a remarkably accurate estimate given that no one had been near its summit at this date. (Though attempts were already underway).

Also shown, no doubt for our edification, in the spaces in between is the absolute height at which a grape will grow (9000 ft approximately); trees (17,500 ft), as well as ‘the greatest height attained by man’ (22,000 ft). Only two things ascend above this height: the soaring condor (c. 23,000 ft), and at roughly the same, M. Gay Lussac, who according to this, on the 8th September 1804, went up from Paris in a hot air balloon, and in doing so broke all previous records.



All this and more informative features - on a sheet of paper approximately 10” x 8”.

All yours: £115.00.

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