Exceptional map goes for £170,000

An exceptional 17th century map of North America and Canada attracted international interest when it was offered at auction in Somerset (England) on January 17, by Lawrences of Crewkerne.

Against an estimate of £50,000-80,000, three telephone bidders and three bidders in the saleroom competed eagerly for it before the hammer fell at £170,000 (£203,150 including buyer’s premium). It was purchased by Daniel Crouch Rare Books, specialist dealer in antique atlases, maps, plans, sea charts and globes.

The manuscript map, meticulously coloured and remarkably well preserved on a 68 by 80 cm (27 x 31.5in) sheet of vellum, was drawn by London “plattmaker” (cartographer) John Thornton in 1699 and depicts North East America and Canada from Hudson’s Straights south through Labrador and Newfoundland to New England and New York. Map specialists at The British Library had suggested that the map might have been a special commission for a patron on account of the considerable detail given to small settlements on the Newfoundland coast, implying an interest in the local fishing business.

Its surprising emergence from a Scottish country house is explained by the business interests of the late vendor’s father, Harold Fortington, who had links with Canada and North America before the Second World War.

When his daughter, Mrs N. A. J. Moulton-Barrett, died in 2010 the map was found in the course of a valuation of the contents of The House of Glennie in Aberdeenshire undertaken by Lawrences for probate purposes.

The map had lain on a shelf in the attics at The House of Glennie beside some water tanks but its potential significance was recognised immediately and months of diligent research followed.

“The appeal of this remarkable large map lay in its exteme rarity,” commented Lawrences’ specialist, Rose Sanguinetti. “For the dedicated collector, a fine quality signed manuscript map of such an interesting location from the 17th century proved to be an extremely exciting discovery.”