Colton’s Pocket Map of the United States The Canadas &c. Showing the Railroads, Canals & State Roads with Distances from Place to Place…, 1853.
We think nothing of pulling a smartphone out of our pockets and consulting it to answer the “where am I” and “how do I get there” questions. Our 19th century forebears did the same with the pocket map: often a large map dissected and mounted on linen so that it could be folded without wear and tear and encased in a firm cover to further reduce damage. The Clements has such a map, a gift from the Saline Public Library, a map without its cover and with no backing, which shows the wear of much use, understandable given that it is Colton’s Map of the United States The Canadas &c. Showing the Railroads, Canals & State Roads with Distances from Place to Place… As these images show, this large (25 x 30 inches) map is in need of tender loving care to repair its torn edges and frayed folds, conservation work that can be done and would bring this map back to its useful function.
Its colors remain as vivid as when they were applied to this steel plate engraving after its publication in 1853 by the enormously prolific J. Colton of New York City, purveyor of pocket maps, wall maps, tourist and emigrant guides, and family atlases large and small, several of which are in the Clements map collection.
By the “United States” of the title, this map only shows those states confirmed by the date of its publication, not the breadth of the United States territories extending to the Pacific; that view is saved for one of the inset maps. As the title further suggests, the main focus of the map is on the railroads, marked by cross hatched lines, and stage roads, shown with thin unbroken lines, rivers, and canals.
This transportation and communication map includes distances, presumably in miles, marked with numbers between the open circles of placenames. The lie of the land in terms of hills, mountains, and valleys is flattened and largely ignored: the Appalachians are depicted with the unobstrusive hachuring of caterpillar like lines, mere eyelashes on the terrain. Communication is further emphasized by the inset maps on the right: the isthmus of Panama region, foreshadowing the great canal that would speed this transit from Atlantic to Pacific built some 35 years later; the entire United States with Central America; and the region of New England, shown in greater more readable detail.
Although its size suggests otherwise, the map was designed as a pocket map folded up within a hard cover of 5 by 10 inches, and folded up it also served as the locator map for Colton’s Traveler’s and Tourist’s Guide Book (and Route Book) Through the United States of American and the Canadas (1850). Whether in the pocket or in the guidebook, it would have provided many Americans with a ready resource for their mental map of the United States in the fractious period leading up to the Civil War. It demonstrates how rapidly communication lines were developing and the ease with which travel was allowing movement from one region to another. All available in the pocket.