Chart of the Gulf of Mexico and Windward Passages including the Islands of Cuba...
Published 1873, London
Size: 40.25" X 50.25"
Condition: Working nautical chart, exhibits pencil marks related to navigation. Professionally restored with soiling along top and bottom of borders.
A stunning nautical chart of the North Atlantic by the renown firm of James Imray & Son. This blueback, as these charts were commonly called, depicts the gulf of Mexico surrounding Florida and the islands of Cuba, Haïti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. It also, interestingly, offers manuscript information from past navigators that date as far back as March 1880 east of the Bahamas.
It should be noted that bluebacks are rare in general, but especially those that were in actual use, due to the nature of the wear and tear of working nautical documents. However, when they do survive the vagaries of time, they often offer an interesting view into the past where nautical information was still a work in progress. For example, a notation exists that indicates that “no part of the Island of Puerto Rico has been surveyed… its coast should therefore be approached with the greatest care.”
Another notation indicates that “only a small portion of the coast of Haïti (the N.W. part) has been examined; the remaining part… is believed to be very imperfectly represented on the chart.” As such, it is advised that the larger chart, also published by Messrs. Imray & Son of the Island be consulted.
Finally, it is noted that “the Grand Cayman if from a survey made in 1773 by Mr. Gould, but the Little Cayman and Cayman Brock have not been examined. The position of the islands is considered uncertain and a survey of the whole group is much needed.” And just to hammer the point home that these blueback charts were working documents a notation was added to most charts published by the firm of Imray on Son that indicates that “the publishers respectfully request communications that may tend to the improvement of this or any of their works.”
However, it should pointed out that unlike the admiralty charts, which began to be sold to the public in 1821by the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, and which had a reputation for greater accuracy, the privately sold bluebacks, were the preferred choice of the important and growing merchant fleet. It has been argued that the continued demand for the bluebacks resulted in large part because of their focus on specific, and well travelled routes, as opposed to the Navy’s need for greater accuracy in more distant and obscure shores. Furthermore, the heavier inks applied, and the use of the Mercator’s projection with the occasional rhumb line, made for an easier reading by a less demanding merchant fleet for accuracy, but well entrenched in their historical ways and preferences.
As such, bluebacks continue to be sought after by collectors because of their ability to convey a past where a sailors experience was as important as the chart itself. Trade routes were often well trotted such that charts could forgo a certain amount of accuracy, in exchange for the familiar components with charts of the past such as the ornate script used for cartouches, and the overall look and feel of the chart itself.
(Sources: Fisher, S., The Makers of the Blueback Charts.)