Published: 1854, London
Size: 26" X 40"
Condition: Working nautical chart, exhibits pencil marks related to navigation, some cracking, overall toning, staining in corners. Original blue backing and brown linen edging.
A beautiful nautical chart of the North Atlantic by the renown firm of James Imray & Son. This blueback, as these charts were commonly called, is adorned with eight insets that include; Havana Harbour by Don Joseph Del Rio, Bahia Honda, Port Mariel, Port Guantanamo, the Port of Santiago de Cuba, the Port of Matanzas,the Bay of Jagua or Xagua, and finally, Entrance of Puerto de las Nuevitas.
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. In this case, manuscript information exists from navigators as far back as November 1866 showing nautical vectors between the Florida Reef and the Nicholas Channel starting from the Western edge of the Great Bahama Bank.
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.)