Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands compiled from recent government surveys.
PUBLISHED 1879, LONDON
Size: 31" X 51"
Condition: Working nautical chart. Some creasing. Minor stains near title. Backed on blue paper.
A stunning nautical chart of the the Island of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by the renown firm of James Imray & Son. It is possible that this chart is one of the first attainable chart of Puerto Rico.
This blueback, as these charts were commonly called, is adorned with eleven insets that include; San Juan, Mayaguëz, Guanica, the islands of Mona and Sombrero, Road Harbour, Gorda Sound, the S.E. end of Culebra, St-Thomas Harbour, Christianstaed and Ponce.
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,
important and interesting notations beyond the usual sounding, reefs, and marine depths, are placed throughout the chart to offer the user pertinent information such as
“Many scattered reef’s hearabout” or “Reef (limit uncertain”. And if it wasn’t clear enough, the firm of Imray and Son added this caveat for the weary navigator: “As no part of the coast of Puerto Rico has been surveyed, more than ordinary care is required in the navigation.”
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.)