RATZER, BERNARD Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767.
London: Jeffreys & Faden, Jan. 12, 1776. Second issue (after the 1770 issue known in three copies). Engraved map, dissected to 16 sections and laid to linen, with the imprint of Jeffreys & Faden to the lower sheet, inset view of New York from Governors Island across the bottom of the lower sheet. Overall 48 x 36 inches (122 x 91 cm); each dissected section about 12 x 9 inches (35 x 23 cm). Dissected and backed as noted at an early date, a few panels integral but several separated, trimmed within the neatline at top but present along the bottom, showthrough of some old stains from the verso, a few small losses at corners and fold points but the generally well preserved, the map worthy of repair but sold with all faults.
A newly discovered Ratzer map, discovered in a Brooklyn shop 50 years ago and retained unrestored, a dissected and folded copy possibly for contemporary use.
In the highly charged political atmosphere of colonial New York following the 1765 Stamp Act, Lieutenant Bernard Ratzer, a skilled surveyor and engineer in the Royal American Regiment, was tasked with expanding the survey of Manhattan begun by John Montressor in 1766. The following year his map of lower Manhattan was issued, known as the "Ratzen" plan for the misspelling of his name. Ratzer continued surveying areas surrounding the city and in 1769 was commissioned by New York Governor Henry Moore to survey the border between New York and New Jersey, and the completed map bears an elegantly engraved dedication to Moore at upper left, the cartouche fitted to the form of the New Jersey coastline. Around Manhattan, a survey of the western part of Brooklyn shows the expansive rural areas where the Battle of Brooklyn was fought in August 1776, within a year of the Ratzer map appearing in New York.
The focus of Ratzer's map is the plan of lower Manhattan, precisely delineating the streets, named farms, major roads, cemeteries, churches, a synagogue and brewery. The topography extends to the north to approximately present day 50th Street. Below the map is an idyllic panoramic view of the city from Governors Island with five figures at right. The smoke emanating from a ship on the Manhattan side, a harbinger of the burning of many buildings in the months to come, is in fact the smoldering tar for caulking the hull of a ship, a sign of the everyday life of the busy waterways of the city.
Ratzer's map is a cartographic and artistic tour-de-force, a wealth of information of the colonial city on the brink of revolution, and the most accurate topography of the city to that date. Although not a commercial success when first issued in 1770 (that edition known in only about three copies), the map was re-issued with the imprint of Jeffreys & Faden in 1776 as war became imminent, and is frequently encountered dissected and folded for easier field use, sometimes in as many as 32 sections. Other copies of the map were included in some but not all copies of Faden's 1777 North American Atlas. Unrecorded copies of the Ratzer map are infrequently encountered and this copy is worthy of restoration.
In the reference work Manhattan in Maps the Ratzer Plan is described as "Perhaps the finest map of an American city and its environs produced in the eighteenth century. In its final form, its geographic precision combined with highly artistic engraving was unsurpassed in the urban cartography of its day ... The Ratzer Map evokes a halcyon period in the history of Manhattan" (Cohen/Augustyn. Manhattan in Maps, p. 73).
See also: STOKES, I.N. The Iconography of Manhattan Island ("one of the most beautiful, important and accurate plans of New York."), p. 341; Schwartz/Ehrenberg The Mapping of America, p. 192.
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