MOLL, Herman (1654-1732)
A New & Exact Map of the Coast, Countries and Islands within ye Limits of ye South Sea Company
London: H. Moll, T. & J. Bowles, P. Overton & J. King, [circa 1730]. Copper-engraved map, with original outline colour, in excellent condition. Sheet size: 29 1/2 x 21 3/4 inches.
A fascinating and historically important map relating to the infamous "South Sea Bubble" and English piracy on the Spanish Main.
This fascinating map represents the synergy of one of the most sensational economic phenomena in British history and the intrigue surrounding the designs of London-based pirate adventurers. In 1711, as Britain was gaining the upper hand over Spain in Queen Anne's War (1702-14), the Lord Treasurer, Robert Hartley granted exclusive trading rights to commerce with Spanish America to a society of investors known as the South Sea Company. While some of the Company's members were actual corsairs who wished to attack Spanish galleons, by 1713 the Company was given official legitimacy as it was granted a privilege by Madrid to send one trading vessel a year to the region in question, in addition to being granted some involvement in the 'Asiento,' the African slave trade. While the Company did not actually make its first trading voyage until 1717, and even then only made a modest profit, wild speculation consumed London as thousands of investors came to believe that the Company promised to deliver astronomical riches in Andean silver and gold and slave sales. The Company's association with respected politicians and merchants added justification to the ebullient media campaign launched on numerous broadsides. The Exchequer loaned the Company over £11.7 million in public funds (an outrageous sum) and by August, 1720 individual shares reached a staggering high of £1,000. Described as "a company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody knows what it is," the share price began to rapidly plummet all the way down to a low of £100 per share once a few commentators began to ask the obvious question. The so-called "South Sea Bubble" had burst, leaving both the Exchequer and numerous investors with massive debts, based on loans leveraged against the share price while it was at a high. As we know today, it was not the first, and by no means the last occasion that the public had been swept up in such irrational exuberance. After its near collapse the Company managed to reconstitute itself, and it continued to maintain a limited trade with the Spanish Main until the 1760s, and from then until 1850 it served as debt management agency for the Exchequer. The main section of this magnificent map embraces all of South America, the West Indies and the southern portions of North America, including Florida and California (which is assumed to be an island). Spanish America is shown divided into its numerous captaincies and all aspects of the coastlines are labelled in great detail. A dotted line located far out into the ocean denotes "The Sea Limit" of the Company's exclusive operational space. The detailed lines of ocean currents are derived from Edmond Halley's revolutionary hydrological world map. This principal map is accompanied by nine exquisitely engraved cartographic insets detailing harbours and islands, which might be especially important to any aspiring corsair who may wish to stalk Spanish treasure fleets in the region. These sites include Acapulco, the Gulf of Fonseca, the Galapagos Islands, Juan Fernando Island, the Panamanian Isthmus, the Straits of Magellan, Pepys's Island and a general overview of the trans-Atlantic Passage from England. Above the main section, are three large and highly detailed inset maps of the important harbours of Chiloe, Valdivia (both in Chile) and Guyaquil (Ecuador). As suggested in the very lower part of the map, in addition to Halley, Moll based most of his geography on the works of the Parisian royal cartographer Guillaume De L'Isle. The present map was part of Herman Moll's magnificent folio work, a New and Compleat Atlas. Moll was the most important cartographer working in London during his era, a career that spanned over fifty years. His origins have been a source of great scholarly debate; however, the prevailing opinion suggests that he hailed from the Hanseatic port city of Bremen, Germany. Joining a number of his countrymen, he fled the turmoil of the Scanian Wars for London, and in 1678 is first recorded as working there as an engraver for Moses Pitt on the production of the English Atlas. It was not long before Moll found himself as a charter member of London's most interesting social circle, which congregated at Jonathan's Coffee House at Number 20 Exchange Alley, Cornhill. It was at this establishment that speculators met to trade equities (most notoriously South Sea Company shares). Moll's coffeehouse circle included the scientist Robert Hooke, the archaeologist William Stuckley, the authors Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe, and the intellectually-gifted pirates William Dampier, Woodes Rogers and William Hacke. From these friends, Moll gained a great deal of privileged information that was later conveyed in his cartographic works, some appearing in the works of these same figures. Moll was highly astute, both politically and commercially, and he was consistently able to craft maps and atlases that appealed to the particular fancy of wealthy individual patrons, as well as the popular trends of the day. In many cases, his works are amongst the very finest maps of their subjects ever created with toponymy in the English language.
Shirley, Maps in the Atlases of the British Library I, T.Moll-4b, 12; Cf. Hutchinson, 'Herman Moll's view of the South Sea Company,' Journal for Maritime Research, 2003; Reinhartz, The Cartographer and the Literati: Herman Moll and his Intellectual Circle.