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Maps by John Speed

John Speed antique maps have been a favorite of collectors for four centuries. The British cartographer originally made a living as a tailor, pursuing his interest in antiquities on the side. His big break came in 1598, when under the patronage of Sir Fulke Greville, Speed received an appointment with the customs office under Queen Elizabeth I.

Between 1605 and 1610, Speed collected material for a series of county maps of England and Wales including coin rubbings, coats of arms, and portraits. These town plans were the first of their kind for many of the towns. Speed’s atlas included these maps in the "Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain." Speed’s maps of the countries of the world were published as "A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World."

One of the five known sets of proof maps for "Theatre" was acquired by the University of Cambridge in 1968. This work features hand-colored county maps complete with illustrations of Tudor and Jacobean life, where tiny people work the fields and the landscape is alive with rivers and towns. "Theatre" made John Speed into one of the most famous British cartographers known today.


Quick Facts

  • A rare atlas published and hand colored after Speed’s death contains both the "Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain" and "A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World"
  • "A New and Accurat Map of the World" by Roger Rea dated 1662-1665, first published in John Speed’s "A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World," realized a price of $8,127 at a 2012 Christie’s auction
  • "A New and Accurat Map of the World Drawne according to ye truest Descriptions latest Discoveries & best Observations yt have been made by English or Strangers" by John Speed, considered one of the earliest world maps printed in English, sold for $12,500 at Old World Auctions in 2010

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