A 17-foot timeline

Posted on 6th May 2015 by simonbeattie

It’s May, and I’ve started cataloguing recently-acquired material in preparation for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair at the end of the month.  I’m not sure how this will fit on the stand, but…

We're going to need a longer tape measure...

We’re going to need a longer tape measure…

This large, folding chromolithograph (it’s over 6.5m long) is Adams’ Illustrated Panorama of History (London & Paris, A. H. Walker, 1878).  First published in 1871 under the title Synchronological Chart by the Oregon pioneer minister Sebastian C. Adams, and in various later editions under different titles, this was, for a timeline chart, ‘nineteenth-century America’s surpassing achievement in complexity and synthetic power.  Adams, who lived all of his early life at the very edge of U.S. territory, was a schoolteacher and one of the founders of the first Bible college in Oregon.  Born in Ohio in 1825 and educated in the early 1840s at the brand-new Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, at the heart of the American abolitionist movement, Adams was a voracious reader, a broad thinker, and an inveterate improver.  The Synchronological Chart is a great work of outsider thinking and a template for autodidact study; it attempts to rise above the station of a mere historical summary and to draw a picture of history rich enough to serve as a textbook in itself.

Adams 1

‘Adams’ Synchronological Chart was big—seventeen feet long and more than two feet tall—but it was also visually richer than its contemporaries.  Though he conceived it in far-away Salem, Oregon, Adams traveled east to have his chart made by the virtuoso Cincinnati lithographers Strobridge & Co., a firm that produced precision maps, details engravings of Civil War scenes, travelogues, and colorful advertisements for commercial clients including theaters and circuses.  In its final form, Adams’ chart embodied characteristics of all of these: it was huge and detailed, packed with information, and a riot of color …

Adams 2

‘Adams initially produced the chart independently by selling subscriptions and investing his own money.  But after the 1871 edition, his work was picked up by printers in different American cities and then in England as well.  Indeed, it is still available in colourful facsimile today’ (Daniel Rosenberg & Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time, pp. 172–3).

Adams 3

Adams 4

Adams 5

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2 responses to “A 17-foot timeline”

  1. Alastair Buchan says:

    Hi. Was interested to read your article. Following the death of my father we found one of these in his loft. The cover is badly damaged and there are a couple of other pages with slight damage but on the whole in fairly decent condition.

    Do you know if we could have this restored?

    • Simon Beattie says:

      You need to speak to a bookbinder/conservator. I don’t know if the Antiquarian Booksellers Association can perhaps suggest one?

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