Provenance is a much abused term, or at least it’s much misunderstood. After poring over a Speed county map in the shop people will often turn to me and ask about its provenance. Only in exceptional circumstances can one track every movement of a book or a single sheet of paper over a period spanning hundreds of years - in the case of maps extracted from atlases it’s well nigh impossible - but what people often mean by ‘provenance’ is whether or not something is legit: how do you know it’s real, and how do you know it hasn’t been pinched from somewhere? The answer, in both cases, boils down to experience. What I can’t say, and it probably wouldn’t interest anyone greatly if I could, is that our hypothetical county map had been hanging on the wall of one Peter Huggins Esq. of The Drive, Camberley, since he bought it from Weinreb and Douwma in 1972. That is, unless the renowned Huggins collection had been publically dispersed and he had left marks of ownership. And that’s really what provenance is about: bookplates, ownership signatures, inscriptions and annotations which give us tantalising glimpses of how printed materials were read and used, and by whom.
This map is a wonderful example of that. This is John Stockdale’s A New Military Map of Spain and Portugal, compiled from the nautical surveys of Don Vincente Tofiño, the new provincial maps of Don Thomas Lopez, the large map of the Pyrennees by Roussell and various original documents, published in London in September 1812.
It is a huge folding map on 4 sheets, in total approx 218 x 166 cms, engraved by a member of the Neele clan (probably Samuel John), dissected into 72 panels and laid on linen as issued, with original hand-colour in outline, and its publisher’s slipcase with printed title label. Publication was advertised in the press (London Star, Morning Chronicle, The Eclectic Review); in a case or on rollers the price was £5, 5s. - a substantial sum in 1812 (see www.measuringworth.com, a favourite site of mine; we’re talking hundreds of pounds at least). Napoleon withdrew 20,000 troops from Spain after the loss of his Grande Armée in Russia, but the remainder were by no means beaten and fighting raged across the Peninsula over the next two years. A large-scale map like this would have been indispensable to officers in Wellington’s army, but in the ordinary way of things we’d have no means of knowing if our map made the journey from London to Spain. Fortunately, we have provenance. Exham Vincent wrote his name on the title label. According to the Army List an Exham Vincent served with the 39th Foot, commissioned as a Lieutenant in July 1803, and promoted to Captain on April 1 1813. The 39th’s battle honours include Albuera (1811) and Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive and Orthez (all 1813-14), raising the possibility that the map was carried and used on campaign. Exham seems to have been a family name, so there’s an outside chance that this was Captain Vincent’s dad, anxiously tracking his son’s movements as reports of Wellington’s battles appeared in the press, but it would seem curious to deprive a serving officer of such a valuable piece of kit. There is a later ownership inscription of W.J.E. Fosbery: according to Burke’s Dictionary of the Landed Gentry, there is a connection by marriage between our Vincents and the Fosberys of County Limerick. Everything falls into place.