Authoritative yet elusive
Benjamin Pickever Wilme (c. 1816-1862), was an Irish civil engineer who settled in London and published this richly illustrated part-work in the 1840s. In his introduction he remarks: ‘if we examine the maps drawn by surveyors generally, we cannot but perceive a very great difference in the execution of them; an almost total want of system is observable’. Furthermore, some draughtsmen ‘can draw good lines, but cannot write, or form good letters; some are adepts at colouring, but either cannot draw good lines or write well; others can only write, but make a most miserable attempt at the remaining parts’.
Wilme’s book received a glowing and lengthy review in ‘The Magazine of Science’ (Vol. IX, London 1847, pp. 338-339): ‘a more valuable, complete volume has never, we believe, been presented to our notice’. It should become a ‘prized possession’ of anyone involved in map-making or technical drawing – students, teachers and established engineers. The reader was expected to know Wilme by reputation: ‘Mr Wilme’s name appearing on the title page’ was a ‘sufficient and ample guarantee’ that the book was worth buying. However very little of Wilme’s work has survived, or made it into print in the first place. His 1851 ‘Symbolic map of London’ is known in a single institutional copy. He remains an elusive figure.
Condition & Materials
First edition, 4to. pp. [xiv], iii-viii, 69, [ix] + zincographed additional title, folding hand-coloured frontispiece, 42 plates (of which 15 are folding, 7 with original hand colour), numerous illustrations in text, ‘directions to the binder’ leaf at end. Nothing appears to be lacking: A1 (pages i-ii) may be the letterpress title. Contemporary green morocco-backed original green cloth, upper cover ruled and lettered direct in gilt, spine gilt in compartments, binding very slightly soiled and worn. Bookplate of W.A. Cotton on front free endpaper; from the celebrated Wardington collection of important atlases and geographical works, sold by Sotheby’s in 2006, with Lord Wardington’s bookplate on the lower pastedown.