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The Bankruptcy of Thomas Jefferys: An Episode in the Economic History of Eighteenth Century Map-Making

J. B. Harley
Imago Mundi
Vol. 20 (1966), pp. 27-48
Published by: Imago Mundi, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1150407
Page Count: 22
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The Bankruptcy of Thomas Jefferys: An Episode in the Economic History of Eighteenth Century Map-Making
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Abstract

Thomas Jefferys (died 1771) was one of the most significant London mapsellers of the mid-eighteenth century. He enjoyed an international reputation and apparent prosperity as a publisher of American and European maps during the Seven Years War. Yet in 1766 he became bankrupt. The paper offers an interpretation of Jefferys' bankruptcy in the light of his business activities. After reconstructing the main phases of his career, the conclusion is reached that the causes of bankruptcy only operated in the period after 1765, when he became involved in the production of a series of English county maps based on original field survey. Hitherto, his maps had been compiled from inexpensive secondary sources; the field surveys involved a new set of costs which led to his failure. The bankruptcy explains an otherwise puzzling change of ownership in some of his maps after 1765-especially the acquisition by Robert Sayer of a substantial share in his enterprises. These events may have wider implications in the history of eighteenth-century cartography. Many map-publishers were under-capitalized and had to survive on low profit margins. These, in turn, may have retarded cartographical progress; the conclusion reached is that plagiarism was frequently an economic necessity for many mapsellers.

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