The Johnson U.S. Map Project

Project Overview

Alvin Jewett Johnson (1827-1884) led a New York City publishing company which published Johnson's Family Atlases under his name from 1860 to 1887. These atlases were published under his name alone or with Browning (1860-62) and Ward (1862-1866). They are fascinating in that, as the years went along, the atlas maps demonstrated the growth of the United States during this quarter of century, showing the step-by-step expansion of railroads and the development of new states, counties and towns. As the years went along, the maps were updated creating for each map a set of map states or variations. These atlases and loose maps taken from them have become of increasing value to collectors and historians. In order for these loose maps to be of full use to historians for study (new counties showed up within two years of their creation and new states of the union almost as soon as they were announced) loose maps from these atlases need to be definitively dated. Collectors also need to know the true date of the maps; while some of the states/variations were utilized for up to two years, many changes occurred sometimes within one year, thus making some versions more plentiful than others. The Johnson U.S. Map Project has set out to date loose maps from the Johnson atlases as definitively as possible, as well as to act as resource for those wanting to study the role that Johnson had in the development of American mapping and atlas publishing in the mid-to-late 19th Century.

Project History

In 1983, Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland held an exhibition of maps of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay from the Huntingfield Collection of local map collectors Russell Morrison and Owen Henderson*. During the exhibition, Russ and Owen opened their house and full collection to a delegation from the Washington Map Society. Of particular attention to one of the members of this delegation, Dr. Ira Lourie, in this magnificent private exhibition from their collection was a series of states/variations of the Maryland map from the atlases of Alvin J. Johnson showing the changes in those maps from year to year. Being new to the hobby of map collecting, he had already learned about many of the American 19th Century atlas publishers and was well acquainted with the atlases of Mitchell and Colton, but knew very little about Johnson. His map collecting focused on the mapping of Maryland and he had already bought all of historically significant maps of Maryland that were in his price range. With his collecting at a standstill, he decided that he would study the Maryland maps of Johnson; thus the Johnson U.S. Map Project was born.

First he went to the Library of Congress which has a fine collection of Johnson Atlases from 1860 thru 1873, with a couple from the early 1880s. There, he was quickly able to catalog the various state/variations of Johnsonís Delaware and Maryland map in those atlases. That task having been completed and looking for more map collecting experiences, he then began to track the changes in all of the U.S. maps in these atlases. He found many such changes including instances in which some early 1860 atlas with the same publication date had different states/variations of the same map. He then began to visit other libraries around the country and found that there were states/variations of the maps that were not represented in the Library of Congress collection.

*Morrison, R., Pappenfuse, D., Bramucci, N. and Janson-La Palme, R. On the Map. Washington College, 1983.

Basic Project Resources and Acknowledgements

Dr. Lourieís project grew into maturity with his discovery of two well known collectors of 19th Century atlases each of whom had a collection of Johnson atlases more comprehensive than that of the Library of Congress: David Rumsey and Roger Baskes. David first invited him to visit and use his collection in the basement library of his San Francisco home and later sent atlases to his home in Maryland for him to study. Using Davidís encouragement and his reputation, Dr. Lourie gained access to other collectors and their collections. Of particular note was his introduction to Roger, who based on his relationship with David, loaned him some of his atlases for study which he sent to Dr. Lourie without ever having met him in person. Without the help of David and Roger this project would never have gotten as far as it has.

David Rumsey also has created a website for his Historical Map Collection,, in which he shares scanned images of a huge portion of his collection of maps and atlases. All of the map images on this Johnson U.S. Map Project website have been donated by David from the David Rumsey website. At the time of the development of the Map Project website, David had scanned Johnson atlases from 1860, 1865, 1874 and 1886 and he has agreed to scan his 1864 edition in order for our Johnson Map Project website to have the three map images that are not available in the other four atlases.

The project also owes a debt of gratitude to the staff of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, who diligently retrieved outlandish amounts of material for us and always with a smile and interest in our project. This was especially true of Ed Redmond for his more recent help and the 1980ís staff who allowed us to wander the stacks to find material for the study.

Project Information

In total, the Johnson U.S. Map Project has studied over 85 atlases from 9 libraries, 4 private collections, and several pre-auction exhibitions. Numerous loose atlas maps have also been studied including a large collection at the Library of Congress. In this study, we have discovered 67 different maps utilized in Johnson atlases. Most all of these maps have had a number of states/variations ranging from 1 to 19, with an average of 9. In the project, we are referring the changes as states/variations because in strict historical map study some of the variations noted might not qualify as "true" map states. However, for the purpose of dating loose maps and tracking the history of the Johnson atlases, these variations are important keys. In all there are 631 different states/variations of the 67 maps.

Project Updating

Even up to the latest work sessions in which we were checking our data against either a collection of atlases or a group of loose maps, new states/variations of the maps continue to be discovered. Therefore, while we have declared the formal study over, we expect new states/variations to be found. The Johnson U.S. Map Project would be appreciative if those who discover maps that are not represented in our database could let us know so that we can continue to update the study. Similarly, if you find yourself unable to find a map of yours in our database, please inform us so that we can help you identify your map and/or update the database with a new state/variation. You can do so using the Contact Us section of website.

Archival Data

The database utilized in this website and its Map Identifier function is an abbreviated data set developed for the primary purpose of easy and rapid identification and dating of loose Johnson U.S. atlas maps. The project also has a more comprehensive "Archival" database for the use of serious students of Johnson and his atlases. This database will be made available to those who are approved by the project.

Donate to the Project

While the data collection for this project has been fully supported by the project itself, funds will be needed in order to pay for and provide ongoing support to this website. If you find this website helpful and/or entertaining, we would welcome any size donation. Donate to the Johnson U.S. Map Project

Who Are We?

The Johnson U.S. Map Project represents the work of Ira S. Lourie. He is a child psychiatrist who has been an avid map collector since 1978 and whose mapping related interests include both the maps of Maryland and the atlases of Alvin J. Johnson. He has presented his work on Johnson and his atlases to the Washington Map Society and has been published in the Map Societyís journal, the Portolan. Dr. Lourie is the sole owner of the Johnson U.S. Map Project database and website.