John Tallis & Co.

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To collectors of antique maps, the name Tallis is a venerable one. It is associated with a pinnacle in decorative cartography world wide. Their maps represent the end of an era in the production of grand decorative atlases. The Tallis trademark is the series if small illustrations or vignettes, depicting foreign scenes which are sensitively arranged around the map itself. Tallis maps supplied the great desire for foreign exotica that was in demand in the mid 19th century.

John Tallis and Co. flourished in England and North America from 1835 to 1860. The Company was initially a father and son business; both men were christened John. John senior died in 1842 leaving his entrepreneurial son to produce the illustrated atlas which established the reputation of the family as publishers of fine maps. With his brother Frederick, the Illustrated Atlas of the World was published in about seventy parts between 1849 and 1853. Each part sold for one shilling or twenty-five cents in America, and was made available in Australia and other British Colonies almost immediately, in 1854. The maps were released one at a time enabling purchasers to make regular small payments.

The cartography was both drawn and engraved by John Rapkin. The initial drawing was a collation of information from two sources. Map publishers paid for access to information concerning newly charted coast lines. They also used maps published previously by others. Tallis maps used the print medium of steel engraving. For this antique map of South Australia Rapkin would have carved the outline and text in a mirror image to his preliminary drawing on a sheet of hard steel. The plate would have been spread with ink and the excess wiped off leaving ink only in the grooves. A piece of paper was then soaked in water so as to become stretched and capable of squeezing into the grooves of the plate. It was then laid over the steel plate and rolled through a press leaving the ink in a reverse image to the steel plate.

Tallis & Co employed various artists throughout the years to execute their trademark vignettes. They were generally artists trained in topographical tradition from provincial areas and, as was the trend in the 1820s and 1830s, came to London to apprentice themselves to a master engraver. At any one time two hundred or so were employed by the Tallis company with most of the Australian colonies being drawn and engraved by A.H. Wray, W. Lacey, H.Warren and J. Rodgers. Few, if any, of these talanted people would ever travel to the Antipodes, so the images in the vignettes are interpreted from written accounts. As a result the Dingo in the map of South Australian has the appearance of a collie dog, for it was an animal the artist was familiar with that fit the description!

The Tallis maps are highly valued in Australia, especially the series of the individual colonies. They were the only decorative maps produced of the early colony showing internal detail: the map of Victoria depicts the substantial areas of gold mining, hand coloured in yellow, for example. The choice of images for each colony was dictated by the Victorian values of the day-whilst there was a penchant for the exotic amongst Europeans and Britons a completely ‘un-tamed’ land was not acceptable to their tastes. The images of Kangaroos and natives satisfy the exotica but images of European civilisation served as an invitation to the “New Britannia”.

Profile Magazine, issue three, Nov. 1996 pgs 28-31