Catalog Archive
Auction 155, Lot 406

Benjamin Franklin's Groundbreaking Chart of the Gulf Stream

"A Chart of the Gulf Stream [with] Remarks Upon the Navigation from Newfoundland to New York, in Order to Avoid the Gulf Stream", Franklin, Benjamin

Subject: North Atlantic

Period: 1786 (published)

Publication: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Color: Black & White

10.1 x 8.2 inches
25.7 x 20.8 cm
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This is Benjamin Franklin's groundbreaking chart of the Gulf Stream. The chart was intended to spur sea captains to alter their routes for quicker, more convenient travel. Franklin, who was Deputy Postmaster General for the Colonies, often received complaints regarding the amount of time it took to send mail to the Colonies. His cousin, Captain Timothy Folger, was a whaling captain and so Franklin inquired whether there might be a better sailing route. Folger described the Gulf Stream to Franklin and drew a sketch for him. Although the Gulf Stream had been well known to Spanish ship captains, who relied on it to sail from the Americas to the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish secrecy had kept this information and related charts from other maritime nations. Franklin began studying the Gulf Stream by making observations and charting water temperatures on his many trips across the Atlantic. Franklin began to distribute his findings along with Folger's map to British ship captains in 1767-70, but found that they largely ignored the information. Finally in 1786, after the Revolutionary War, Franklin published this map in A Letter from Dr. Benjamin Franklin ... Containing Sundry Maritime Observations, in Volume II of Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Franklin had founded the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, in 1743. It took the skeptical British years to follow Franklin's advice, but once they did their transatlantic journeys were about two weeks shorter.

The Gulf Stream is shown here along the eastern short from Florida to Newfoundland, and then turning southeast. There are three ships in the Gulf Stream with directional arrows flowing through it and notes reading "4 Minutes", "3 1/2 Minutes", and so on. The inset at top left depicts the "Annual Passage of the Herrings." The charming title cartouche includes a likeness of Benjamin Franklin and Neptune both seemingly pointing to the title engraved on a large rock. At left are Franklin's remarks regarding the Gulf Stream along with navigational notes. Engraved by James Poupard.

References: Wheat & Brun #721.

Condition: B+

A crisp impression on watermarked paper with light offsetting at left. Issued folding. Remnants of hinge tape on verso.

Estimate: $5,000 - $6,000

Sold for: $4,500

Closed on 11/18/2015