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Article: Boschke's Rare Map of D.C.

Boschke's Rare Map of D.C.

With a store in the center of Washington D.C., we pride ourselves on the rare and sought-after antique maps that we have to offer of the area. From folding pocket maps to Civil War maps, the pieces that we offer are truly unique. Today, we’ll tell you a little bit about our newest acquisition; the rare topographical map of D.C. by Albert Boschke.

We currently offer the original map of Albert Boschke's extremely sought-after "Topographical Map of the District of Columbia Surveyed in the Years 1856 '57 '58 & '59" from 1861. Boschke’s map is known for its highly accurate details, and it is set apart from the rest due to the accuracy of his design. 

A Map Design on His Own Dime

Drawn on a scale of four inches to a mile, the map documents the location of all buildings and streets in Washington D.C. from the period before the Civil War. Both private and public buildings are acutely labeled, with each structure drawn from tape-line measurements that had been made in the field. Boschke, a civil engineer for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in Washington D.C., designed surveys for a living before investing in this map of Washington. After years of hard work, Boschke’s name began to appear on official surveys that he had produced by the early to mid-1850s. Boschke conceived the idea of making a highly accurate map of Washington and of the District of Columbia with the hope of selling it to the government and eventually to private buyers. Boschke organized and employed surveyors to do the fieldwork for the survey on his own dime, as he saw great value in producing a highly detailed map of the city he knew so well. This personal project, being exceedingly time consuming, eventually cost him his job at the Coast Survey. After 5 years, the project yielded two maps; a large four sheet map of the city in 1857 and this highly detailed map of the whole District of Columbia in 1861.

The roads of the map were measured by two parties, one with transit and chain, the other with a level. Roads, rivers, creeks, farm and wooded lands are named on the map, along with property lines and landowner names. The map also includes accurate topographical details. The map was drawn and engraved in the style of the charts issued by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.

1861 "Topographical Map of the District of Columbia Surveyed in the Years 1856 '57 '58 & '59" by Albert Boschke

Civil War Demands

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Boschke’s survey was the only topographic map to exist of the District of Columbia in its entirety. The relentless time and dedication he put into the project was unlike any other cartographer in the area at the time. Boschke sold his interest in the map to engravers, and it was famed engraver David McClelland to engrave the Boschke map and execute the work on two plates.

The elaborate details and large size of the map meant that the work was painstaking and lengthy. Upon completion, McClelland pitched the survey to the United States government for a heaping $20,000. Secretary Stanton, not estimating the extensive labor and expense involved in completing the map, offered to purchase it for just a mere $500. This dispute led to a lengthy conversation between the government and the engravers. While McClelland was unwilling to sell the map without a proper profit, Stanton was not convinced by the heafty price. Nevertheless, an agreement needed to be met, as the battles of the Civil War were on the doorsteps of the capital and a complete topographical survey was not yet in their possession.

McClelland and his partners counter-offered the copper-plates and manuscript to the government for $4,000, on condition that the plates with the copyright should be returned to them at the close of the war. This offer was also refused. After such disagreements, the U.S. Secretary of War was exasperated, and he ordered the seizing of all material relating to this map. The war was still going on and the necessity for a detailed topographical survey of the area was more apparent than ever.

McClelland ordered for further conference to discuss a reasonable price. Between the two men, an agreement was finally met, as Secretary Stanton suggested a payment of $8,500 and the offer was ultimately accepted. 


The complexities of Boschke's map and the story of its seizure has rendered it very scarce on the market. Original examples are very rare and highly sought-after among collectors.

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