Historic map of pre-fire Chicago sold for almost ten times its estimate

Manuscript Man

Manuscript Man

2017-09-15 15:21:39

A rare map of Chicago, showing the city before it was destroyed by fire in 1871, has stunned experts by selling at auction for almost ten times its estimate.

The map was estimated to sell for $20,000 - $30,000 – but soared to a stunning final price of $197,000 at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on September 13.

The 'Bird’s-Eye View of Chicago' map was created by J.T. Palmatary, who was renowned for his aerial views of cities, and was printed by Braunhold & Sonne in 1857.

Today just four copies are known to survive, and three of those are currently held in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Newberry Library and the Chicago History Museum.

The map is historically important, as if offers a detailed view of Chicago before much of the city was devastated by fire, transforming its layout forever.

When Chicago was first incorporated as a city in 1837, it had a population of around 4,000 residents; but by the time this map was created 20 years later, approximately 100,000 people called it home.

It quickly became the fastest-growing metropolis in the world - but on the evening of October 8, 1871 tragedy struck, as a fire sparked and quickly spread throughout the heart of the city.

The majority of the city's buildings were wooden structures, hastily erected to cope with the soaring population, and built so close to each other that the flames engulfed the downtown area.

The fire burned for three days, killing an estimated 300 people and destroying more than 17,000 buildings. A further 100,000 residents were left homeless, and the Chicago landscape was changed forever.

When the rebuilding process began, Chicago was reborn as a city of stone and steel, including Home Insurance Building - the world's first skyscraper supported by a fireproof metal frame.

Today Chicago stands as America's third-largest city, with a population of 2.7 million residents – but as J.T. Palmatary's map illustrates, it could have been a very different place to live had fire not changed the course of history.

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