Tunison’s Twentieth Century Series of School Maps


A magnificent, possibly one of a kind, set of wall maps designed and published by Henry Cuthbert Tunison.

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Henry Cuthbert Tunison (1855 – 1915) was born on February 5, 1855, in Tazewell County, Illinois. He spent his childhood on his father’s farm in nearby Greene County, and at the age of thirteen became a canvasser (door to door salesperson) of books, maps and atlases. According to a contemporary article, “soon after he became an employer, sending out, over a limited territory, a few sub-agents.” The referenced territory was likely around Tunison’s new hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, where he would become firmly established in the world of subscription-based publishing. Later ads for his publishing firm would recognize his youthful efforts, listing the year of establishment as 1868.

Ultimately, he is most well known for Tunison’s Peerless Universal Atlas of the World, published in a number of editions between 1882 and 1908; many of which were produced in his hometown of Jacksonville. This is not to say that Tunison stayed rooted in central Illinois. Advertisements in his atlases from the 1900’s list numerous locations visited by the publisher/geographer, including a “complete world tour.”

Throughout his travels, Tunison developed a large network of connections that he would leverage both as sales agents and as sources of geographic information. Tunison synthesized this data into maps, charts and diagrams that were precise and contained the latest information. This, along with Tunison’s attention to detail, quality craftsmanship, and vivid hand color, is what set his productions apart from contemporaries like Rand McNally and George Cram. He made his maps easy to distinguish, using a clever mnemonic logo – “2 – Ni – Sun.”

Although most famous for his Peerless Atlas, we also know the publisher also created a number of wall maps. These included a bird’s eye view of the Holy Land, railroad and post office maps, and large maps of individual states. Individual copies of these known maps are rare on the market and may have only been produced in small quantities, according to the number of subscribers rustled up by Tunison’s agents.

The scarcity of Tunison wall maps is what makes this complete set so exciting. The group of 10 wall maps was published around 1905, relatively late in Tunison’s publishing career, and may represent a new, more aggressive offering to his publishing catalog. The set is in magnificent condition and sits in its original storage case stenciled “Tunison’s Twentieth Century Series of School Maps.” The case was designed to be hung on a wall, and includes a handle used to pull the maps down from their original spring-loaded rollers. The set was found in storage in an old Iowa schoolhouse, and purchased from the 101 year old son of a former teacher there.

Continuing with Tunison’s elaborate style and superior artistry, the maps are a fantastic representation of the late Victorian era worldview. New sources of information, cartographic and otherwise, were suddenly becoming available from every corner of the world, and this clever visual combination of maps, charts and diagrams displays that data legibly for popular consumption. Their workmanship, and subsequent cost, set them apart at a time when map production was gearing strongly towards quantity over quality.

Tunison’s Map of the World – 48 in. x 36 in. Very good condition, exhibiting minor marginal wear along the bottom right edge. Bottom roller is present, but not attached.

Tunison’s Map of the Eastern Hemisphere – 36 in. x 48 in. Very good condition, with some spots of varnish visible. Includes many insets and diagrams including time zones, heights of buildings and mountains, and polar views.

Tunison’s Map of Africa – 36 in. x 48 in. Fine condition, with inset maps of the Suez Canal and Australia (the latter being an interesting addition). Continental maps of the physical relief and general outline (for tracing) also present, along with images of flora and fauna.

Tunison’s Map of Europe – 36 in. x 48 in. Fine condition, showing the looming threat of the growing Russian Empire in Europe. Includes views of plants and animals, plus inset maps showing the relief and tracing outline.

Tunison’s Map of Asia – 36 in. x 48 in. Very good condition, with some wear in the top margin and spots of concentrated varnish. Includes views of flora and fauna, plus inset maps showing the relief and a tracing outline of the continent.

Tunison’s Map of the Western Hemisphere – 36 in. x 48 in. Fine condition. Filled with inset charts, maps and diagrams showing comparisons of river length, various map projections, and even popular European currencies (with exchange rates).

Tunison’s Map of South America – 36 in. x 48 in. Near fine condition. Includes lithographed views of animals, plus inset maps showing the physical relief of South America and an outline map for tracing.

Tunison’s Map of North America – 36 in. x 48 in. Near fine condition. Flanked by views of animals and agricultural products, with inset maps of proposed canals in Nicaragua and Panama. Relief and tracing maps present also.

Tunison’s Map of the United States – 48 in. x 36 in. Near find condition, with some damage along the upper margin near the roller. Includes inset maps showing comparative sizes and territorial progression, among others. Also includes views of prominent agricultural products.

Tunison’s Map of Iowa – 34 in. x 21 in. Good condition, showing signs of significant wear along the bottom center. This sectional and township map varies slightly in it’s presentation, likely because it was previously designed as part of Tunison’s state wall map series.

The set is exceedingly rare, and possibly unique, with no other institutional copies of any of these maps available in the OCLC. I have found one other comparable set, produced about 10 years earlier, that is significantly smaller and in a private collection.


Eames, Charles. Historic Morgan and Classic Jacksonville. Jacksonville, IL: Daily Journal Printing Office, 1885.

Portrait And Biographical Album of Morgan And Scott Counties, Illinois. Chicago, IL: Chapman Brothers, 1889.

Short, William F, Paul Selby, and Newton Bateman. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. Cleveland, Ohio: Bell & Howell Co., 1967.

Tunison, Henry Cuthbert. Tunison’s Peerless Atlas of the World. Jacksonville, IL: H.C. Tunison, 1883.

Tunison, Henry Cuthbert. Tunison’s Peerless Atlas of the World. Chicago, IL: H.C. Tunison, 1907.

Map Details

Publication Date: c. 1905

Author: Henry Cuthbert Tunison

Sheet Width (in): 36.00

Sheet Height (in): 48.00

Condition: A-

Condition Description: Overall, the set is complete and in very good condition, given the age and use of the individual components. Each map's condition ranges from good to excellent and is described in further detail in the description. The original case is intact and exhibits some minor chipping and scratching to the interior and laminate exterior. Original hardware, including hinges, rollers, springs, etc.