The route from London to St Petersburg

By SAYER, Robert, 1790 

The New Baltic Pilot being a collection of charts from England to the Cattegat the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland in sixteen sheets.

  • Author: SAYER, Robert
  • Publication place: London
  • Publisher: Printed for Robert Sayer, Fleet Street
  • Publication date: 1790
  • Physical description: Tall narrow folio (751 by 298mm), 16 double-page map-sheets which if joined, comprise 9 engraved maps, later half-calf over contemporary marbled paper boards, engraved title piece with contents pasted to upper cover.
  • Inventory reference: 18466


Robert Sayer’s rare pilot of the Baltic Sea.

This work is only the second British pilot dedicated to the Baltic Sea, the first being Admiral John Norris’s A Compleat Sett of New Charts’ first published in 1728, with subsequent editions in 1740 and 1756. Sayer’s work consists of nine engraved charts printed on 16 mapsheets, and charts the route from London to St Petersburg.

Robert Sayer was a leading London print- and mapseller, mapmaker and publisher, active from 1748 to about 1792. He was apprenticed in the Stationers’ Company, belatedly made free by redemption on 6th September 1748. In January 1747, his elder brother James had married Mary Overton, widow of the print- and mapseller and publisher Philip Overton. It seems likely his freedom coincided with his joining Mary Overton; by 20th December 1748, he had taken over the firm and continued to run it until his health broke down in about 1792.

The Overton business was principally in good quality decorative prints, caricatures, portraits and imported prints, with a few maps. To the existing stock, in a few years, Sayer added items acquired from the stock of John Senex, Henry Overton (II) and John Rocque and, with William Herbert, from George Willdey.

This gave him a substantial stock to which he added selectively, at first working in partnership with other publishers, notably Thomas Bowles (II) and John Bowles but also William Herbert.

The turning point for Sayer as a map-publisher was in 1768, when he entered into partnership with the established but struggling Thomas Jefferys, to stave off bankruptcy; when the partnership ended, Sayer retained some of Jefferys’ more valuable materials, particularly relating to the British Colonies in America. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Sayer was well-placed to respond to the upsurge in demand for maps: in quick succession he published The American Atlas: or, a Geographical Description of the Whole Continent of America (1775), The North-American Pilot for Newfoundland, Labrador, the Gulf and River St. Lawrence (1775), The West-India Atlas: or, a Compendious Description of the West-Indies (1775) and The North-American Pilot for New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia; also, the two Carolinas, and Florida (1776).

In 1774 Sayer took a former apprentice, John Bennett on as a partner, on generous terms, and Bennett brought renewed vigour to the firm, perhaps responsible for the firm’s increasing output of charts; unfortunately, from about 1781 Bennett displayed increasing mental problems and Sayer was forced to end the partnership around 1785.

The Revolutionary War was a time of financial success for Sayer, and he became very wealthy; however, by about 1790 he was suffering from ill-health; in 1792 he took on Robert Laurie and James Whittle as junior partners and sold them the business, again on favourable terms, with them taking control on 12th May 1794, after Sayer’s death.

OCLC records only two institutional examples of the pilot: The British Library and the Royal Geographical Society. We have been unable to trace another example appearing at auction since the Second World War.

List of Charts

1. DISTON, John. A New and Correct Chart of the Sea Coast from Lowestoff to London.
2. DITSON, John. A New and Correct Chart of the Sea Coast from Orfordness Lights to Pritlewell.
3. HAMMOND, John. A New and Accurate Chart of the North or German Sea… 1787.
4. LOUS, Christian Charles. A New Chart of the Cattegat… 1789.
5. LOUS, Christian Charles. A New Chart to the Entrance of the Baltic… 1789.
6. SAYER, Robert. A New Chart of the Passage of the Sound… 1786.
7 and 8. LOUS, Christian Charles. A New Chart of the Baltic or East Sea… 1789.
9. WATSON, George A New and Correct Chart of the Gulf of Finland… 1790. 


  1. Shirely Atlas M.SAY-5a.

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