Imagine a world very different from our own, where North America developed not into the stable geopolitical regions we know today, but Balkanized into smaller empires, territories and republics.
Visualizing such a world is a favorite past time of graphic designer Jordan Penny, who has spent the better part of a decade combining his love of history, art, and cartography to explore alternate history scenarios with beautifully designed maps like the one up top. This particular geopolitical scenario forms the basis of his latest series, "American Quilt." [Update: Penny has joined us in the comments (username: InFluEnza). Feel free to ask questions!]
"In our history the formation of the United States in her early periods were precarious," Perry tells io9. "Not only were the British poised to retake the South and defeat the insurgents militarily, pre-Constitution the Articles of Confederation created a weak government that couldn't even easily collect taxes. In this world I've created, the AoC are never replaced, and the Union slowly devolves into what you see here."
In this latest project, Penny extends his alt-history speculations beyond the cartographic by "imagining what various items may have looked like from this universe. Things like coins, banknotes, posters, etc. Through this I hope to tell a story of a home very different from our own."
Pictured here is a version of the map featured at the top of this post, overlaid with outlines of the Contiguous U.S. as we know it today, for reference.
The Republic of Louisiana became independent in 1849 during the convergent revolutions that swept Europe and the Americas in the mid-19th century. Since then she has steadily grown economically into an industrial powerhouse at the center of the North American continent. Despite losing northern border skirmishes and wars with the British through Canada (and later Virginians and Mormons) both before independence and after, the Republic has been able to consistency extend soft power to both friends and rivals alike. By 1918 Louisiana had developed into something of a melting post; although French were still the majority, Native American nations and immigrants (mostly those from Francophone nations but also Spanish, Italians and even Germans) were able to buy up land in the expansive North and West and parishes in New Orleans.
Side note: the odd shape of this banknote is based on a shape taken by an actual French Franc from the '40s.
The Sambuca-Soda Company was founded in New York City, 1872, by an immigrant from Denmark called Lukas Vilhelm Skovgaard. A shopkeeper by profession, he had immigrated two years earlier with his wife and six children. As they were still adapting to a completely new environment a bad influenza epidemic descended upon New York. At the time medical science was completely useless in containing the outbreak, let alone curing those who caught it. Many would die, including three of Skovgaard's children. His two oldest children, and his wife, also came down with the flu but survived. While they were sick Skovgaard doted on them, giving them a traditional elderberry drink from his home country. For his oldest child (his favorite) he mixed it with the popular drink of the time, sassafras. His son became enthralled with it - as the three recovered, he gave away the tincture to neighbors and fellow Danish immigrants. It didn't take long before word got out that those who drank Mr. Skovgaard's Elderberry Tonic resisted influenza better and had shorter recovery times if they fell ill. He soon was selling it by the cratefull, crafting his own recipe which included elderberry, sassafras, ginger, sugar, tonic water and the newly imported kola nut.
This was the beginning of a company that would spread into the new millennium as a commodity to transcend borders. Historians and economists would often remark on the bubbly drinks representation of New York's capitalist economic hegemony among its rivals, for it was often sold in most stores regardless of border, race or creed.
Virginian five dollar bill, front. The Virginian dollar was backed as much by gold and silver as it was the rich ore deposits of the northern Old Northwest. By the end of the first decade of the new century the Virginian dollar was the default for domestic North American exchange. If her neighbors weren't using it as an anchor for their own currency it was often held in reserve regardless. Until something came along to put everything into question.
The Canadians had a robust postal service, and before the turn of the century it was common for territories to issue their own. Nibraska was relatively new even by Prairie Territory standards; it had been cleaved off of Cheyenne (as Victoria was) only in the 1890s. Up to nearly the twenties Nibraskans had been using Cheyenne issued stamps. Which of course hadn't sat well with the locals - who were they to trust those yocals over in Ashalaho for anything? So in 1919 the government of Nibraska issued their first postage stamp, featuring the profile of Cecil Rhodes later in life, the hero of Canada who had fought against both Strangonites in the East and Louisianians to the South, and had governed the country as Premier.
Times following the turn of the century were tough. As the world entered the start of a new century the landlocked nation of Dezaret found herself rich with a zealot spirit but poor in resources. Fractional currency was often issued by post offices as a form of virtual currency; here it is used because, although metal coins are nice, sometimes bullets are more important.
I was really happy with how this one turned out - still experimenting with it, but I like how the verdigris turned out.
A grungy, "know your friends" poster to add to my series. One of my more ambitious projects lately. [Ed. note: You might see some familiar faces in here. Look closely. Penny tells us this poster "took the longest to make out of most of [his] stuff."]
See many more examples of Penny's work – including dozens of gorgeous cartographic imaginings – on his DeviantART page.