Mapmaking dates to at least the late 15th century, just a few decades after Gutenberg’s introduction of the first moveable type printing press. By the time of Queen Elizabeth’s reign during the second half of the 16th century, people were already collecting these documents, which were usually bound in books, making them important additions to any self-respecting library.

Some of the most desirable early maps are the colorful engravings from the 1500s, which were quick to integrate, as best they could, the intelligence gleaned from voyages by such explorers as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Giovanni Caboto, an Italian whose name is frequently shortened to Cabot. The first of these was Johann Ruysch’s 1507 map showing the New World, which was produced more than a decade before Ferdinand Magellan’s crew completed their late-captain’s circumnavigation of the world.

Gerard Mercator’s “Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio,” which was reproduced by his son Rumold in 1587 and published in numerous books and atlases after his death in 1594, gave viewers an equatorial azimuthal equidistant projection (in other words, the equator is the only non-curving latitude in the map) of the world divided into two hemispheres, depicting what we now call North and South America on the left and Africa, Europe, and Asia on the right.

By 1627, the famous London cartographer John Speed produced a decorative, double-hemisphere map of his own, which is notable for showing the state of California as an island. More than 100 years later, in 1750, Emanuel Bowen’s Mercator projection world map, in which all the latitudes and longitudes are parallel, got Baja California correct, but left the northwest corner of North America empty and unmapped.

If the geography depicted on world maps was occasionally a bit fuzzy, cartographers did a better job capturing more familiar places such as cities and towns. Sebastian Munster’s 1552 map of London used the woodblock printing technique to show streets to scale, outsize ships in the Thames, and noblemen and women in the foreground as a decorative touch. By comparison, John Rocque’s 1746 map of the same city almost looks like a satellite photograph—visitors to the city today could probably use it and not get too lost.

Some of the earliest regional maps of North America and the United States were produced by Europeans. Henry Hondius of The Hague created a map of Virginia in 1633 based on an original provided by Captain John Smith, who settled Jamestown. Amsterdam-based cartographer Jan Jansson created definitive maps of the northeast in 1666, and Francis Lamb engraved a decorative map of the Carolina coastline for Londoner John Speed in 1676.

As with Rocque’s 1746 map of London, Robert Sayer and John Bennett’s 1776 map of Florida looks surprisingly contemporary. And Joseph Colton’s large 1854 wall map of the United States is extremely accurate, with states, territories, and topographical features captured in loving detail.


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Recent News: Maps

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Brewing Something New at Crematology
Jakarta Globe (blog), July 27th

While at Crematology you might notice some unique design elements — antlers, furs, antique maps of Stockholm. Elliot, a native Swede, incorporated these special touches from home and the result is a well-designed clean space to enjoy your coffee and ...Read more

Book follows trail of thief caught at Beinecke in 2005
Waterbury Republican American, July 26th

He was E. Forbes Smiley, a well-known don of early North American maps who had spent decades studying, acquiring and dealing antique maps. Read more of this story and more! 7-Day Subscribers have FREE access to everything on rep-am.com and our ...Read more

What's happening in August
Springfield News-Leader, July 26th

Member Fran Black will give an overview of the map collection at the OGS Library. Sponsored by Ozarks Genealogical Society. 882-0714. 05 TUESDAY. Mad Science: Explosions, Strafford Library, 101 S. State Highway 125,2 p.m. for grades K-4. Peeps, soap ...Read more

World War I propaganda posters in UGA library show fervor of the time
Online Athens, July 26th

he donated more than 500 rare maps in a series of gifts to the library, along with photographs, documents and other materials, Brooks said; the posters were almost overlooked at the time, overshadowed by the rare map collection that also came from him...Read more

Historical maps displayed at Savannah City Hall
Savannah Morning News, July 25th

About 10,000 of them are available at the store he has operated in Savannah since 1983, V. & J. Duncan Antique Maps and Prints. He recently donated some of those maps, as well as a collection of more than 2,000 postcards, to help celebrate the Savannah ...Read more

Map shop to close, owner plans to focus on online biz
taosnews, July 24th

He says that he plans to put a select few of his maps on the site, but hopes to have a going-out-of-business sale sometime soon to purge much of his map collection. While Stevens is excited to put all his energy into MarieSebastian.com, he'll no doubt...Read more

Green Library to house David Rumsey Map Collection
The Stanford Daily, July 20th

Map collector and president of Cartography Associates David Rumsey began gathering the collection over 25 years ago and announced in 2009 that it would be donated to Stanford. In 2012 he received the Warren R. Howell Award from the Stanford ...Read more

National Map's Historical Topographic Map Collection – 178000 historical ...
GISuser.com (press release), July 3rd

Here's a fabulous digital archive with tens of thousands of maps for your viewing and printing pleasure! Available in time for the Fourth of July and able to be accessed on all digital devices, the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer brings to...Read more