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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Twitter-Stalking the Rise of SFMOMA; Inside SF's Endangered Flower Mart ...Racked NY, August 28th
SAN FRANCISCO—Continuing our obsession with all things historic, we bring you 10 vintage maps of San Francisco guaranteed to cartographically blow your mind. SoMa—The Flower Mart is a San Francisco institution, but have you ever actually been ...Read more
Tatters vintage shop in Uptown closingTwinCities.com-Pioneer Press, August 28th
As far as the vintage maps of the world that have long decorated the walls of the 34-year-old shop, Denham is selling those through a silent auction on the Tatters' Facebook page. Maps include prewar Europe, 1938 Asia and 1965 Africa. Print Email Font ...Read more
The Patchwork Maps That Helped Prospectors Track Mining Claims in the ...Slate Magazine (blog), August 28th
(The remaining maps from Bolitho's atlas can be seen on the David Rumsey Map Collection website.) In 1872, a new Mining Act straightened out the complicated mess of property rights that had developed in the American West, where prospectors had been ...Read more
10 things to do today, Aug. 27, in Boulder CountyThe Daily Camera, August 27th
Corresponding maps range from antique maps to aerial photographs; celestial charts to contemporary expressions of map design, 7 a.m., Benson Earth Sciences Building at CU, 2200 Colorado Ave., Boulder, free; 888-659-1938. TALKS & LECTURES...Read more
USGS Historic Map Project Leader Feted by LibrariansDirectionsMag.com (press release), August 20th
The USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection (HTMC) and the USGS Publications Warehouse, both described by Weessies as critical resources in map librarianship, are ongoing, large-scale projects which deliver free, archive-quality digital images of ...Read more
Artist Creates Work Using Digital Map Collection of New York Public LibraryPSFK, August 19th
Electric Objects brings visual objects from the Internet into our homes, a project that received overwhelming support and enthusiasm during a month long Kickstarter campaign. The unique platform displays virtually anything from a web browser onto a...Read more
How One Man Ripped Off Millions in Rare Maps, Including in ChicagoDNAinfo, August 18th
An East Coast native who lived on Martha's Vineyard, Smiley was one of the top map collectors in New York. But the field had grown increasingly competitive since the 1990s when map prices began rising and ... But extravagance also left Smiley in a deep...Read more
Catastrophe MappedHarvard Magazine, August 15th
The centerpiece of an exhibition now at the Harvard Map Collection is a pieced-together map eight feet high by nine feet wide [the second image above] that shows at a glance the dimensions of the Western Front in World War I. German trenches are...Read more