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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Decorate your home in Wet Hot American style
A.V. Club Denver/Boulder, July 31st

Our favorite camp has a multitude of superlative design elements that Houzz is helpful enough to detail—and credit to WHAS art department coordinator Stacee Hammond, set director Cassandra Fuote, and costume designer Leslie Schilling—with ...Read more

Janice Dickinson on Bill Cosby: 'They can fling all they want at me. I did not ...
The Guardian, July 31st

When I comment on a framed antique map of Silesia hanging on her kitchen wall, she says Rocky collects them and asks, “Do you want a map? We have loads.” To begin with, however, she was just another broke, ambitious girl in New York, trying to make it ...Read more

CULTURE: A new map for Cornwall
Western Morning News, July 31st

“We are going to launch Art and the Map of Cornwall at the height of the tourist season and I cannot wait to share this cartographic collision of two worlds: the precision and beauty of the vintage map with cutting edge, contemporary creativity,” said...Read more

A New Yorker's Delightfully Stereotypical Map of America
CityLab, July 31st

How might a person who's never left New York City view the rest of the world? Perhaps with Manhattan taking up 80 percent of the U.S., the other four boroughs 10 percent, the Midwest completely nonexistent, and foreign countries reduced to vague ...Read more

Two birds with one brush: Local artist adding splash of color to downtown ...
INFORUM, July 31st

Many of Knutson's paintings are done on top of vintage maps, leaving cities like his hometown of Minot and Fargo visible. "My whole goal with my art is to kind of give this new spin, this new idea of our state," he said. "Not kind of this windswept...Read more

New York Art Dealer Accused of Selling Phony Winston Churchill Photo
artnet News, July 30th

Smerconish patronized Arader's gallery, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, while he was working as an attorney in Philadelphia, according to the complaint, and frequently bought antique maps, prints and watercolors. He forked over $5,000 in 2000 for the ...Read more

Map collection shows Prairie moisture improving
Western Producer (subscription), July 17th

The moisture situation has improved in the western Prairies in the last couple of weeks. This has relieved stress on crops and pastures, but yield potential has already been severely limited in some areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta. This first map is...Read more

Antiques & Collectibles: Vintage maps can be a great decorating find
Post-Bulletin, July 4th

Today it is all on computers — electronic maps on GPS software. Antique maps don't always offer an accurate picture of the world, but they are documents of history and works of art. Much of their appeal is storytelling with a blend of scientific...Read more