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

Source: Google News

The incredible power of the measles vaccine, in 3 graphics
Washington Post (blog), April 20th

Sometimes we take the benefits of modern medicine for granted, but a small dose of data and history can easily remedy that. The chart below, created by Valentine Svensson, a PhD student in molecular biology at Cambridge University, shows the dramatic ...Read more

Reunited With ROTTERDAM, Part One
Maritime Matters, April 17th

I was happy to see the antique map of Rotterdam in its original setting… P1220598 copy. SS ROTTERDAM Coffee Lobby, facing starboard. Directly forward and forged from the midships accommodation, the adjoining Coffee Lobby, while completely new, ...Read more

A Midcentury Map of American Wildflowers
Slate Magazine (blog), April 17th

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version, or visit the map's page in the David Rumsey Map Collection. WildflowerMap "The Wild Flowers of Spring," Clayton Whitehill and Edgar T. Wherry, 1955. David Rumsey Map Collection. Rebecca Onion ...Read more

30 fake maps that explain the world
Washington Post (blog), April 16th

Maps are meant to guide and explain, but not all do it in the same way. The following maps are "fake" because they represent, either intentionally or not, a fictive reality. Even so, they tell us some intriguing things about the world where we live and...Read more

Antique map collector finds new meanings in old routes
EJ Insight, April 2nd

Marcopolo Tam Siu-cheong is a prestigious antique map collector, whose private collection comprises over 280,000 items. Like the adventurous ... Tam shared with us the world views of the East and West as could be gleaned from antique maps. “The ancient ...Read more

More Than Directions: The Sanborn Map Collection
WUWM, March 25th

Physical maps are disappearing in the 21st century - replaced by GPS screens in cars, and Google maps on our computer screens and smart phones. But a hundred years ago, paper maps were important for a number of reasons - including some you might ...Read more

CityDig: The Miraculous Circumstances Surrounding LAPL's John Feathers Map ...
LA Magazine (blog), March 11th

Star One: A few years ago, I utilized Facebook to reminisce amongst my library loving friends about a quarter century spent overseeing the LAPL map collection. Star Two: Los Angeles Times reporter Larry Harnisch, ... All of a sudden, Matthew had the...Read more

Antique maps, charts at Bruce show shifting world view
CT Post, March 11th

There are many treasures to glean from a glance at a beautifully wrought antique map -- just don't expect that any sailor worth his salt ever actually used one while at sea. "Sailors wanted clean charts that would last and they could change by hand...Read more