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 entire history of the world, in 1 chart
Washington Post (blog), April 27th

The 5-foot-long chart below has an ambitious goal: To record 4,000 years of history in a single graphic. Drawn by John B. Sparks of Rand McNally and Company in 1931, the chart traces world history from the Egyptian Empire through the Assyrians...Read more

Rare map shows city before Battle of Worcester in 1651
Malvern Gazette, April 27th

THIS rare map of shows Worcester just before the bloody end of the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the last battle of the English Civil War. The map by Henry Seile, the King's Stationer, will be on show in an Exhibition of Antique Maps on Saturday, May 2...Read more

WWU lecture Tuesday will discuss exploration of Mars
Bellingham Herald, April 24th

BELLINGHAM — Melissa Rice, an assistant professor at Western Washington University, will discuss our evolving understanding of Mars in a talk on Western's campus Tuesday, April 28. Rice is part of a team of NASA researchers working with images and ...Read more

Happy 215th birthday, Library of Congress
Washington Post, April 24th

We have a comic book collection, a map collection, video games, violins, globes, just about everything.” Another common misconception is that the library is only for members of Congress, she says. “We want Washingtonians to know that anyone over 16 can ...Read more

New Tech building set to open in May
El Defensor Chieftain, April 23rd

Without air conditioning, our swamp-cooled archival spaces have resulted in ongoing damage to our 55,000 boxes of well cuttings, to say nothing of our irreplaceable archival maps and documents, including our historic mine map collection, and our ...Read more

Lynn Museum searches for internal treasures
Daily Item, April 22nd

LYNN — Sorting through a small box of old buttons in the Lynn Museum, Kali Mason made a discovery that caught her coworkers' attention and, months later, still slaps a smile on her face. “It was a George Washington inaugural button mixed in with...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

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