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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Open & Shut: Spacing StoreToronto Star, December 20th
Also on offer are reams of vintage maps and posters for prices ranging up to $70 or so. (Not yet priced and just arrived: a huge poster featuring a sign for every single street from the City of Toronto in an orderly grid.) There are silk-screened...Read more
For lawyers and lobbyists at gift season, it's never just the thought that countsReading Eagle, December 20th
The collection is popular, he says, because it appeals to a certain level of education and sophistication: The items incorporate historical images, vintage maps, art, architecture — things that people find intellectually interesting rather than blingy...Read more
In a kingdom of books, nation's librarian champions digital ageBellingham Herald, December 17th
A collector of maps, Tobolowsky said the library's move to puts its map collection online “has just been incredible.” The centerpiece of the library, though, is Thomas Jefferson's personal library. The nation's fourth president sold his private library...Read more
Historic Texas maps help save themselvesYour Houston News, December 17th
Among the top-selling maps this year are some of the oldest maps of Texas, thanks to a unique digitization project with Houston map collectors, Frank and Carol Holcomb. The Holcombs are allowing the General Land Office to digitize their map collection...Read more
Meet Juneau's map and book antiquarianKtoo, December 15th
If you want to find a rare book or unusual map in Juneau, there's only one place to go–Dee Longenbaugh's shop. Longenbaugh is the owner of The Observatory: a rare book shop, used bookstore and treasure trove all in one. You can find everything from ...Read more
Mural veteran Andrew Schoultz's paintings add layer to historySFGate, December 10th
I'm always taking my old ideas and integrating them into what I'm presently doing, and with some of the works in the show, I'm reworking or reintegrating antique maps or etchings. So my work has a heavy root in history and the idea that history is...Read more
This Vintage Map Shows What Happened After Pearl HarborTIME, December 7th
The Dec. 15, 1941, issue of TIME must have gone to press just a day or two after the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the task facing those who had to write about the event was, in some ways, the same task facing the rest of the nation: figuring out...Read more
Scarborough is Phl, antique maps show (1)Philippine Star, October 26th
Beijing's Communist rulers claim Scarborough Shoal by virtue of “ancient historical facts.” Yet, China's own antique maps and official declarations debunk that line. Made in 1136 to 1933, the 18 old maps consistently show Hainan island-province always...Read more