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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Arts-related business to open in Williamsburg's Arts DistrictVirginia Gazette, July 22nd
Burgdorf, an avid antiquated book, document and map collector, is a self-taught bookbinder and book conservator having done both for nearly 10 years now. Beverly Burgdorf is a native of north Georgia and a 1991 graduate of Converse College where she ...Read more
German Chancellor Presents China a Historical Map Showing Different Terrrial ...Filipino Express, July 22nd
The former is very much a part of the modern China, while the latter is very much disputed. An antique map expert said d'Anville's 1735 map was drawn based on earlier geographical surveys by Jesuit missionaries in ancient China and supposed to...Read more
11 things to do today, July 21, in Boulder CountyBoulder Daily Camera, July 21st
Works by four local and regional artists are exhibited with items from the Map Library collection. Corresponding maps range from antique maps to aerial photographs; celestial charts to contemporary expressions of map design, 7 a.m., Benson Earth...Read more
Local train expert conducts history lesson on Muscatine's railroadsMuscatine Journal, July 20th
Lindsay showed residents vintage maps of Iowa that showed a spider web of rail lines covering the entire state. The main railroads that serviced Muscatine included the Rock Island Line, Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern, Muscatine North & South, and...Read more
Green Library to house David Rumsey Map CollectionThe Stanford Daily, July 20th
Map collector and president of Cartography Associates David Rumsey began gathering the collection over 25 years ago and announced in 2009 that it would be donated to Stanford. In 2012 he received the Warren R. Howell Award from the Stanford ...Read more
National Map's Historical Topographic Map Collection – 178000 historical ...GISuser.com (press release), July 3rd
Here's a fabulous digital archive with tens of thousands of maps for your viewing and printing pleasure! Available in time for the Fourth of July and able to be accessed on all digital devices, the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer brings to...Read more
Treasured map collection moving to BU's libraryBrandon Sun, June 24th
Wenonah van Heyst, instructional associate in geography, looks over some of the more than 10,000 maps to be moved from Brandon University's science building to the library, allowing for greater public access. A collection with more than 10,000 ...Read more
Esteemed map collection moving to BUBrandon Sun, June 23rd
A collection with more than 10,000 high definition maps is being moved into the John E. Robbins Library at Brandon University, allowing for greater public access. The John Langton Tyman Map Library contains atlases and topographic maps of Manitoba and ...Read more