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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
David Rumsey Map Collection
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Maps: Finding Our Place in the World
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Recent News: Maps
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How the Wild West was tamed by MAIL-ORDER BRIDES: Frontiersmen tried to ...Daily Mail, December 11th
The antique drawing from David Rumsey Map Collection, which is based on data from the 1870 U.S. Census, shows the high concentration of males that left home in their droves to the promised land of the Wild West. With the draw of new male-centric jobs...Read more
Want to goWashington Post, December 10th
Ancient manuscripts, antique maps, 19th-century lithographs, calligraphy, vintage costumes, textiles, books and jewelry. At the Fen Gallery. American Task Force on Palestine, Fen Gallery 1634 Eye St. NW, Washington, DC | 202-887-0177. Want to go? 1...Read more
Striking antique map shows how Confederate Civil War losses and a mad dash ...Daily Mail, December 10th
The antique map from David Rumsey Map Collection also shows the devastating loss of men incurred by the Southeast after the Confederacy's costly loss, with a vast expanse of predominantly women from Virginia down to Mississippi. The fascinating ...Read more
Holiday Gift GuidePalm Beach, December 10th
As if exhumed from a 1950s time capsule, these funky vintage map throw pillow covers (prices vary) will give any home a retro Florida style and aesthetic. Handmade by Vintage Beach and available on Etsy, each pillow cover comes with an illustration of...Read more
Google courts user contributions to Street View mapsHEXUS, December 10th
Frank Biasi, Director of Digital Development at National Geographic Map believes that "The public data program gives us the opportunity to release our amazing map collection to the wider world," and that his team "will also use Maps Engine to overlay...Read more
Gender-Ratio Map Shows Where The Men Were In 1870Slate Magazine (blog), December 9th
Click on the map below to arrive at a zoomable version, or visit its page on the David Rumsey Map Collection website. PredominatingSexFinal "Map of predominating sex showing the local excess of males or of females in the distribution of population over...Read more
Rare map collection discovered in Northampton lock-upNorthampton Chronicle & Echo, December 7th
Rare map collection discovered in Northampton lock-up. A huge collection of very rare maps at JP Humbert Auctioneers, which are all at least 200 years old. by John Harrison; email@example.com. Published on the 08 December 2013 07:53...Read more
Audiograph's Sound of the Week: Schein & Schein Antique MapsKALW, November 14th
Audiograph's Sound of the Week: Schein & Schein Antique Maps. By Casey Miner · Enlarge image. Credit Casey Miner. Jim Schein of Schein & Schein Antique Maps and Prints in North Beach. Listen. All week long we've been playing this sound, and asking ...Read more