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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Hampden councilor takes donated map back because town hasn't displayed itBangor Daily News, April 23rd
HAMPDEN, Maine — After some debate Tuesday night, town councilors opted not to spend the roughly $1,000 to $1,500 it would cost to preserve and display an antique map donated by one of their members. Councilor William Shakespeare donated an 1859 ...Read more
Illinois Ancestors: Slavery issues and online resourcesChampaign/Urbana News-Gazette, April 23rd
This website provides over 22,500 biographies from 143 counties in 10 states and also has an extensive map collection available. Additional information is continually being added to this website; thus it would be wise to bookmark the site and visit often...Read more
Idly letting the eyes wander over scattered map notesThe Telegram, April 21st
The booklet is not dated, but I stumbled upon the website of the Road Map Collectors Association. As they know how frustrating an undated map can be, they list ministers' terms of office which, of course, helps date a map or publication in question. My...Read more
Atworth parish council stalwart in a league of his own after earning titleWiltshire Times, April 20th
A keen map collector and photographer, Mr Webb's passion for local history was one of the driving forces behind the foundation of the history group, which meets every month from October to June. He said: “I am interested in the history of the village...Read more
Old Maps of San Francisco Guaranteed to Blow Your MindCurbed SF, April 18th
The 1906 Earthquake and Fire decimated much of the young city, but reconstruction was quick to follow. 2130020.jpg. San Francisco burnt area, 1906. [David Rumsey Map Collection]. reconstruction%201908.jpg. Buildings constructed and buildings under ...Read more
Mapping the Intensity of the 1906 San Francisco EarthquakeSlate Magazine (blog), April 18th
the reader that the Rossi-Forel measurements had some degree of subjectivity to them. Click on the images below to reach zoomable versions, or visit the David Rumsey Map Collection's website to see these maps along with the rest of the digitized atlas...Read more
18 Maps From When the World Thought California Was an IslandWired, April 18th
GLEN MCLAUGHLIN MAP COLLECTION / STANFORD UNIVERSITY. This 1666 map by Dutch cartographer Peter Goos is one of McLaughlin's favorites. "It's a beautiful map," he said. GLEN MCLAUGHLIN MAP COLLECTION / STANFORD UNIVERSITY...Read more
Erstwhile vintage maps and charts at AchicaRetro To Go, March 28th
Interestingly, we featured an Erstwhile map at the end of 2013. The downside being that it was only available in Australia (unless you happen to live in Australia, obviously). However, we've just noticed the Erstwhile vintage maps and charts at Achica...Read more