December 5, 2011

Manuscript Map of Dagua River Region, Colombia

This beautiful pen-and-ink and watercolor map shows the Dagua River and the town of Sombrerillo in what was then the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Grenada. The river empties into the Pacific Ocean near the present-day city of Buenaventura, Colombia. Sombrerillo was a “free town” populated by former slaves who had gained their freedom from the lowland mines and the highland haciendas of the region. The map is oriented with north at the bottom.

A Chart of the Gulf Stream

This map, from the Peter Force Map Collection at the Library of Congress, was created by the Philadelphia engraver James Poupard. It was the third in a series featuring a chart of the Gulf Stream. The latter was well known to Spanish ship captains, who relied on it to sail from the Americas to the Iberian Peninsula, but there were no universal charts or maps due to Spanish secrecy. This map originally was sketched by Timothy Folger, a Nantucket fisherman and a cousin of Benjamin Franklin, who conceived the map and actively promoted study of the Gulf Stream. Franklin published the original chart in 1770 and sought to distribute it among mariners, but British sea captains skeptical of colonial ideas largely refused to purchase copies. He suspended his efforts during the American Revolution to avoid giving any advantage to the British, but at the end of the war he collaborated on a second printing in France. In 1786, Poupard’s engraving appeared in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, the publication of the country’s first learned society founded by Franklin and others in 1743.

A Modern and Quite Precise Depiction of America (or the Fourth Part of the World)

In 1554, Diego Gutiérrez was appointed principal cosmographer to the king of Spain in the Casa de la Contratación. The crown commissioned the Casa to produce a large-scale map of the western hemisphere, often called the “fourth part of the world.” The purpose of the map was to assert Spain’s claims to new world territories against the rival claims of Portugal and France. Spain claimed all lands south of the Tropic of Cancer, which is shown prominently. The map was engraved by the famous Antwerp engraver Hieronymus Cock, who added numerous artistic flourishes, including the coats of arms of the three rival powers, a snake-like Amazon River that winds across the northern part of South America, mermaids and mythical monsters at sea, and an elephant, rhinoceros, and lion on the western coast of Africa. The name “California” is inscribed near Baja California, just above the Tropic of Cancer, the first time it appears on any printed map. Only two copies of the map are known to exist: this one from the collections of the Library of Congress, and another in the British Library.

Ancient Assyria Divided into Syria, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Assyria

Little is known about the French mapmaker Philippe de La Rue. He was associated with the pioneering French cartographer Nicolas Sanson, and specialized in Biblical themes. In 1651, he published La Terre sainte en six cartes géographiques (The Holy Land in six maps), the first collection of maps laid out in a chronological sequence around a unifying theme. La Rue’s goal was to trace the history of the world “from the origins to the present.” The six maps cover the land of Canaan and the Exodus, the Promised Land, Solomon’s kingdom, the land of the Jews at the time of Christ, the Christian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and modern Syria under Ottoman rule. This map, showing the ancient kingdoms of the Middle East, was an addition to the atlas.

Portable Atlas, or, the New Theater of War in Europe

Daniel de la Feuille was a watchmaker, goldsmith, engraver, and bookseller in Amsterdam in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He was also a prolific mapmaker. In this “portable atlas,” de la Feuille documented the intricacies of the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14), which began after the Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, died and left his kingdom to Philip, the Duke of Anjou and the grandson of the French Bourbon king, Louis XIV. Worried that France’s Sun King intended to dominate Europe by consolidating his power in a Bourbon Franco-Spanish state, a competing alliance of European powers, led by Great Britain, launched a preventive war to challenge the prospect of French hegemony. This map presents a survey of the military architecture of the day, including fortifications, frigates and sailing vessels, weaponry, and war matériel used in the new European theater of war.


The Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918) was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual empire governed by a dual monarchy that exercised Habsburg rule across Europe’s second largest sovereign territory. Although considered a Great Power in the concert of European nations, the empire was internally divided by internecine quarrels among its national minorities and ultimately broke up under the strains of World War I. This 1906 Rand McNally map shows the empire in the decade before its dissolution. William Rand founded the company that became Rand McNally in Chicago in 1856, initially to print guidebooks and directories. In 1858, he hired Andrew McNally, who became his business partner ten years later. The company soon became a prolific publisher of atlases, maps, globes, and travel guides. Its commercial success was largely due to its adoption in 1872 of a wax engraving process known as cerography and by its nearly simultaneous development of the popular Pocket Maps, of which this map is an example.