Monday, August 20, 2018

Girolamo Ruscelli's 1561 Egypt and North East Africa

I attended the last Ottawa Antiquarian Book Fair. This is not a really big fair and the focus really is much more on books than maps, but there are the occasional vendors who have a good selection worth spending some time looking at.

I ended up buying two maps from a vendor I saw there (I actually didn't buy at the fair but contacted him months later to see if he still had them) who I don't think specialized in maps at all, but had a real range of materials for sale, the maps I chose being the apparent exception to the rule.

Here's the map, and what I've learned about it follows:

This is a projection of north east Africa, primarily Egypt, printed in 1561 by Girolamo Ruscelli.

Ruscelli himself was an interesting guy. He was into a bit of everything, including cartography, and apparently published a 'book of secrets' which aimed to answer some basic scientific questions, provide advice on matters related to science and perhaps dabbled in some alchemy as well.

This map is one of a number he published in his revision of Ptolemy's Geography. There's a link to it, with a high quality image here, where you can see it's on sale for USD$125 (I paid much less for it, which is very satisfying).

There is much that I don't know about this region, and it's difficult for me to comment too heavily on the map, but when I saw it, having been to Egypt, I knew I wanted it.

The map has some interesting elements, for example, showing off the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Having a strangely representative delta of the Nile, and showing what appears to be some sizable islands in the Nile

The map also seems to show the Nile having three southern branches, different than the two (Blue and While Niles). The rivers on the map are not particularly well labeled, however, so it's hard to be sure what they refer to.

This is one of two maps by the same cartographer I bought from the same vendor and it's interesting for its age, the history behind it and it's producer and of course the subject matter. Egypt was and is a source of fascination to many for many reasons. I'm lucky to have such an early representation of it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hand-Drawn Maps of the Battle of Quebec

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a great story about one of the treasures of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

The story explains that the Museum holds in its archives hand-drawn battle-maps, made by the British Army after their victory on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. A great video, explaining the map and some of its details can be found in the article linked to above.

In short, the maps were probably drawn as a report from the British Army back to London about the events of the battle. Such post-action maps were, apparently, typical. This one, shows the site of Quebec City including some features which are still present, such as the walls of the city. The map also shows the location of the various French and British armies at the battle and how they were arrayed to fight.

I had a hard time finding quality images of these maps anywhere, so the ones below are screen-caps taken from the CBC video and website.

This image, which for some reason is somewhat dark, shows a partially zoomed in image of the map. You can see the British formations in red and the French in blue. You can also make out geographic features like hills, and the formidable cliffs the British had to climb for their attack. The walls of the Citadel of Quebec can be seen in the east and a number of roads, some of which remain in use today. 

Here is a more zoomed out image of the same map shown above. It shows a legend, but the image is too low quality to read it. 

This image above is a close-up of the image of the armies lined up for battle.

One of the details that seems most interesting about this map is that it was donated to the Museum anonymously. Who had such a fascinating historic document in their possession for all those years without anybody knowing--such that the donor could be anonymous?

From what I can tell, the maps--which are hugely significant in Canadian history--are gorgeous, but they are not on display for the public. Apparently, they are too fragile and so remain a hidden treasure of the Museum. Alas...

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Gift to Canada Speed's 1662 Map of the Americas

Library and Archives Canada recently tweeted this:
It's a link to a fascinating map of the Americas from 1662. The link in the tweet above brings you to an image of the map which can be zoomed in on, to a point. The image is here:

 The map is fascinating. The known regions are packed with detail and there are place names that strike the modern viewer as strange. For example, Bermuda is listed as "now called the Summer Isles" and the south-west United States is listed as "New Granada".

The map also has such geographic oddities, such as the island of California, the connection between Greenland and the mainland of the continent, and the strange shape of Hudson's Bay, to name a few. The map also has, what seems to me, to be a strange omission. Though the map notes the location of "Canada" there is no mention of "New France". Perhaps that name was not commonly used, but there's nothing to even indicate that Canada was a French possession.

The map itself has some beautiful detail. The top of the border has miniature plans of important cities such as Mexico and Cartagena.


The sides of the map are bordered by miniatures of native peoples of the various places shown on the map. See, for example, this Greenlander and Virginian.

Doing a bit of digging, I came across this website that provides a bit more information on this map. It seems that even though this map (and others in the Atlas) is attributed to Speed, as the cartographer, this is apparently actually a Dutch map that Speed simply "anglicized". Indeed, the style of including miniatures in the border is a Dutch invention known as "cartes à figures". This copying may explain why many of the miniature city plans at the top of the map are not of English colonies, despite this map appearing in an English atlas.

The map is quite beautiful and interesting. I'm not sure if the national archives would allow the public to view it, but it's an important piece of history that shows a snapshot of Canada from around 350 years ago. It's a marvelous piece. Oh, and it has sea monsters!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Wonderful Fictional Map Sells for Huge Sum at Art Auction

Normally, I limit the maps I write about to antiques that I own, would love to own or that are simply fascinating and historically important. This post is an exception because this map is not really any of those things. My wife brought my attention to a wonderful fictional map that recently sold for an astonishing sum, so I thought it deserved a post.

Recognize this wonderful map? It's the map of the 100 Acre Wood, home to Winnie-the-Pooh (and Tigger too!). My wife brought to my attention that this original map, drawn to compliment the first stories of Winnie-the-Pooh recently sold at auction for the fantastic sum of £430,000. 

It has some truly charming details, including the deliberate misspellnig of some words and notations such as Eeyore's home being "rather boggy and sad", Pooh's "trap for heffalumps", a "floody place", and a note that the stream continues to the north pole.

I, even as an adult, love the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, and so I can see the appeal of owning such a map, though it doesn't really fall into the category of maps I collect. Still, it's charming, wonderful, nostalgic and artistically beautiful. Also, to toot my Canadian horn a bit, it has a Canadian connection. Sort of. The map itself is most definitely British, but Winnie-the-Pooh is indisputably Canadian.

Have a watch:

Monday, July 16, 2018

Wooden 3D Map of the Chesapeake Bay

Most maps in my collection are original antiques, but not all of them. On a trip to Annapolis, Maryland I stopped in at Woodcraft Artisans (no affiliation) and bought a beautiful, interesting 3D nautical chart of Chesapeake Bay.

The image above is taken from the manufacturer's site Carved Lake Art. The image below is a less good picture of the map hanging on my wall. If you visit Carved Lake Art's site, you can see the map in great detail.

There are a few things I like about this map aside from the awesome effect of the 3D effect. The detail of the waterways on this map is impressive as are the images of the land.

Of the various different maps of this style available, I chose this one because at the time, I was living in Washington D.C., which is depicted on this map, also, it's a map of a place I was visiting at the time.

This is a unique map that is not the rarest, oldest or most expensive that I own, but it may be the most unique, so I'm happy to share it with my loyal readers (reader?) to hopefully enjoy what I enjoy about it.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

First Nations Map Used by Lewis and Clark

I wanted to do a quick post, which is really a glorified reference to this post over at the Map Room Blog about a historically significant map made by a First Nations person named Too Né for Lewis and Clark in 1805. 

I can't find a much better quality image of this map, and it's hard to make out much detail, but I've read that it shows the course of the Missouri river and a number of different first nations. It also shows, in a few places, Lewis and Clark holding council. 

I don't have much to add to this post other than what's on the Map Room Blog. There is something about it though, that bears a very strong resemblance to this map, also drawn by a first nations person about 45 years earlier. It's interesting to consider if it would look different if it were made by a European and if the similarity in style between these two different first-nations maps has to do with a common way of seeing the world.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Yiddish Map of Palestine, 1939

Yiddish is a Germanic language which borrows words from Hebrew and is written in the Hebrew Alphabet. It's an old language and was historically spoken by Jews in Eastern and Central Europe. The number of speakers declined as a result of the Holocaust, but it remains the vernacular in many orthodox Jewish communities in Israel and elsewhere and has made somewhat of a cultural renaissance as evidenced by the popularity of things like this.

I had the good fortune to be offered a number of Yiddish books from an elderly relative who was downsizing. Among those books was "der algemeiner encyclopedia", the General Encyclopedia, published in Yiddish, in a number of volumes first in Paris, as of 1939 and later in New York.

1939 may have been the time in history with the most Yiddish speakers on the planet, before their numbers were drastically reduced by Nazi evil. These volumes are contemporary with that moment in history and they contain some Yiddish language maps. I'm not sure I'd ever seen one before and now I've discovered several of them. I wanted to write about them here, one at a time. I'll do my best to translate and explain what they are. They give fascinating insight into what the Jewish community found important at a moment in time when Nazism was on the rise, and when there were split allegiances within the Jewish community between various labour and communist movements, religious movements and the Jewish National movement, today known as Zionism.

The first map is in the "Jewish History" section of the encyclopedia and is titled "Palestine, in the Time of the Jewish Kingdom, a Historical Map". The caption at the bottom of the page reads: "A Historical Map of Palestine (Judah and Israel at the time of the splitting of the kingdom)". This relates to the biblical split between the 10 tribes of Israel and the other two tribes of Judah.

The legend on the map explains a bit about what we're looking at.

The areas shaded with dots are the the tribes of Israel while the one with solid lines are the tribes of Judah. The squiggly lines below the boxes are labeled as "vegn" which I would translate as ways, or routes or roads.

Above is an image of the map showing what today, would be parts of central and southern Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Highlighted in Yellow is Jerusalem. The green square is around a place called Lod, which is essentially modern Tel Aviv. Israel's international airport is in Lod. Bethlehem is underlined in red, south of Jerusalem, Gaza city has a yellow square around it and underlined in blue is the ancient Jewish fortress of Massada. The Inclusion of Massada here is interesting, because it's not a place that appeared in the bible and only became famous afterwards as a symbol of Jewish nationalism. Its inclusion in this map is probably more of a nod to the Zionism of the time than to creating an accurate biblical map.

Finally, the kingdom of Edom is in a purple box and the kingdom of Moab underlined in purple.

I believe this map to be quite rare. I have almost never seen any Yiddish maps at all, much less old ones. It has a great deal of historic significance as well, not just for its content, but also for its purpose. It remains in the encyclopedia, which is in excellent condition, and I intend to keep it that way indefinitely.