Category Archives: Art

Sail away to Christmasland

Everyone has heard of Christmas Island, but have you heard of Christmasland? The (fictional) island appears on this cartographic Christmas card from the 1930s. Christmasland: Captain Jolliman’s voyage of discovery in ye “Friendship” (see what they did there?) shows a route from Humdrum Drearyland, with its Workaday Coast, to Christmasland.

The island has many seasonal placenames such as Mistletoe Bay, the Forest of Greetings (the forest symbols being, appropriately enough, Christmas trees), Welcome City, Kiddies Country and the Coast of Old Friends. The River Gin and the River It combine to form Cocktail River (hurrah!) and there are various plays on words relating to place names, such as Port Wine, and the Sound of Bells. The captain’s route continues past Pudding Point, through the Financial Straits, amongst the Hangover Rocks and past Resolution Point to New Years Land.

Cartographical allegories like this have been produced for centuries. Maps along these lines illustrating the “land of love” or themes around courtship and marriage became popular in seventeenth century France, and soon spread to other European countries including England. Allegorical maps with a morally improving theme also appeared, illustrating the spiritual journey through life. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century allegorical maps as games were also popular. Meanwhile, in the nineteenth century, the Christmas card was gaining in popularity, as outlined in this recent blog from the Bodleian’s John Johnson collection.  But Christmasland, combining the two, may be a one off.

The card was donated to the Map Room recently, after it was spotted in the Oxfam shop in Chipping Norton by a Bodleian reader. Such ephemeral material often doesn’t survive so it was a welcome addition to the collection.


The card is printed inside with an address in Hillcrest Avenue, Pinner, then as now a pleasant road in an affluent commuter town on the outskirts of London. It is signed by hand, and dated Christmas 1936. There is also a quotation:

Hope shall brighten days to come
And memory gild the past

From a poem by the Irish writer Thomas Moore. These words, and a printed greeting with

Remembrance and kind thoughts for Christmas with good wishes for your happiness in the future

is something we need in the current difficult times. Happy Christmas!

Overlooking a city

It’s not uncommon to see a map that makes you go “Wow!” at first sight. Generally the early printed and manuscript maps in the collection are most likely to inspire this response, but this recently acquired map of Buenos Aires, printed in 1950, had much the same effect when I first saw it.

More of a birds-eye view than a map, it almost gives the feeling of flying over the city. The layout of Buenos Aires in a regular grid pattern enhances the sense of perspective. Many features are shown pictorially including major buildings, parks, monuments and boats in the port in the foreground. The sea is coloured a beautiful dark blue. Overall the colour scheme is simple, the map being printed in black plus 5 colours. All along the bottom of the map is a view of the city.

It’s the work of Viktor Cymbal (surname sometimes rendered Tsymbal), a Ukrainian artist and designer who lived in Buenos Aires for much of his life from his late twenties, although he spent his final years in New York. More information can be found about him here.

The style is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Macdonald Gill, another artist whose work (like that of Cymbal) included both maps and illustrations for advertisements. In particular the simple colour scheme, pictorial elements, and the lettering style and yellow scroll devices as labels are interesting to compare. Gill featured in an earlier blog post focusing on a map made in 1941, just nine years before this one.

The map was made at a time when Argentina was flourishing under popular president Juan Domingo Péron and his even more popular wife Eva. The railway station at bottom right bears the president’s name.

El corazon de Buenos Aires/ Viktor Cymbal. Buenos Aires : Editores Peacock y Calegari, 950.  H3:35 Buenos Aires (19).