Category Archives: Cartography

Treasure Unearthed!

Shelf checking a printed book collection I came upon an uncatalogued atlas which looked very interesting.  Although it had engraved and letterpress title pages for Visscher’s Atlas Minor it was, in fact an atlas factice of mainly seventeenth century maps from atlases of various publishers. It is contained in the Bodleian’s collection of books belonging to John Locke (1632-1704), philosopher and influential Enlightenment figure.

Locke was awarded his master’s degree from Christ Church, Oxford in 1658 and developed into polymath and in 1668 was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society but his interests also covered amongst others medicine, political theory and religious tolerance and influenced by Bacon, Descartes and Hobbes.  Throughout his life he wrote and disseminated his ideas on this range of subjects so it is no surprise that he would have amassed a collection of maps.


After his death in 1704, his library was left to his cousin Peter King, later Lord King when in 1947 the Bodleian bought some of the books and manuscripts. The remainder were found at Ben Damph Forest, the seat of the Earl of Lovelace (as Lord King later became) and were later bought by Paul Mellon who then presented this collection to the Bodleian in 1978.


The volume itself contains 48 maps, charts and plans produced and published by the leading cartographers contemporary with Locke, so along with Visscher, Frederik de Wit, Carel Allard and Peter Schenk also featured.  Additionally included is an ephemerides by Jean Baptiste Coignard which would have sat well with the maps. Map number 15 A New Chart of the Sea Coasts Between England and Ireland by Richard Mount is uncommon and unusually oriented with west at the top.

The binding is the original vellum with blind stamped border and corner pieces; and large ornament with evidence of ties. There is a spine title in manuscript (Locke?) Visscher Atlas. There is a circular red morocco bookplate with a gilt image of stook of corn and lettering “Oak Spring, Paul Mellon” indicating its later provenance.










Atlas factice of mainly Dutch 17th century maps  Locke 22.1

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).

Unsung heroes

Engravers can be the unsung heroes or heroines of the map world. Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper – or later on, steel – as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.

While cataloguing a large collection of nineteenth century French sea charts I have encountered some exceptional engravers. One we know only by his surname: Chassant, working in Paris from the late 1830s into the 1860s, was arguably wasted on sea charts. His dramatic portrayal of land relief using hachuring is very striking, as can be seen from this chart showing the old port of  Marseille and the rugged hills to the south in 1845.

When cataloguing these maps we always want to give the engravers their due, but identifying exactly who was responsible for a particular map can be challenging. The case of the Halls was discussed in a recent post – there were possibly quite a few women involved in early engraving. Mme Fontaine, a Paris based engraver of the 1860s and ’70s, is credited on her work simply as “Fontaine”, with no first name or title; research has revealed only that she was a female engraver who specialised in portraying large areas of water.

Around the same time, an engraver called C.E. Collin was also working on charts for the French Dépôt-général de la marine. Engraving was sometimes a family business, and this can make it harder to work out who engraved a particular map. This C.E. Collin appears to have been the youngest of three engravers called Charles Etienne Collin who produced charts for the Dépôt (as well as some other works) between 1789 and the 1870s.  The oldest one usually signed himself “E. Collin”, although he is also also believed to have had the given name Charles. In 1821, a two sheet chart appeared, of which one sheet was described as being “gravé par E. Collin” and the other “par E. Collin père”.  There is some overlap of the map area on the 2 sheets and differences in style suggest that they were made by different engravers. It was unusual for the older E. Collin to call himself “E. Collin père”, so perhaps this was an early collaboration with his son.  In 1829 the younger E. Collin took a different approach, engraving a chart and signing it “gravé par C.E. Collin fils.” Was this yet another young engraving Collin, or was he inconsistent in the use of his initials?  E. Collin père is generally supposed to be be Charles Etienne Collin; perhaps he disliked or rarely used his first name, and his son followed suit?

The second Collin continued to engrave charts into the 1830s. From the late 1840s a third C.E. Collin appears, and he was active into the 1870s. He was probably a grandson or nephew of the first Collin, but it is difficult to be sure exactly where one person’s work stops and the next one begins. Or why they couldn’t come up with a wider range of given names. The third Collin was an exceptionally fine engraver and his charts are really beautiful; one is represented above. In particular, some of his sea charts show a remarkable degree of detail for the land; in the chart above, the patchwork of fields, and even the approximate layout of small villages can be seen. In both these cases, the land information shown would be of use to sailors, helping them to spot landmarks from out at sea. It is also a valuable record of a rural stretch of coast over 150 years ago, since transformed by the growth of the city of Montpellier.

 Plan du port de Marseille et de ses environs. Paris: Dépôt-général de la marine, 1845.

Carte des côtes méridionales de France: Partie comprise entre Cette et Marseille. Paris: Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine, 1867. B1 a.61/14



Where are all the women? The case of the Halls

The professions associated with map making have historically been male dominated. In addition, women who were involved are not always recorded. The case of Sidney and Selina Hall, map engravers of London, is an instructive one.

Sidney Hall was born around 1788 and is recorded working as a map engraver from as early as 1809, based in Piccadilly and later in Bloomsbury. He was prolific and highly regarded and produced hundreds of finely engraved maps. He was probably the first map engraver to work on steel rather than copper plates; steel plates were harder to work, but enabled very fine engraving and were more durable.

In 1821 he married Selina Price of Radnorshire; there is uncertainty about the date of her birth but she appears to have been a few years his senior. We might have heard no more of Selina, were it not for the fact that Sidney Hall sadly died only 10 years later, at the age of 42. And yet his engraved maps continued to appear. New works engraved by Sidney Hall were published for decades after his death. Selina Hall, who conveniently shared a first initial with her husband, simply continued to engrave maps and signed them “S. Hall” (this as well as the date can be used to distinguish them from her husband’s work, since he usually signed “Sid.y Hall”), thus continuing to benefit from an established name.

Norfolk, from A new British atlas, 1836. C15 d.39

The first map shown here is from A new British atlas, first published in 1831 by Chapman and Hall. These were available bound in an atlas and as separately published items. The maps early on the alphabetical sequence are signed by Sidney Hall, and the later ones simply by S.Hall, suggesting that Sidney may have died in the middle of the project and his wife continued the work.

Engraving is a highly skilled job, and Selina Hall cannot have learnt it all at once on her husband’s death. It is far more likely that she was an active participant in the business throughout their marriage, but that her contribution was not ackowledged. She was certainly known to her husband’s former business partner, Michael Thomson, who died in 1816, since she is mentioned in his will, so she may have been involved in the map production process for even longer. Selina lived for over 20 years after her husband’s death, continuing to engrave maps, and when she died the business passed to her nephew Edward Weller; she may have been involved in his training.

Switzerland. From Black’s general atlas, 1846. Allen LRO 80

Even works produced long after Sidney’s death continued to be attributed to him by researchers until recently, partly because his name was used to promote them at the time. The second map here is from Black’s general atlas of 1846 (first edition 1840); the title page boasts that the maps are “engraved on steel, in the first style of the art, by Sidney Hall, Hughes &c.” The signature S. Hall appears on this one.

Although Selina was an active and talented engraver, were it not for her husband’s untimely death we would have no evidence of her involvement at all. Which immediately raises the question: how many other female map makers, working in similar circumstances, are missing from the record?



Further info:

Worms, L., & Baynton-Williams, A.. British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850. London: Rare Book Society, 2011.

Worms, L., ‘Hall, Sidney (1788/9?–1831)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008. (accessed 4 March 2020)

Found in a box


Looking through a box of uncatalogued maps, plots and diagrams I came across several manuscript architectural plans of the Midland Grand Hotel, London. Now named the St Pancras Hotel it is an iconic landmark on the Euston Road next to that other celebrated edifice of red brick, the British Library. The plans, drawn to show the girders, were by engineer Richard Moreland of Old Street in 1867 at a scale of 10 feet to 1 inch (1:120). You can see all of the modern internal features with the Grand Staircase and the popular Ladies Coffee Room. There are even manuscript pencil marks denoting dimensions which indicate these were some sort of working drawings.

The hotel is a masterpiece of high Gothic designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who beat ten other architects for the commission, even though his design was far bigger and far more expensive that Midland Railway Company specified. The competition was launched in 1865 for a 150 bed hotel but it was finally completed in 1876 with 300 rooms. With its very high standard of fixtures and fittings the Midland Grand soon acquired a reputation as a luxurious upmarket hotel – even better than the celebrated Langham in Portland Place. This luxury didn’t come cheap costing nearly £500,000 to construct it charged the sum of 14 shilling a night – an average week’s wages for an agricultural labourer.

MS. Maps England a. 3

Land ahoy!

 Although this is the time of year when the
lights are lengthening and electronic location devices are almost mandatory, shipping still benefits from the presence of lighthouses warning of hazards. The Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen was created by A. G. Findlay in 1863 and shows the location, extent of the beam of each lighthouse, and gives information about the type of beam and frequency of light pulses. This wealth of information is exquisitely engraved and coloured but as a specialist map it would not have had a large print run. However it is a handsome thing mounted on linen and folded into covers with brass decorative gothic clasps. The boards of the covers are covered in cloth with a blind stamped decoration and the title, motto and coat of arms of Trinity House in gilt.

The map was published ‘By order of the hon[oura]ble. the Corporation of Trinity House.’ which is the authority controlling lighthouses, lightvessels and buoys in England and Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar (Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland). The board was established by a charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514. Prior to this there were privately run beacons or towers so it wasn’t until 1609 Trinity House established its first, Lowestoft Lighthouse, as a pair of wooden towers with candle illuminants. The risk of fire must have been very great but it wasn’t until 1777 the first mirrored reflectors were used.

The cartographer of this map, Alexander George Findlay was a leading compiler and publisher of geographical and hydrographical works and after the death of Richard Holland Laurie, took over the well-known and long established printing house of Laurie & Whittle. He researched meteorology, published nautical directories the whole world and received a Society of Arts medal for his dissertation The English Lighthouse. He also served the British Association for the Advancement of Science so he was uniquely qualified to produce this map.

Today lighthouses are still relevant but function more as a back up to electronic equipment. The last manned lighthouse, North Foreland in Kent, was automated in 1998 after the automation process started in in the early 1980s, bringing to an end the work of the lighthouse keepers or “wickies”. This lighthouse had seen the departures of forces defending our islands and the arrival of all manner of vessels – some in joyous homecoming, some limping back after difficult journeys and trade vessels from all over the world. Trinity house currently maintains 65 lighthouses but it has provided temporary lighting. For D-Day it laid 73 lighted buoys and 2 lightvessels to indicate a safe route for landing craft in the poor weather of the English Channel. Redundant lighthouses have been re-purposed as holiday lets or even conversion to domestic properties – albeit ones with fantastic views!

Chart exhibiting the light houses and light vessels on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland; and also those on the N.W. coasts of Europe between Ushant and Bergen. London, 1863. C15 d.197

Golden Globes

Globes in various forms are an everyday sight but intriguing none the less.  Like maps there are increasingly being looked at in an aesthetic light, but were designed with a clear educational function.  An early example the ’Erdapfel’ or ‘Behaim globe’ constructed between 1490 and 1492

was thought to have come to the attention of Christopher Columbus before his famous voyage.  He would have consulted flat paper maps but it is only on a globe can you appreciate the directness of the Great Circle route. They also “contrived to solve the various phœnomena of the earth and heavens, in a more easy and natural manner” so said George Adams in his Treatise describing the construction and explaining the use of new celestial and terrestrial globes. (1777)

Globes were traditionally made using gores – 12 or 16 shaped paper or vellum strips pasted to a sphere with ‘calottes’ or caps to cover the inevitable untidiness at the joins at the north and south pole and subsequently mounted at 23½° off the vertical to replicate earth’s tilt in space. To maintain this angle lead shot was used to balance. Some globes were manufactured to be portable whereby they can be disassembled in 48 pieces.

Modern self-supporting globes use sections that bear very little resemblance to the elegant gore. The traditional skill of globe making has been revived recently by Greaves & Thomas a small company specialising in the production of all manner of globes “spanning cartographic history from 1492 to the present day”.

The Bodleian has never restricted itself to collecting justbooks and manuscripts. Indeed it was Sir Thomas Bodley who purchased a pair of extravagantly expensive terrestrial and celestial Molyneux globes (1592) and subsequently bemoaned the fact they were getting ‘slurred’ (smudged) and so their upkeep would become a continuous charge.  This proved to be the case as the Bodleian accounts show payments made to the joiner in 1629, 1636 and in 1644 for mending one or other of the globes.  This pair was discarded in favour of a pair of Blaeu globes which can be seen on a contemporary print by David Loggan of Duke Humfrey’s Library in 1675. It appears these were also rejected in favour of a more modern (and smaller) pair of John Senex globes dating from 1728.  It is this pair which reside in the Rare Books and Manuscript Reading Room of the Weston Library.  .

Today globes are more likely to be found as blow ups, pop ups or large installations.

Examples of this more public structure can be found in Boston, Massachusetts as the Mapparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Library and De Lorme’s Eartha globe in Yarmouth, Maine but equally the inflatable globe functions well as a ball on a beach. ‘Three dimensional atlases’ are now being published as pop ups of hemispheres, illustrating text wonderfully for younger readers. Miniature globes were regarded as children’s toys with some educational value but the most peculiar is the ostrich egg. Sadly the Bodleian does not possess one of these wonderful objects but given its delicate structure it is only a decorative piece.

Mapparium photo credit:

Egg photo credit:


“Mad Jack’s” map

On days like this it is a real privilege to do my job.  This rather lovely manuscript map from around 1795 has been recently purchased to enrich our holdings of large scale parish maps and estate plans but a happy time was spent cataloguing it.

The map is of part of the parishes of Berwick and Alciston north west of Eastbourne in East Sussex showing the lands belonging to “Jn. Fuller Esq.” This gentleman known at the time as “Mad Jack” Fuller (although he preferred “Honest John” Fuller) inherited his estate, Rose Hill, from his uncle in 1777. It is lands attached to this estate, which is now Brightling Park, which feature on the map.

Unfortunately the surveyor is not known nonetheless it is a pretty thing with beautiful penmanship and little vignettes of people and items likely to be found on the land.  The little details are charming: the field gates are drawn in as is a view of the church and the compass rose is embellished with gilt. The lands belonging to “Mad Jack” are numbered to a key giving field names and acreages with the remaining parcels of land having their owners names and areas scribed on them. The scale of approximately 1:10,000 (6” to 1 mile) is large enough to show the area in reasonable detail. It was obviously a working document as you can see many later corrections and additions in pencil, as well as the surveyor’s grid.  The fact that it has been produced on parchment also point to the fact it was heavily used, as paper wouldn’t be up to the task. 

John Fuller was born into a wealthy family of iron makers and politicians in Hampshire in 1757 and initially forged a career in a light infantry company in the Sussex Militia. He subsequently spent two spells in parliament as an MP, the first representing Southampton from 1780 to 1784 and then as member for Sussex from 1801 to 1812. A noted drunk, he was famous for his eccentricities and follies and even received permission to build a 20ft high pyramid as a tomb in the churchyard of St Thomas à Becket in Brightling. In later life he turned to philanthropy, supporting among others the young Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution. He died in April 1834 and was buried beneath his pyramid folly.

A survey of lands lying in ye parishes of Berwick and Alciston in the county of Sussex belonging to Jn. Fuller Esq. Rose Hill 

MS. C17:58 (114)

Boats and Maps

Maps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and one recent purchase by the Rare Books Section was not one I’d seen before.  The artist’s book The last voyage by Tracey Bush is based on a poem by a seventeenth century wit John Taylor who undertook a journey in a paper boat with two stockfish tied to canes for oars from London to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.  The map is fashioned into a hand folded paper model of a boat which is accompanied by a booklet with extracts of the poem In praise of the hemp-seed written by Taylor to describe his journey. The booklet and boat are made entirely by hemp paper and are contained in a folder secured by a small piece of hemp rope.

This artistic use of maps is increasing with the popularity of maps as visual objects and you can see them everywhere – mugs, mouse mats and even the former First Lady’s dress. What is it about maps that is so appealing?  Is it the potential for a journey? The depiction of something (generally) real? Or do they just make pretty things to look at? Whatever the draw it has been going on for centuries as can be seen by Leo Belgicus which was first drawn in 1583 by Michaël Eytzinger, an Austrian cartographer.  He depicted the Low Countries as a lion rampant facing east, an image which was popular in various forms for many years.

As was closer to home James Gillray’s caricature of England as an old woman seated on a sea creature.  Otherwise it is the content, rather than the appearance of the map which is more important – who hasn’t seen advertisements for items personalised with a map of a significant location in cufflinks, necklaces and puzzles.

Whatever it is in this age of technology maps remain relevant as practical items (an Ordnance Sheet doesn’t require a mobile phone signal) and an artefact thus still fulfilling the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s definition of cartography as ‘the art and science of graphically representing a geographical area, usually on a flat surface such as a map or chart. It may involve the superimposition of political, cultural, or other non-geographical divisions onto the representation of a geographical area.’

The shortest distance between two points

We came across this map, on a very unusual projection, while processing a previously uncatalogued set of nineteenth century French sea charts produced by the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine. Most are standard nautical charts, but this one – part of a set of three – is extraordinary.  The world appears to have been turned inside out; the chart is centred on the central Atlantic, and the land masses are progressively larger and more distorted the further they are from this point. The other two charts represent the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the same way.

The title makes the chart’s purpose clear: ‘Carte pour la navigation par l’arc de grand circle’. A great circle is, technically, the point at which the surface of a sphere intersects with a plane passing through its centre. In practical terms, a great circle drawn on the surface of the Earth between 2 points will be the shortest distance between those points (the Earth is not, of course, a perfect sphere, but it is close enough for this to be of use).

Navigational charts are traditionally drawn on the Mercator projection. This has the great advantage of showing a line of constant bearing (rhumb line) on the Earth’s surface as a straight line on the map. This is the simplest course to navigate, as mariners have known for many hundreds of years, but it is not the shortest. The shortest route is a great circle, and this requires constant adjustment of direction to stay on course. Sailing ships were limited by the challenges of winds and currents, and early steam ships by the need to refuel, but from the 1870s this principle began to have more practical applications. A straight line drawn on this orthodromic chart is a great circle course between the two points it connects, enabling navigators to plan their great circle journeys relatively easily. These charts were published in 1879. 

Charts of this sort do not appear to have passed into common use, and there could be several reasons for this. For one thing, the difficulties of plotting a great circle course are sufficient to outweigh the advantages for all but the longest ocean crossing journeys. Mariners continued to use rhumb line navigation well into the late twentieth century, by which time GPS systems had come into use. When a great circle course was followed, for sea or air travel, it was calculated in advance, sometimes using a chart of this sort. The course would then be plotted onto a Mercator projection chart where it was easier to follow. 

The usefulness of great circles can be seen most clearly on a modern map of long distance air travel. This is why aeroplane routes from, say, London to San Francisco always appear oddly curved when viewed on a map, with the route going much much north than you would expect. This is a great circle course, and the shortest way to connect two distant cities. A demonstration can be seen on this useful site

The charts were created by Gustave Hilleret, a naval lieutenant and teacher at the École supérieure de guerre navale, who also published books on navigation. The projection is the Gnomonic projection with Equatorial aspect; the charts’ Bodleian shelfmark is B1 a.61/1 [39-41].