Category Archives: History

The classical world

The subject of teaching Latin in schools has been in the news lately.  Go back a few hundred years, and learning about ancient languages and civilisations was a fundamental part of education. Fascination with classical learning, and the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, could be expressed in maps as well as other forms. This atlas containing 36 maps of the classical world, with accompanying tables describing the organisation of the Roman Empire, has just been catalogued. All the maps date from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and almost all are French.

This is an atlas factice – a composite atlas, assembled to order or bound by the collector – and these are always particularly exciting to deal with as you don’t know what you will find next. It has no title page, but bears the spine title “Antient mapps”. It is quite coherently organized, beginning with maps of the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire (see above), which even include small inset maps of the eastern and western hemispheres for a global view. It goes on to include more detailed maps of the Empire’s regions, and those associated with other early civilizations such as Greece, Illyria and Scythia; then come maps of the regions of Turkey and the Colchis and Albania regions of what is now Georgia in the Caucasus.

Most of the maps don’t appear to be very common, and a detailed map of Gallia Antiquae (ancient Gaul or France), which was first made by the French mapmaker Nicolas Sanson in 1627, appears in a later revised edition by Pierre Moulart-Sanson (his grandson) with additional descriptive text for which we have not been able to find any records elsewhere. It may however appear unrecorded in atlases.

All the countries around the Mediterranean are shown as they were in the times of earlier civilisations, with Roman provinces and in some cases Roman roads marked; roads can be seen converging on the city of Rome on the map above, reminiscent of the old joke that the Roman roads ran very straight in all directions, and all led to Rome. The details of roads are sometimes derived from the Peutinger Table, a Medieval copy of a an earlier map showing the roads of the Roman Empire (you can see a copy online and have fun planning routes on Roman roads here

By modern standards the maps are not that geographically accurate. Some places are shown as being on the same latitude when they are really an enormous distance apart, and ancient sites are occasionally shown in the wrong place. The shape of the Caucasus below is somewhat different to how it would be represented on a modern map. For some of the maps it is very difficult to calculate which prime meridian is being used.

Almost all the maps are French publications, with Nicolas Sanson and his son Guillaume being most widely represented, though a few Italian ones are included. This atlas is in the Bodleian Library, but nine of the maps also appear in another composite atlas held in the library of one of the university colleges, with a manuscript title page, suggesting that these may have been available as a set. These are nearly all by the Sansons.

Antient mapps. [1660-1723] . Map Res 152


A land of silver?

This beautiful map of part of the coast of Brazil has been in the Bodleian’s collections for many years. It was drawn to our attention recently by an enquiry from officials in the city of Fortaleza, part of the area which it represents.

The map is in an unusual style; a planimetric view of the coast from above gradually shifts as we look inland to a bird’s eye view of the mountains outlined against the sky as if in a picture. It shows the area around the fort, built by the Dutch West India Company in 1649 and first named Fort Schoonenborch (the name is spelt in several different ways on this map). The inland areas of forest around the river are beautifully depicted. North is towards the bottom of the sheet, as indicated by the compass rose. The text is in French, with a number of misspellings that suggest it may have been made by someone who was a not a good French speaker; the spelling of “Zud” instead of “Sud” for south in the title for example. The area was disputed by the Dutch and Portuguese, and the fort was handed over to the Portuguese in 1653. They renamed it Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora de Assunção; the area around it is now a substantial city, still called Fortaleza, capital of the north eastern state of Ceará.

The map includes a detailed plan of the fort, a section through and a numbered index locating its features. This would be useful military information. Some water depths are given around the fort; the map would be of practical use for anyone arriving by sea.

The map was found amongst the papers of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. Why is this hand drawn map of part of the coast of Brazil amongst the state papers of an adviser to an English king? The answer is in the accompanying written text described as a “Remonstrance concerning advantages for his sacred Majestie”, directed to Charles II. It explains that the map is a “true copy of an original gotten out of the secret cabinet of the Amsterdam West India Company”, and describes the enormous value of silver that exists to be mined in the area. The text appears to come from Balthazar Gerbier (who also refers to himself by the name Douvilly, a reference to a probably invented noble ancestor). At this time Gerbier, formerly a courtier, diplomat and art consultant, had fallen on hard times since the Restoration. He had previously taken part in an unsuccessful expedition to Guiana in search of gold. His extravagant claims regarding silver around Fortaleza do not appear to have been followed up.The hope of finding precious metal was an important part of exploration of the Americas by Europeans. This cartouche from a Dutch printed map of South America, from around the same time, shows South American people apparently smelting metal before well-dressed European gentlemen in ruffs and flamboyant hats; miners can be seen carrying their pick axes uphill in the background.

La description dela contrée de Chiara en Amerique á trois degrez du zud du temp que la Compagnie des Indes Occidentalos la possedoit, et y avoient erigé le fort Schonenbourg. 1649-1653,  MS. Clarendon 92 (f.179a)

Tractus australior Americae Meridionalis a Rio de la Plata per Fretum Magellanicum ad Toraltum. ca 1650. (E) H1:7 (2)

St Petersburg in colour

This large, beautiful map of St Petersburg was recently donated to the Bodleian Map Room. Measuring just over a metre square, it shows the city in great detail. Every building is marked and the layouts of parks and gardens around the city are shown. The fortress on Zayachy Island is shown in detail (below). The water depths in the Neva river and estuary are included. The title makes reference to some of the earlier plans on which the map is partly based, beginning with that of Fedor Shubert in 1828; it was updated from surveys in the 1850s and 1860s. It was published in St Petersburg in 1868.

The reverse of the map carries a handwritten note, “Petrograd”, which would date its acquisition by a previous owner to some time in the ten years from 1914 to 1924. Previously the city had been known as St Petersburg, since its founding by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 (on the site of an earlier Swedish fort); he made it the capital of Russia, which it remained until 1917. In 1924, shortly after the death of Bolshevik leader Lenin, it was renamed Leningrad in his honour. In 1991 the name reverted to St Petersburg.

The map is delicately coloured in red, green, blue and black. At first glance it appears to be hand coloured as the colouring is so smooth, but closer examination suggests that it was lithographed; very slight offsetting can be seen in places (where the green plate does not exactly line up with the coastline on some of the islands, for example, as can be seen in the detail above).  Colour printing of maps took off in the twentieth century; this is an unusually fine early example.

A final thought: This blog post replaces our Christmas blog post (below) as the 12 days of Christmas are now over in the UK and much of the western world. However, the Christmas season is just beginning in the Russian Orthodox Church, so we would like to wish everyone celebrating a very Happy Christmas!

Plan S. Peterburga : sostavlen na osnovanīi plana Shuberta 1828 g., posli͡edneĭ rekognost͡sirovki Voenno topograficheskago depo 1858 g., gidrograficheskikh kart Nevy i ei͡a ustʹi͡a izdanīi͡a Gidrograficheskago departamenta Morskago ministerstva 1864 g. i rekognost͡sirovok proizvedennykh 1867 i 1868 godakh redaktorom T͡Sentralʹnago statistichesk: komiteta M. Ī. Musnit͡skim / ispolnen v Kartograficheskom zavedenīi A. Ilʹina. S. Peterburg : Kartograficheskoe zav. A. Ilʹina, 1868. C400:50 St Petersburg (24)

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

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



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

London fields

It’s always fascinating to look at early maps of the outskirts of cities, as the landscape has often undergone an incredible transformation. This map of the parish of St Pancras in London is a wonderful example. Made 215 years ago in 1804, it shows the parish as an elongated shape stretching north from what is now part of London’s crowded West End. The first extract here shows part of the northern sheet.
The map is on 2 sheets oriented with west (approximately) at the top. Although north orientation was fairly standard by 1804, it’s not unusual for large scale local maps to be oriented in whichever way most conveniently fits the shape of the paper. The southern extremity of the parish is the junction between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (now the site of Tottenham Court Road tube station) in the west, and Clerkenwell in the east. The streets of Bloomsbury are already densely built up but north of what is now Euston Road is mainly open fields. Camden and Kentish town are separate villages on the main road out of London. The canal, of course, was yet to come and the mainline railway stations that dominate the area now were far in the future. The extract below shows the area now occupied by St Pancras and Kings Cross stations, and the British Library; the main road running from top to bottom is now the Euston Road.

It’s also interesting to see the things that remain, or have left tangible traces. The Polygon, a then recent development of houses  in a circle facing inwards, was fairly recently built when this map was made; its name survives in Polygon Road nowadays. The Royal Veterinary College to the east of Camden was already established and is still there. On the northern sheet,  the more hilly landscape towards Hampstead and Highgate is represented by hachuring; the distinctive shape of the line of ponds across Hampstead Heath hasn’t changed much since 1804. Kenwood House, then the seat of the Earl of Mansfield and recently remodelled, still stands surrounded by its parkland, now managed by English Heritage. The oak tree under which people would gather to hear gospel readings is marked; Gospel Oak is still the name of a London district and a train station.

The map is very detailed and finely engraved; the accompanying written survey, or terrier book, explains that the mapmaker, John Tompson (also described elsewhere as Thompson or Tomson) had made it under the patronage of landowners who had property in the parish, “at the expence of upwards of three years labour.” The terrier is very thorough, listing the landowners, and identifying the individual land parcels (numbered on the map) by their use and area. All individual streets are described and their buildings listed. This is an exceptionally detailed record of an area now transformed almost beyond recognition.

Playing with maps

The idea that playing cards could be illustrated with maps is a bit surprising, since maps tend to be on fairly large pieces of paper, and most playing cards are pretty small. However, early playing cards were often designed to be decorative and to serve an educational purpose as well as being for card games. So geographical subjects could feature, and these sometimes included maps.
The 39 historic counties of England, and 13 of Wales, together make up the convenient number 52 – the same as the number of cards in a standard pack. This perhaps inspired the first known example of geographical playing cards, a set made in England featuring all the counties, by the mysterious “W.B.” in 1590. Few of these survive and the Bodleian doesn’t hold any. The card maker is believed to be a W. Bowes, probably related to Ralph Bowes who received a monopoly to import playing cards in 1578, but attempts to identify this individual and establish a more precise relationship have been unsuccessful.

In 1676 the mapmaker Robert Morden issued a set of playing cards with maps of all the counties, each one showing a reasonable amount of detail for an area a little over 5cm square. Each little county map shows the main towns, roads, major rivers, and a scale bar, and is accompanied by information on the length, breadth and circumference of the county, and latitude of the main town and its distance from London. Small changes to the plates show that the set was reissued at least twice by 1680; the names of adjacent counties were not on the original version. The maps were also sold bound as a small atlas without suit marks. They were copied and the set issued again by John Lenthall, a playing card seller, around 1717. There was even a later version of the same set published in the 1780s, nearly a hundred years after they first appeared. The cards illustrated above are both from Lenthall’s issue of the cards.


Later in the same year that Morden issued his first set of county playing cards, William Redmayne published a competing set. The maps are very small and poorly drawn, and the suit marks (positioned in the middle of the cards) almost obscure the maps. They do however have more extensive text, with facts about the geography and history of the counties included. Differences in style between suits suggest that more than one engraver was involved, so perhaps the set was produced in a hurry. Despite the limitations of the maps, these must have sold reasonably well as a second set with minor changes came out the following year; again John Lenthall acquired the plates and issued a set some time in the 1710s. Lenthall sold many packs of cards of different designs; contemporary advertisements show that he had over 40 packs for customers to choose from. The cards shown above, from Redmayne’s second issue of the set, show the difference in style and in the amount of written information between cards.
Geographical cards with maps of countries around the world also existed, with the 4 continents then known to Europeans (Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe) serving as the 4 suits. But maps of the English counties seem to have been particularly popular. The maps shown are from the Bodleian’s John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera; the shelfmark is Douce Playing Cards: English Geographical.
There is a detailed analysis of map playing cards of this type published by the Map Collectors’ Circle (“Playing cards depicting maps of the British Isles, and of English and Welsh counties,” by Sylvia Mann and David Kingsley. Map Collectors’ Series No. 87, 1972)

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)