On The Square

When Maps Mattered Most

By Brett Morris

Jun 06,2017 | 13:00 EDT

The history of maps is the history of mans efforts to conquer the earth. With fleets of boats at the ready, nations commissioned thousands of expeditions in their efforts to chart the globe and to plunder whatever riches they could find at the other end. Men whose names would go down in the annals of history - James Cook, Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, Vasco Da Garma, became the heroes of their age, fearless in the face of uncertainty, or so the story goes. They were under immense pressure to succeed; to succeed they needed maps, and they needed them to be accurate. 

Always exquisitely crafted in the greatest detail, its no wonder these maps are now in such demand from a posse of passionate collectors. Which brings us to The Old Print Shops, Cartographic Wonders sale, a timed auction that runs through to Monday, June 19, where fifty hand-drawn lots are up for grabs. The Americas, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Scandinavia are among the regions represented, offering bidders a brilliant opportunity to add to existing collections or to start from scratch. Time to set your course...

Lot 1 - Maris Pacifici, by master cartographer Abraham Ortelius, is the first obtainable printed map of the Pacific. Dated 1589, it is considered one of the most important maps to be published in the Ortelius atlas, featuring explorer Ferdinand Magellans ship, Victoria in the lower right off the coast of South America, a prominent New Guinea, and one of the earliest delineations of the Solomon Islands. 

Those with a love of all things Italian should take special interest in Lot 40 - a beautifully colored and finely detailed map of the Republic of Genoa. Genoa was an independent state from 1005 to 1797, and here German publisher and engraver Tobias Conrad Lotter draws her beautifully, capturing a fine view of the harbor and city below, as well as 64 identifiable buildings and locations. 

Lot 3 is a truly stunning piece of work - one of the most striking early maps of the Western Hemisphere. Cartographically, this map was based on Gerard Mercators landmark world map of 1587. This map is set within a circle surrounded by interlocking acanthus leaves, cornucopias and insects, with three inset maps - the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and Florida, and Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Also depicted are a Northwest Passage, a large island of New Guinea and a huge Antarctic continent.


Lot 5 dates back to the early days of the European discovery of the American continent. Created in 1513, just 21 years after the Columbus arrival, it was the first printed atlas map to focus on the New World. This 1522 update includes an inscription about Columbus, with added vignettes of cannibalistic Indians and an opossum.

Most people have a special place in their hearts for the Caribbean, and Lot 17 is a significant work in the history of the islands. Based on the most recent surveys of the Dutch West India Company, the Gerritz and Vingboons charts, and their original cartography, were the earliest challenges to the authority of the great Blaeu West Indische Pascaert, which drew on slightly earlier material and was significantly less accurate.

Lot 47 takes us in the direction of the Far East and recounts the travels of Marco Polo. A fine plan of the Chinese city of Quinzay [Hangchow], it is based upon the account given by the legendary explorer in the late 12th Century, and eventually appeared in Matthaus Merians 17th Century work, Topographia.

The Old Print Shops Catographic Wonders sale is a timed auction that runs through to Monday, June 19 and contain 50 expertly curated lots.