Shifting Borders and Newly-Found Worlds, Major Firsts in the History of Map Making

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Sotheby's Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale on 14 May features a number of maps that were the first of their kind. Among them are such treasures as John Mitchell's map of the British and French Dominions in North America, which formed the basis for territorial boundaries drawn in the treaties that concluded the American Revolution, and the earliest printed map of Palestine.

Discover more fascinating stories from this sale - Tutankhamun’s Tomb: The Battle for the Best Story on Earth

Shifting Borders and Newly-Found Worlds, Major Firsts in the History of Map Making

  • Petrus Apianus, Tipus Orbis Universalis iuxta Ptolemei Cosmographi Traditionem et Americi Vespucii Aliorque Lustrationes a Petro Apiano Leysnico Elucbrat An. Do. MDXX. [Vienna, 1520].
    Estimate £20,000–30,000
    The earliest obtainable authentic map with the place name America. Apianus's striking truncated cordiform woodcut map of the world is derived from Waldseemüller's monumental 1507 wall map and first appeared in the 1520 Viennese edition of Solinus's Polyhistor.
  • Woodcut map of the Holy Land, extracted from Rudimentum Novitiorum. [Lübeck: Lucas Brandis, 5 August 1475].
    Estimate £25,000–30,000
    The earliest modern printed map of Palestine, "it is the first to break away from the tenets of the medieval schoolmen. It presents the Holy Land in the form of a bird's-eye view, extending from Damascus and Sidon in the north to the Red Sea" (Campbell, The Earliest Printed Maps, p.146).

    This map is one of two that were included in the Rudimentum Novitiorum, an encyclopedic history of the world, printed for the first time by Brandis in Lübeck and regularly reprinted in richly illustrated editions. The map is surrounded by wind heads with Jerusalem depicted in the centre of the map, with green and blue shading for the hills, brown for the buildings, yellow for the deserts, and red underlining for the place names. The map also contains a few vignettes of biblical scenes, such as Moses and the tablets on Mount Sinai and the army drowning in the Red Sea.
  • William Faden, A Plan of New York Island with part of Long Island, Staten Island & East New Jersey, with a particular description of the engagement on the woody heights of Long Island, between Flatbush and Brooklyn, on the 27th of August 1776. [London: William Faden, 1776].
    Estimate £3,000–5,000
    First state of the original issue engraved plan of the British account of the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War. The Battle of Long Island was fought on August 27, 1776, and gave the British control over the strategically important New York City. It took place just after the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776, and was the largest in combat and troop deployment.
  • John Mitchell, A Map of the British and French Dominions in North America. London: Published by the Author and Sold by Andrew Millar, 1755.
    Estimate £20,000–30,000
    First edition, second issue of the primary political treaty map in American History. This rare map is regarded by many authorities as the most important map in the history of American cartography. Twenty-one editions and impressions of the map appeared between 1755 and 1781.

    "Mitchell's work is the most important map in North American colonial history. Diplomatically, it was the basis for territorial boundaries drawn in the treaties concluding the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Geographically, it incorporated knowledge derived from the analysis of reports, journals, and maps available in the files of the British Board for Trade and Plantations. Its numerous legends and notes on Indians, settlements, and trails still provide a valuable source for historical and ethnological study".

    John Jay used a copy of the third edition during the negotiations of what would become the Treaty of Paris (1783). It continued to be consulted in boundary disputes throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and even into the twentieth. It was used in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the Quebec boundary definition of 1871, the Canada-Labrador case (1926) and the Delaware-New Jersey dispute (1932), among others.
  • Daniel Ross, Plan of Singapore Harbour, February 1819. Drawn and engraved expressly for the Calcutta Journal. (Calcutta: Union Press, 1 May 1819). Estimate £5,000–8,000.
    The earliest known survey of Singapore Harbour and the first appearance of the name Singapore on a map or chart. Before this plan, Singapore was spelt 'Singapoora' or 'Sincapore' and a few other variants" (Mok Ly Yng); published in Calcutta on 1 May 1819.

    Captain Daniel Ross conducted the survey of Singapore harbour on 7 February 1819 with the survey ship HCS Margaret and Frances (later renamed Discovery). Ross's chart is offered here, as first published on 1 May 1819 in the Calcutta Journal, together with Ross's description of the chart, which was published in the Journal on 6 April. The plan was not engraved in time to accompany the April article and was published the following month. "We have been favoured with the copy of a recent Chart of this new Eastern Settlement, from a Survey by Captain Ross, of the H.C.'s Bombay Marine, which we shall have reduced to the size of our Journal, and engraved. Captain Ross's description of the Port accompanies the Chart, and though it would be more agreeable to us that they should accompany each other in the same Number, yet we are unwilling to delay the publication of what must excite considerable interest at the present moment, until the Engraving can be completed." (Calcutta Journal, 6 April 1819, cols. 59-60). Some months later Ross's plan was engraved by John Bateman and published by James Horsburgh in London on 1 January 1820.
  • Gerard Mercator, Septentrionalium terrarum descriptio. [Duisburg, 1606]. Estimate £600–800.
    The first separate printed map devoted to the Arctic, it is the only non-European atlas map compiled by Gerard Mercator himself. This is the second state, with Nova Zembla as one island with an incomplete coast.
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