The Magnificent Colton – Burr Map of New York City

Topographical Map of the City and County of New-York

Topographical Map of the City and County of New-York, and the adjacent Country: With Views in the border of the principal Buildings and interesting Scenery of the Island.

When I started my business, this was the map I wanted above all others. I quickly discovered that it was a near unobtainable object with almost no contemporary market history. After nearly 20 years as a rare map dealer, I finally found one, and just as quickly, it disappeared again, passed on to a deserving and enthusiastic collector. (Click on the image above to go out our main website page for the map and double click on that image for a high-resolution zoom.) What I discovered in researching this magnificent map is that very little scholarship was available on the well-known map, so, although the map has been sold, here is what we discovered:

Known as ‘The Colton Map,’ this is an unrecorded state of a 1840 map of New York City (Manhattan) by David H. Burr and John Hutchins Colton considered to be the finest and most decorative map of the city to appear in the 19th century. According to map historian I. N. Phelps Stokes, Colton’s map is

one of the most beautiful nineteenth-century plans of Manhattan, and full of information … the best example of really artistic mapmaking as applied to Manhattan Island


The map covers all of Manhattan Island as well as part of adjacent Brooklyn, Newark, Weehawken, Jersey City, and Hoboken. It starkly contrasts the development in southern Manhattan south of 30th Street with the topographically wild uplands extending northwards and dotted with gentlemanly estates, forests, hills, rivulets, and marshland. The city’s future is iterated by the street grid, which is superimposed upon the topography according to the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan as far north as 155th Street.

Detail of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 showing Broadway (Bloomingdale Road) being eliminated.

It is of note that, while the Commissioner’s Plan attempted to do away with Broadway, being offended by its irregular course, Colton and Burr, recognizing the ancient American Indian road as a popular and practical artery, included it on their grand map. The fact that Broadway, here identified as Bloomingdale Road, is represented not as a ghosted path, as on the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan or the 1829 Burr Map, but rather as a major street, leads to the first cartographic indication of several major squares that arose due to Broadway’s awkward intersection with the grid, including Union Square, Madison Square, and Times Square.

It is generally believed that this map was prepared for Colton by David H. Burr due to a promotional advertisement that appeared in the July 16, 1833 edition of the New York Commercial Advertiser, which reads

J. H. Colton and Company, No. 9 Wall Street, publish a new map of the city drawn by David H. Burr form the latest surveys of the city deposited in the street commissioner’s office from information obtained from several of the city’s surveyors.

It does resemble Burr’s 1829 map of New York City from the Atlas of New York in terms of coverage, orientation, and style. Nonetheless, the present map is far larger and grander, both being roughly twice the size of Burr’s atlas map, and far more detailed on every level. There is evidence that Burr began work engraving this map as early as 1832 or 1833, as a partial production proof of the central part of Manhattan, attributed to Burr, survives in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession 24.66.1492). That example curiously lacks the Receiving Reservoir (between 80th and 86th Streets.), which was planned in 1836, following the disastrous Great New York Fire of 1835. The Receiving Reservoir did not begin to function as such until 1842, but all examples of this map, aside from the fragment noted above, show the reservoir as well as the underground route of the Croton Pipeline, then under construction.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a partial steel engraved proof of a portion of this map in their archives. Attributed to Burr.

The map offers much else of interest on nearly every level. It illustrates of the early estates of the wealthy above 30th street. Several early boundary lines, such as between New York and Harlem Commons and the ‘Original Divisions between New York and Harlem’ are shown as drawn from Randal’s surveys. The map identifies public schools, including Public School 9, located on 79th and Broadway. The sites of early roadside hotels, such as the Kingsbridge Hotel, in Marble Hill, where travelers could rest on their way into Manhattan from what is now the Bronx. The modern-day site of Columbia University was a Lunatic Asylum. Just west of the Receiving Reservoir, near 85th Street, some of the buildings and a graveyard associated with the African American community known as Seneca Village are illustrated. In Brooklyn, some of the emerging street structure is ghosted in, giving evidence to the growth of that, then separate, city. Similarly, Williamsburg, also a separate city, is noted on the opposite side of the Wallabout.

The map is surrounded by a host of illustrations both on the map and integrated into the double border. At bottom center, there is a dramatic engraving illustrating ‘Broadway from the Park’, the ‘park’ here being City Hall Park. St. Paul’s Chapel and the American Museum are evident in the background. To this right of this image is a controversial c. 1650 view of New York City under the Dutch West India Company. That view is here dated 1659, but this date is incorrect as it is based upon an earlier anonymous watercolor, now located at the Albertina Museum, from 1648. The view appears on the 1655 Vischer Map, Novi Belgii Novae que Angliae nec non partis Virginiae Tabula, after which it is commonly known as the ‘Vischer View.’

The double border features an inner border that represents a surveyor’s chain, and an outer, far more elaborate border, consisting of acanthus leaves framing engravings of regional fauna, and, from top left, counterclockwise, ‘Windmill, Jersey City,’ ‘Custom-House, Wall St.,’ ‘City Hall, Wall St.,’ sailing ships, the city seal, steamships, the Palisades, Columbia College, St. Thomas Church, the Protestant Episcopal Seminary, a Female Orphan Asylum (Bloomingdale), New York Harbor from the Battery, Cortlandt Street Landing, St. Luke’s Church, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York from Governor’s Island, Castle Garden, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Barclay Street Landing, and The Hall of Justice (the Tombs).

The first printing of this map appeared in 1836, making it one of J. H. Colton’s earliest works. There are at least three states. The first appears to have been issued in 1836 and lacks Madison Square Park, which was commissioned in 1837. A second issue, also bearing the date 1836, features the park, and likely represents the cartographer’s forward thinking. Map historian Daniel Haskell, who identifies it as ‘The Colton Map,’ lists 3 dated issues 1836, 1841, and 1845. The present printing bears the date of 1840, marking it as a previously unknown state. It differs from the 2nd 1836 edition with regard to the track of the Croton Aqueduct from the Receiving Reservoir on 80th street to the Distributing Reservoir on 40th Street. The earlier state, which predates the construction of the pipeline, assumes it will run along 6th Avenue. The later edition routes the pipeline along Middle Road, or 5th Avenue. The aspect of the Distributing Reservoir also changes, as by 1840, when this map was issued, more advanced plans were in place.

It was engraved by Samuel Stiles and Company of New York. Apparently, some of the plates survived at least until 1868, when the northern

1868 William Rogers’s Battle of Harlem Heights for Shannon’s Manual.

plate was reused by William Rogers to create Map of the Upper Part of the island of Manhattan Above Eighty-Sixth Street arranged to Illustrate the Battle of Harlem Heights for Joseph Shannon’s Manual of the City and Corporation of New York. That map stands out from all of other lithograph prints in the manual as it is a steel plate engraving. All issues of the present map, with the exception of the partial proof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are lithograph. This suggests that the original map was engraved on steel, probably by Burr. Burr probably abandoned the project when he took a position as the head topographer for the United States Postal Service, in 1833. Colton then struck Burr’s name from the plates and turned to Samuel Stiles to complete the engraving and transfer the plates to lithographic stones for publication in 1836.

Today this map is extremely scarce and exhibits no market history in the past 30 years. Intuitional examples are known in the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, The New York Historical Society, and the Library of Congress. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a partial working proof. One other example is part of the David Rumsey Map Collection. There are numerous citations on the OCLC but all reference the Rumsey digital resource. This is a once in a lifetime collecting opportunity.

Conibus Regnum: A mysterious lake in Northern Central Canada.

Cornelius van Wytfliet's 1597 map of Conibas Regnum

Cornelius van Wytfliet’s 1597 map of Conibas Regnum

The map above is one of Wytfliet’s most enigmatic maps. Cartographically this map covers northern central Canada and the supposed Arctic coast. It extends as far south as New Mexico (Septem Civitates) and includes Hochelaga, the original indigenous site that became Montreal. The map’s most striking feature is the massive inland lake liking to the Arctic via a narrow channel. The lake contains an island, which itself contains a city. Both are identified as Conibas. Considering that this map covers a region that, in 1597, remained fully unexplored by Europeans, we can only wonder, what is this lake and how did Wytfliet dream it up?

1554 Munster America

1554 Munster America

Although Wytfliet’s map above is the first to specifically detail the region, the idea of a great inland freshwater lake extending into the heart of North America from the high Arctic does appear in earlier maps. The first specific printed map of America to show a large inlet from the Arctic is Sebastian Munster’s 1540 Novae Insulae XVII Nova Tabula. Munster is therein rendering Verrazano’s Sea, a speculative inland sea opening to the Arctic or Pacific that Verrazano claimed to have discovered based upon misinterpretations of the Pamlico Sound and the Carolina Banks. Sailing along North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1524, Verrazano saw the sound on the eastern side of the isthmus and postulated that it must be the Pacific

. . . where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which, from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay

Munster’s inland sea is rather vague and formless, but it follows the form of original speculative rendering laid down by Verrazano in his manuscript chart now stored at the Vatican. Other early cartographers followed suit and also began rendering an inlet from the arctic, although, as the region was slowly explored, Verrazano’s Sea grew gradually smaller and smaller and was pushed further north and further away from the Atlantic Seaboard.

Verazzano's Manuscript Map showing speculative inland sea.

Verazzano’s Manuscript Map showing speculative inland sea.

It was Giacomo Gastaldi (Shirley, 107), in his 1561 woodcut wall map of the world, who finally gave Verrazano’s inlet the form we see here, i.e. extending inland via a narrowish channel and opening into a large inland lake with a central island. It was also Gastaldi who first uses the term ‘Conibas'(there spelled Conibaz) and establishes much of the typonomy for the region. Most researchers point to Mercator’s map of 1569 as the source for Conibas, but Gastaldi’s depiction of Conibas (spelled Conibaz), is both clearer and earlier by a considerable margin. Gastaldi develops both the form of Conibas, including its island city, and the lake’s river connection to the Arctic.

From whence was Gastaldi’s revolutionary representation of Conibas drawn? For this information, we can turn to a contemporary of Conibas, Andre Thevet, who claims to have met Cartier personally. Cartier explored the coasts of North America on several voyages between 1535 and 1542. On returning to Europe, he commissioned Gastaldi to compose several maps for his journals. While we have no knowledge of what personal conversations passed between Gastaldi and Cartier, we do have a record of conversations between Thevet and Cartier regarding Conibas. We can assume Gastaldi had access to this same information.

Giacomo Gastaldi's 1561 Map of the World. This is the first map to use the term 'Conibaz'.

Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1561 Map of the World. This is the first map to use the term ‘Conibaz’.

Cartier described to Thevet the American Indian tradition of ‘cornibotz’ a kind of highly coveted wampum-like shell used by certain indigenous tribes as a kind of currency. According to Cartier, the shells were obtained by ‘slashing the thighs and outer fleshy portions of the dead body of a captive then sunk into the depth of waters, when the shells could collect in the wounds’ (Kellog, L. P., The French Regime in Wisconsin and the Northwest, page 42). This, along with Cartier’s description of large inland lakes, may have led Gastaldi to theorize a lake of ‘cornibotz’ or ‘conibaz’ from which all such sells originated. The inclusion of a city there possibly suggests a hope for riches and wealth – for indeed that is what ‘cornibotz’ represented. (Thevet, Andre, The Newfoudword, or Antarclike, (London, 1568).

The Lake of Conibas appeared in various forms on numerous maps printed between 1561 and 1609, including Thevet’s own map, the Mercator/Le Clerc map of the world, Mercator’s North Pole, De Jode’s America, and many others.

Related Maps:

Compagnie and Gamaland: Gold and Silver Islands East of Japan

Jansson's 1658 Map of Japan, Korea, and Compagnie following the discoveries of Vries and Coen.

Jansson’s 1658 Map of Japan, Korea, and Compagnie following the discoveries of Vries and Coen.

Zoom of 1658 Hokkaido (Yeso), Kunashir (Staten Is.) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Zoom of 1658 Hokkaido (Yeso), Kunashir (Staten Is.) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Terre du Compagnie or Compagnies Land is a sometimes vast landmass that appears to the northwest of Japan on countless maps issued between 1658 and the 1790s. The first map to include Compagnies Land is Jansson’s 1658 map Nova et Accurata Japoniae Terrae Esonis ac Insularum adjacentium, which was drawn following the 1643 explorations of Dutchmen Maerten de Vries and Cornelis Jansz Coen.

In 1643 Vries and Coen were sent by the director of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Batavia to search for supposed islands of gold and silver to the northeast of Japan. They were not the first expedition to do so. A fruitless Spanish expedition is known to have sailed in 1620. In 1639 the Dutch sent their first expedition, led by none other than Abel Tasman and Mattias Quast. Like the Spanish explorers before them, Tasman and Quast found nothing. The Dutch, however, were not about to surrender and financed a third expedition, this time under Vries and Coen, was launched in 1643.

Satellite view Kunashir (Staten) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Satellite view Kunashir (Staten) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Legends of gold and silver to the northeast of Japan circulated, primarily in Spanish and Portuguese circles, from at least the mid-16th century. The legends most likely were derived from the exceptional wealth of Japan as encountered by the earliest Portuguese explorers to the region. The historian Kaempfer noted that in some years “two and a half millions of gold” were exported. What shocked the Portuguese was how, despite the vast quantities of gold and silver, there seemed to be very little in terms of attainable new deposits. In fact, as a closed economy, Japan’s relatively modest reserves of precious metals had accumulated for centuries. Moreover, Japan has much higher counts of gold than silver, consequently, when the Portuguese arrived they found a surplus of accumulated gold held in somewhat low regard. Without any clear rich gold deposits in Japan proper, legends arose of lands to the unexplored north harboring even greater riches. These took the form of a legend telling of a Portuguese trading ship piloted by one Juan de Gama that had blown off course en route from the Philippines to Mexico. De Gama supposedly discovered by accident a land rich in gold and silver which was subsequently named after him.

Sanson's c. 1691 Map of Compagnie.

Sanson’s c. 1691 Map of Compagnie.

While Vries and Coen did not discover an Asiatic Ophir, they were the first European expedition to make contact with the Aniu and discover the Kuril Islands. These they named Staten Island after the States General back in Holland and Compagnies Land, after the VOC, or Dutch East India Company. The smaller of the two islands, Staten Island or today’s Kunashir, they sailed around and mapped with a fair approximation of accuracy. The larger island, Compagnie or modern day Iturup, they landed on but barely penetrated. For whatever reason, they did not fully explore Iturup and subsequent maps left its eastern shores unmapped. Having failed to discover gold or silver, no new expeditions followed Vries /Coen for nearly 100 years. This region thus did not see significant subsequent exploration until the mid to late 18th century voyages of Vitus Bering, James Cook, and the Comte de Laperouse.

P. Buache's 1772 vision separating Gamaland and Compagine.

P. Buache’s 1772 vision separating Gamaland and Compagine.

Where navigators failed, cartographers took up the challenge, in particular, the positivist or speculative cartographers rising in France. Armed with political and professional ambition, French speculative cartographers filled in the blanks, at times associating Compagnie with Gammaland and sometimes with the Americas. There were numerous different takes on Compagnie. Phillipe Buache for example, separated Compagnie from Gamaland to make it a vast separate island extending eastward towards the Americas. Sanson, associated Compagine with modern day Hokkaido (Yesso) and extending almost as far east as California. By the end of the 18th century, on the eve of Cook’s seminal explorations, Compagnie/Gama had evolved into Muller’s Peninsula, a kind of speculative proto-Alaska that foreshadowed the discovery of the Aleutian Islands. Only in the wake of Bering and Cook’s voyages did maps finally abandon Compagnie in exchange for a more modern, scientifically mapped, coastline.

1787 Laperouse map sowing little advancement over the 1648 Janson map above.

1787 Laperouse map sowing little advancement over the 1648 Janson map above.

Related Maps:

How Good Cartographers Make Big Mistakes: The River of the West in Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America

Bellin’s 1743 Map of North America showing Verendrye’s waterways to the Pacific.

Cartography in the 18th and early 19th century can be understood as a race to reveal the unknown with global political and social consequences. Mapmakers, operating primarily from offices in Amsterdam, London, and Paris, did very little exploration themselves, rather, it was their onerous task to extrapolate from often sketchy reports brought back by mountain men, commercial and naval vessels, gentleman explorers, missionaries, and various other itinerants. These often conflicting and sometimes spurious accounts then had to be reconciled with established cartographic convention, political ideology, and commercial expectations. This short blog post will illustrate one example of how this can easily go wrong – even for master cartographer.

This map was issued by France’s premier cartographer of middle 18th century and one of the most meticulous and conscientious cartographers in the world, Jacques-Nicholas Bellin. The map, Carte de L’Amerique Septentrionale Pour servir a L’Histoire de la Nouvelle France, covers all of North America from the Arctic to the Spanish Main, including modern day Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. Bellin prepared this map to illustrate Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix’s Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France. Charlevoix was a Jesuit missionary and traveler commissioned by the French Crown and the Duke of Orleans to reconnoiter French holdings in the Americas. The French had just lost control of the Hudson Bay and were actively in search of a profitable route to the Pacific, which many believed lay in the network of rivers and lakes to the west of the Great Lakes. Charlevoix thus had the secondary commission to ‘inquire about the Western Sea, but [to] still give the impression of being no more than a traveler or missionary.’ While in the Americas, Charlevoix befriended Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Lery, a French Canadian military engineer active throughout French America in the early 18th century. Gaspard passed on numerous manuscript reports and maps, most likely including some of the manuscript maps referenced below, to Charlevoix, who in turn passed them on to Bellin, the official Ingénieur de la Marine.

Close up of Bellin’s use of the Auchagah / Verendrye Map.

By far this map’s most striking feature is the broad open water route extending westward from Lake Superior, through the Lake of the Woods (Lac des Bois), and continuing via the River of the West (Fleuve de L’Ouest) through Lake Winnipeg (Ouinipigon) to the mysterious Mountain of Radiant Stones (Montagne de Pierres Brillantes). This remarkable passage is based upon a manuscript, below, drawn by the American Indian Cree river guide Auchagah in 1728 or 1729 for the French Fur trapper Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Le Sieur de La Verendrye. The connection between the two maps is obvious, especially in the western quadrants where the topography, text, and river networks are drawn direction from Auchagah’s map.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

Auchagah Cree Indian Map of the Portages Between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg.

In a manner not atypical of American Indian cartographic perspectives, Auchagah’s map is a practical illustration of river routes he would have been familiar with between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg. It identifies various large lakes as well as numerous portages and some topographical features such as the “Montagne de Pierres Brillantes.” What it fails to convey are distance and direction. In the eyes of a western cartographer, used to maps with a uniform directional orientation and scale, this appears to be a pretty good map illustrating a passage west possibly as far as the Pacific. What Auchagah’s map in fact shows is an approach to Lake Winnipeg, here described as Ouinipigon that extends westward from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods before turning northwest to Lake Ouinipigon. A synthesis of incompatible cartographies thus caused Winnipeg / Ouinipigon to be mapped twice, both in the Sioux lands to the west of the Lake of the Woods as suggested by the Auchagah map, and, more properly, to the north as Lake Assiniboels. Assiniboels is notably and correctly also connected to the Hudson Bay by the Nelson River (R. de Bourbon).

Lahonton’s Longue Riviere, 1702.

The cartography derived from Auchagah’s map would not have seemed the least unusual to Bellin. In fact, it would have been a confirmation of previously established cartographic conventions based upon c. 1700 voyages of the Baron de Lahonton, see below. Both maps are suggestive of a navigable river system extending westward an unknown distance. Lahonton’s map is akin to Auchagah’s in that it is also based, at least in part, on river maps drawn by indigenous river guides.

Close up of the Pacific Northwest from Bellin’s 1743 map of North America.

Compounding issues relating to widely divergent cartographic perspectives is the complete lack of surveyed reference points. As such, cartographers relied on educated speculation to incorporate sketchy reports by trappers like Verendrye and adventurers like Lahonton into their maps. In our primary example above, most of the North Americas shorelines are somewhat known based upon earlier nautical positioning. Though pre-Cook maritime survey work was at best inexact, it was sufficient to drawn general boarders, as above. Here Bellin references the work of Martin d’Aguilar, a Spanish navigator who sailed up the west coast of America in 1602. He reported sighting a ‘rapid and abundant’ river emptying into the Pacific, which Bellin identifies here. (As a side note, it is generally assumed that Aguilar made it no further than Coos Bay, however, this description sounds uncannily like the Columbia River, much further north. While there are other rivers emptying into the Pacific closer to Coos Bay, none have a dangerous discharge comparable to the Columbia). Other landmarks, such as Cape Mendocino, were well known as landmarks on the Manila – Acapulco trade route.

The vast distances Bellin suggests that Auchagah’s map covers are hence merely speculation, but not random speculation. Although Bellin was considered the most meticulous of cartographers and is known to have written scathingly against the tendency for political influence to trump cartographic fact, he cannot have been immune to the political and mercantile aspirations of his nation. The need for a westward route to the Pacific was profound and a matter of life and death for the French colonies in the Americas. Without such a route the French in America were well aware that they would soon lose their commercial advantage in the region to the British who had just seized control of the Hudson Bay. The cartographer who successfully mapped such a route would be guaranteed everlasting frame and glory – perhaps a risk worth taking.


MAP OF WEEK: 1821 Manuscript Map of the Pepper Ports of Western Sumatra by a known East India Pilot

Cartes de principales Rades and Marchés à poivre dans la partie Nord de la Cote Ouest De Sumatra Par Samuel Aschemore.

Cartes de principales Rades and Marchés à poivre dans la partie Nord de la Cote Ouest De Sumatra Par Samuel Aschemore. – The first accurate map of western Sumatra it is original manuscript form?

Drawn by Australian-Irish sea captain Samuel Ashmore, this important and one of a kind 1821 manuscript (hand drawn) nautical chart or maritime map is the first accurate depiction of the pepper ports of northwestern Sumatra, modern day Aceh. The map covers the coast of Sumatra roughly from the pepper port of Analabou (Arongan Lambalek) to Singkil, a region often referred to as the ‘Pepper Coast’. The chart features three inset maps and four inset coastal views. The largest of these, center right, focuses on the area around the island harbor of Touroumang (Troumon), the largest exporter of pepper in the region and Pulo Doua (Dooa Harbour), which Horsburgh considerers ‘the best among the Northern Pepper Ports’. A second inset, in the upper right quadrant, details the dangerous reef-ridden passage between Singkil and Pulo Sago (Banyak Islands). A third inset, in the lower left quadrant, focuses on the pepper rich coast to the east of Cape Felix, including Kohala Batou (Kuala Batu) – a particularly hostile pepper port and site of American military activity in 1831.

This region became exceptionally important with the breakout of the Padri War in 1803. The Padri War, fought between local chieftains of northwestern Sumatra following Adat law and Muslim clerics who, inspired by Wahabism after returning from Hajj, sought to convert the region to Sharia, or traditional Islamic law. Meanwhile, the colonial powers were vying for control of the region, with England based in Singapore and Bencoolen, and The Netherlands out of Batavia and Malacca. Colonial hegemony in Sumatra was nominal at best, being largely confined to the eastern and southern portions of the island. The Padri War further frustrated Dutch attempts to control Sumatra and its important pepper trade. At the same time, the lack of colonial oversight opened the pepper ports of northwestern Sumatra, most of which are noted here, to foreign trade. Merchants from Australia, India, and the United States were thus able to circumvent the Anglo-Dutch monopoly on pepper by trading directly with Sumatran producers. Ashmore, a merchant captain, possibly operating out of Mauritius (later out of Sydney), was among the first to accurately map this important stretch of coast – this being the only known surviving example of his manuscript chart. This map was later integrated into the important large scale nautical charts of this region compiled and published by James Horsburgh , with whom Ashmore was acquainted, in his East India Pilot.

Even with Ashmore’s excellent nautical chart, the pepper trade was dangerous. The Padri War, while hardly disrupting the pepper supply, displaced part of the local population and led to a spike in piracy all along the coast. Moreover, the powerful British and Dutch navies were actively discouraging any trade that disrupted their lucrative pepper monopoly. Nonetheless, Australians out of Sydney and Americans out of Salem swarmed to western Sumatra – some acquired great wealth though others suffered a more grisly fate. Just 10 years after this map was drawn, in 1831, an American pepper merchant ship, the Friendship, was stormed and its crew killed by Muslim villagers living in Kuala Batu (inset no. 3). The American president, Andrew Jackson, sent 300 marines and the frigate Potomac to ‘chastise’ the locals. Nearly 150 Malay pirates/villagers were killed. More recently this coast was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

Being a one of a kind manuscript there are few references to this chart, however, we did find a cople. An English version of this chart, entitled The Northern Pepper Ports, on the west Coast of Sumatra, by Samuel Ashmore, 1821 was recorded in 1878 in the manuscript archives of the British India Office. This document may still exist in the British Library, but we have not been able to specifically identify it. According to the same archive reference, James Horsburgh republished this chart in 1822, four examples of which are held by the India Office of the British Library.

The fact that the map is in French is exceptionally important and revealing. Initially we assumed the example recorded in the British India Office (British Library IOR/X/3628/50D), was most likely Ashmore’s original final draft. What then of our French example? There are a couple of elements here that are exceptionally striking, first, not only is it in French, but the spellings of the ports, geological features, and even Ashmore’s name, here spelled Aschemore, are transliterated into amalgam of Dutch and French (‘Asche’ being a Dutch name). This is highly unusual and when juxtaposed with a chronology of Ashmore’s life, leads to some speculation. Why would someone merely copying a chart change the spelling of the author’s name to make it seem more ‘Dutch’? Here is what we’ve come up with.

The extremely thorough and extensive British records of Ashmore’s Indian Ocean voyages identify annual, and sometime bi-annual, trade missions nearly every year from 1809 to 1833 – with a notable exception. These records are curiously blank between 1816 and 1822, when this map was made. What we do see is that he seems to have traveled extensively between British colonies in India and Australia and former French colony of Mauritius in the years just before and just after he disappears. Other records show that sometime during this period he became involved with Clara Potterick. Clara’s birth records indicate that she was born in the Dutch colony of Batavia, Clara being a common Dutch name at the time. Family records moreover suggest that Clara was more than half indigenous and by some family accounts a Javanese princess. Like Ashmore, Clara disappears from Batavia only to appear in Mauritius where, in 1830 she bore a son, Alfred Ambrose Ashmore. The Ashmore family subsequently moved from Mauritius to Sydney in 1831, where he and Clara married and lived out the remainder of their days.

Thus a fascinating story begins to emerge. Ashmore began voyaging on the Indian Ocean in 1809 as the merchant captain of the brig Hibernia. From 1809 to 1816 Ashmore captained the Hibernia on various trade voyages between India, Tasmania, and Sydney, with an 1814 stop at the Dutch port of Batavia, where he spent some time and even attempted to sell the Hibernia. It must have been on this voyage that he met and fell in love with Clara Potterick, possibly attempting to sell the Hibernia and reimagining himself as ‘Aschemore’ in an attempt to settle in the Dutch port. If, as Ashmore family histories suggest, Potterick was in fact a Dutch-Javanese princess, this may have been problematic. Having failed to sell the Hibernia in Batavia, Ashmore left Batavia in May of 1814. Clara most likely accompanied him. This was Ashmore’s last voyage as captain of the Hibernia. Subsequently he traveled as Captain of the Udney (Udny), which generally sailed between Mauritius and Indian ports. His last recorded voyage before he briefly disappears occurred in 1816 on the brig Guide, captained by John Higgins, with Ashmore is listed as the owner. Why then did he disappear? Our guess is that Ashmore, having abducted his princess decided to lay low for a while in the most remote British colony possible, Mauritius. It is important to keep mind that, while nominally British, Mauritius remained culturally linguistically French and was economically dominated by a French- Mauritian elite.

Around this time the Padri War broke out in western Sumatra, creating a unique trade opportunity for the opportunistic captain. This part of Sumatra was well known for the production of pepper – so much so that, as mentioned earlier, it was known as the Pepper Coast. Traditionally the pepper market was tightly controlled by British in Bencoolen (further south on Sumatra’s western coast) and the Dutch out of Batavia. The Padri War disrupted the established supply lines and opened various ports along the Pepper Coast to international trade with prices far below the monopolistic offerings in Bencoolen and Batavia. Since Ashmore made this map in 1821, we know that he was making unrecorded voyages to the Pepper Coast, probably in his new brig, the Guide. Being based in Mauritius and most likely sailing with a French-speaking Mauritian crew, it would be surprising if any maps that Ashmore drafted during this period were not in French. His interesting name change, to Aschemore, is unlikely to be a transcription era due to the fact that it is extremely unusual and moreover, such an error seems out of place in an otherwise highly detailed and meticulously produced chart. Most likely Ashmore himself instigated the name change not to disguise his identity, he was well known in the East Indies, but rather to disassociate himself with the British colonial hegemony in Mauritius and Batavia. Ashmore was certainly not the only captain to take advantage of the war to smuggle pepper, as mentioned already, entrepreneurs from Salem, Massachusetts, Sydney, and India were extremely active along the Pepper Coast throughout this period. Ashmore, nevertheless, was most likely the only one to produce such a beautiful chart.

In light of Ashmore’s history and association with Mauritius, it is our belief that this map is Ashmore’s original final draft. The English language manuscript variant identified in the archives of the British India Office was most like a copy produced for the founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who Ashmore must have met at Bencoolen. Writing in January of 1822 from Bencoolen, a British colony on the west coast of Sumatra, Raffles references this important chart in his letters to the Duchess of Somerset, stating almost in postscript, ‘Look after the chart of the pepper ports by Captain Ashmore, and interest Horsburgh : he will know the value of them.’ The variant on this chart mentioned by Raffles, is most likely a copy of the map offered here, prepared in English by Ashmore or an assistant for Stamford Raffles in January of February of 1821. This example, as Raffles hoped, found its way into the hands of Horsburgh who added it to his collections at the British India Office, and published a variant, in 1822.

We thus conclude that this is Ashmore’s original plan of the Pepper Ports of Western Sumatra, which was later copied for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1821, the same year the original was produced and passed on to Hydrographer James Horsburgh by Charlotte Seymour, the Duchess of Somerset. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the serious collector of maps pertaining to Sumatra, the East Indies, Horsburgh, or Stamford Raffles.



A catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps , etc., of The Indian Surveys, deposited in the Map Room of the India Office, p. 581.
Horsburgh, J. and Taylor, A. D., The India Directory, for the guidance of commanders of steamers and sailing vessels, Section V., pp. 603 – 609.
Moor, J. H., Notices of the Indian Archipelago and adjacent countries: being a collection of papers relating to Borneo, Celebes, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Nias: the Philippine Islands, Sulus, Siam, Cochin China, Malayan peninsula, etc, (1837) p. 109.
Travers, Thomas Otho, Journal, 1813 – 1820, (Banfield, 1960) P. 118.
Raffles, Sophia (Lady), Memoir of the Live and Public Services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles vol 2, p. 210.
British Library, India Office, IOR/X/3628/50D (inaccessible, page 581), IOR: X/3634/2/35 (page 588), IOR: X/3635/136/1 (the only coloured copy in our collections, page 593), IOR: X/3635/136/2 page 593.
British Library, Map Library, Map 147.e.18 (161) 2.

Did this 1715 Map Influence the First Appearance of the Name “Oregon”?

1715 Lonhontan Map of the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi

Did this 1715 Map attached to the French edition of Lahonton’s travels influence the first use of the name “Oregon”?

While researching Lahontan’s Carte Generale de Canada (above) we discovered an obscure 1944 article by George R. Stewart of the University of California that, if he is correct, lends additional significance to this already important map by shedding more light on the mysterious origins of the name “Oregon”.

The debate over the term “Oregon” has been ongoing for over a century. Most scholarship ascribes its first known use to a 1765 manuscript petition by Major Robert Rogers to the King of England’s Privy Council requesting financing for an expedition to discover a river based “Northwest Passage” from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Variants later appear in Jonathan Carver’s 1778 Travel’s Through the Interior Parts of North America. Carver was an associate of Rogers from whom he no doubt derived the term. Modern scholars have delved deeper into the term associating it with various American Indian languages. The most recent scholarship on this subject by anthropologist Ives Goddard and linguist Thomas Love (Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 238-259) traces the etymological root of “Oregon” to Abenaki term “wauregan” meaning “good” or “beautiful”. The Abenaki (and later the French in the form of Le Page’s Map), with whom Rogers was intimate, used this term to refer to the Ohio River – a westward flowing waterway that empties into the Mississippi or at least that’s how it was described in the property management white papers. The most interesting remaining question seems to be, ‘How did this term become associated with a river that emptied into the Pacific?’

The first step in deciphering this process is understanding Robert Rogers – a complicated fellow to say the least. Though not rich in formal education Rogers was a skilled frontiersman and bold commander, qualities that earned him ephemeral fame following his extraordinary exploits leading “Rogers Rangers” during the French and Indian War. In contrast to his skills as a military commander, Rogers was frequently at odds with authority, once accused of treason, and invariably deep in debt. He was a charismatic charmer and, when it suited him, a clever conman.

Rogers interest in the Northwest Passage seems to have been inspired by Arthur Dobbs, an Anglo-Irish politician and from 1754 to 1765 the colonial governor of North Carolina. Dobbs was famously obsessed with notions of the Northwest Passage and personally sponsored several failed expeditions of discovery. He acted as a kind of clearing house for any and all information regarding the Northwest Passage. In the way of intelligent men with a mission, Dobbs cobbled together an assortment of data to correspond to his preconceived vision for the largely unexplored TransMississippi.

The scholar Malcolm H. Clark, in his article “Oregon” Revisited correctly, to our mind, identifies the sources for Roger’s description of the “River Ourigan” in well-worn legends of the previous decades. Rogers describes (note Rogers is a notoriously poor speller)

.. this great River Ourigan . . . discharges itself into an Arm or Bay of the Sea at near the Latitude of fiftyfour and [which] bends Southerdly anid entys the Pacifick Ocean about forty eight, nine or fifty, where it narrows, but to the Northwest .. . at the Entrence of the River Ourigan the Bay is wide, and supposed to have a communication with the Hudsons Bay, above the latitude of Dobsie’s point …

1760 De L'Isle Speculative Map of the North America, the Arctic, and Siberia (Sea of the West)

Some early ideas about the American Pacific Northwest are illustrated here, including the Sea of the West and the Passage of DeFonte.

Clark and some of the top forex brokers in the world, with an interest on the subject, soundly argue that this is an amalgam of legends related to the mythical explorer Bartholomew de Fonte and the French fur trader Nicholas Jeremie. De Fonte supposedly discovered a great inlet somewhere along the American northwest coast that led inland via a series of navigable lakes, channels, and rivers, to an outlet in the Hudson Bay – this is Rogers’ “Arm or Bay of the Sea at near the Latitude of fiftyfour and [which] bends Southerdly anid entys the Pacifick Ocean”. De Fonte’s legend was widely accepted until the very end of the 18th century, counting Benjamin Franklin and other intellectual greats among its adherents. Nicholas Jeremie, who was based out of Fort Bourbon, wrote in his c. 1720 “Relation de la Bale de Hudson” of river that supposedly extended from Lake Winnipeg to another stream that flowed westward – this would be Rogers’ “River Ourigan”. Jeremie admitted to have gleaned this information third-hand from American Indian contacts. Soundly connecting the matter to Dobbs, who was likely the first to put this altogether, Rogers identifies the eastern end of his passage as “Dobsies Point”.

Rogers’ later descriptions of the Oruigan River (which he actually offers several different spellings for) generally follow the river systems delineated in Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz’ map which illustrate the possibly mythical travels of the Yazoo Indian Monchcht-ape, who supposedly traveled northwest of the Mississippi on a river referred to by the local Indians as the “Beautiful River” – echoing the term given to the Ohio River by the Abenaki – ‘Wauregan’.

This alone may have been sufficient to convince Rogers to name his great river of the west the Oruigan. However, returning to Lahontan’s map, above, and to Stewart’s short article, there may have been another element in play. The “Carte Generale de Canada” published along with Lahontan’s narrative covers the Great Lakes basin between the Mississippi River and the Pacific, extending northwards to the Hudson Bay and southwards as far as the Missouri River.

The Ouariconsint is here divided into two lines "Ouaricon" and "sint".

The Ouariconsint is here divided into two lines “Ouaricon” and “sint”.

This map features a westward flowing river called the “R. de Ouariconsint”. No doubt this is the Wisconsin River, and although represented inaccurately by modern standards, it does in fact follow the period convention for the portrayal of this system. The publisher, seemingly for want of space, has here broken the Ouariconsint into two words, “Ouaricon” and, following on the second line “sint”. The Longue River, Lahontan’s mythical route to the west, appears just north of this river. Could a misreading of this map’s westward flowing river, with an easy-to-misread name curiously close to Rogers’ Ourigan, have influenced his adoption of the term? Though Lahontan’s map does not show the Ohio River, the Wauregan of the Abenaki, it does show the Ouariconsint. Rogers was doubtless familiar with the Ohio, La Page’s Belle Rivere, and with the Abenaki name for it, thus he may well have associated the Carte Generale de Canada’s Ouaricon / Ouariconsint, due to a similarity in pronunciation, with the Ohio, and thus with the Belle Rivere of Le Page. The term was later adopted by H. S. Tanner, no doubt without being aware of its complex history, to describe the Oregon Territory.

It is noteworthy that this particular way of labeling the “Ouariconsint”, that is divided onto two lines, appeared in the second French edition of Lahontan’s narrative, 1703, and was reproduced in most subsequent French editions to 1715. The choice to break the word into two lines was no doubt a space saving measure taken to accommodate the smaller format 1703 French edition. The English editions of Lahontan’s work were engraved by Hermon Moll and do not feature the divided name.

While simple answers are always the easiest, we tend to believe that history is more often than not the result of a happy conjunction of unrelated factors that propel and idea forward. Elliot, Clark, Stewart, Byram, Lewis, Goddard, Love, and others are just some of the scholars who have tackled this puzzle, each making significant contributions to the corpus. The name ‘Oregon’ may not have derived from a single source, as most suggest, but rather been influenced by numerous similar sounding words, from different languages, that managed to converge, consciously or unconsciously, in Rogers’ (or Dobbs) questing mind.



Bracher, F., ‘”Ouaricon” and Oregon’, American Speech, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Oct., 1946), pp. 185-187.

Clark, Malcolm, ‘”Oregon” Revisited’, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Jun., 1960), pp. 211-219.

Elliott, T. C., “The Strange Case of Jonathan Carver and the Name Oregon”, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec., 1920), pp. 341-368

Elliot, T. C., “The Origin of the Name Oregon”, The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jun., 1921), pp. 91-115.

Ives, Goddard and Love, Thomas, ‘Oregon, the Beautiful’, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2 (Summer, 2004), pp. 238-259.

Snow, V. F., “From Ouragan to Oregon”, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Dec., 1959), pp. 439-447.

Stewart, G. R., “The Source of the Name ‘Oregon'”, American Speech, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1944), pp. 115-117.

Taube, Edward, “Turn Again: The Name Oregon and Linguistics” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2 (Summer, 1978), p. 211.

Walker, James V., “Henry S. Tanner and Cartographic Expression of American Expansionism in the 1820s”, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 111, No. 4 (2010), p. 416-443.

Widder, K. R., “The 1767 Maps of Robert Rogers and Jonathan Carver: A Proposal for the Establishment of the Colony of Michilimackinac”, Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region [Part 1] (Fall, 2004), pp. 35-75

MAP OF THE WEEK: 1838 Arrowsmith’s Map of the World on a Globular Projection

Arrowsmith's Map of the World on a Globular Projection, Exhibiting particularly the Nautical Researches of Captain James Cook, with all the recent Discoveries to the present Time, The Whole Engraved under the immediate Superintendence of, corrected and improved , by Samuel Lewis, Geographer.

Arrowsmith's Map of the World on a Globular Projection, Exhibiting particularly the Nautical Researches of Captain James Cook, with all the recent Discoveries to the present Time, The Whole Engraved under the immediate Superintendence of, corrected and improved , by Samuel Lewis, Geographer.

A late unrecorded state of Arrowsmith’s double hemisphere map of the world on a globular projection. Dating to 1838 and published well after the death of both Aaron Arrowsmith and Samuel Lewis, this is without a doubt the last iteration of this seminal map. The present example follows the re-engraving of Arrowsmith’s globular projection by Philadelphia publisher Samuel Lewis for sale to American audiences. The Lewis re-engraving, which was issued in partnership with Aaron Arrowsmith and T. L. Plowman, appeared in 1809 and is itself extremely scarce, with only two examples being known. This variant, published 19 years later, is even rarer and is the only known example.

Arrowsmith’s original map of 1794 was one of the great cartographic achievements of his age. The map was designed to illustrate the important discoveries and navigations of Captain James Cook. All subsequent variants on Arrowsmith’s map follow his basic globular model and include both an illustration of the Great Navigator and markings showing the tracks of his three voyages of discovery. In 1808, when Lewis re-engraved Arrowsmith’s map for the American market, he included some updated information and a fully re-engraved cartouche work. Lewis changed the title from Map of the World on a Globular Projection to Arrowsmith’s Map of the World, no doubt hoping to capitalize on the Arrowsmith’s well-deserved reputation as a talented and meticulous cartographer. He also removed the dedication to Alexander Dalrymple, the British Hydrographer, in favor of various decorative elements. Cook’s portrait however remained, though relegated to the lower cartouche area.

Cartographically, the Lewis American edition of this map, published by T. L. Plowman of Philadelphia, is with only a few minor exceptions almost identical to the 1808 Arrowsmith English edition. Lewis offered his version of Arrowsmith’s map by subscription and, in so far as we can tell, it must not have been very popular as the map never reached a broad audience – thus accounting for its extreme rarity. Unlike the British edition, the American edition seems to have been issued only in wall map format as we have identified no dissected examples.

The present example, issued in 1838, reflects significant updates and additions throughout, though follows Arrowsmith’s basic globular model and Lewis’s alternations. The inscription, bottom center, suggests that the map features “corrections, additions, and improvements by an experienced geographer”, though who this might have been is unfathomable. These updates are most notable in the Americas.

This map was issued shortly following the 1836 Treaty of Velasco that ended the Texan Revolution and brought about the ephemeral independent Republic of Texas. Throughout the Republic period the western and northern borders of Texas were a matter of dispute, with Texas claiming ownership of much of modern day New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, and Colorado, while Mexico insisted that the boundary be limited to the Neuces River – slightly east of today’s Rio Grande border. The cartographer’s choice of the Neuces River border suggests that his sympathies did not lie with the Republic of Texas. This dispute would eventually lead to the Mexican-American war and the cession of Upper California to the United States.

Further north the cartographer sets the United States – British America border at 54°40′ north latitude. This constitutes a strong stance in favor of American claims to the region. The Oregon Boundary Dispute, as it came to be known, evolved from conflicting commercial interests in the region – mainly associated with fur trade. The British claims assert that Oregon / Columbia was a holding of the Hudson Bay Company and argued for possession of all lands as far south as the Columbia River. Americans, influenced by the popular theme of manifest destiny, asserted claims to the region relating partially to residual treaties with Russia and Spain, but more significantly to the commercial interests of tycoons like John Jacob Astor, whose Astoria trading post is noted here simply as ‘Village’.

Additional modifications and adjustments are evident throughout and include updates to both the interior and southern border of Australia – here identified as New Holland. Africa features considerable updates that might better be called regressions. Following the theories of Mungo Parke, the apocryphal Mountains of Kong, which stretch laterally across the continent, here join with the hypothetical Mountains of the Moon – a sharp contrast to the more technically correct mapping provided by Lewis in 1809. In our edition Lake Malawi, however, though still retaining in an embryonic state, is vastly elongated and more suggestive of its true form. The remainder of the continent, following the original Arrowsmith model, remains ‘Unexplored’. South America reflects the effects of its many wars of liberation under Simon Bolivar and others. New Granada, Venezuela, and other early South American states are beginning to emerge from the fog of war.

Though we know the influences behind it – Arrowsmith and Lewis – the 1838 publisher remains unknown. With no published references and no records appearing in the catalogues of any institutional or known private collections, this quite possibly the only remaining example of this, the final iteration Arron Arrowsmith’s seminal globular map of the word.

More here:

Please also see Rumsey example:

Review of “Guides to Dutch Atlas Maps: The British Isles Volume 1 England”

The British Isles

The British Isles

We would like to bring to our reader’s attention Oak Knoll Press’s series of Guides to Dutch Atlas Maps based on the work of Peter Van Der Krogt and Elger Heere . The series compiles data from the Atlantes Neerlandici into a series of concise and useful illustrated entrees. The work provides invaluable information regarding the publication history of the individual maps, notes on various states, size, and references to other important cartobibliographies.

I have before me one of the first productions in this series, a guide dedicated to Dutch Atlas maps of England. The work features several hundred maps as well as some of the best biographies of the principle mapmakers (Mercator, Hondius, Jansson, Blaeu, etc) we have encountered anywhere.

As map dealers ourselves we cannot stress enough how excited we are about this series. The data provided here was previously all but inaccessible to most dealers and collectors without access to a major institutional library. We must offer a hat’s off to Van der Krogt, Heere, and Oak Knoll Press for embarking this long overdue venture and are looking forward to future installments. As they become available we will attempt to make note of it.

North Americans can order this book here:

Outside of North America, the book can be purchased through Hes & De Graff, who are co-publishers on the project:

One of a Kind Chromolithograph View of New York City

View of Manhattan

1897 Colton Chromolithograph Map View of New York City: Manhattan Brooklyn Queens

A rare possibly unique find, this is G. W. and C. B. Colton’s magnificent 1897 panoramic birds-eye view of New York City. Presented in chromolithograph color this map reveals Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens as seen from high above Jersey City and Hoboken, which themselves appear in the lower left quadrant. The area covered runs from the Bronx to the Statue of Liberty and from Hoboken to Brooklyn and Governor’s Island.

The map is presented as if looking west from high above Hoboken and Jersey City – an unusual take on the city which deviates considerably from the more common south-north Manhattan views by Currier and Ives, and others. This might be explained by the development of Upper Manhattan, most notably the Upper West Side and Central Park, late in second half of the 19th century. The artist would have wanted to represent these newly affluent areas so that his view would appeal to the widest possible audience.

Several bridges are noted including the Brooklyn Bridge (completed in 1883), the Williamsburg Bridge (opened in 1903 but under construction as this view was being drawn), the Queensboro Bridge (proposed but, as this map was being drawn, as not as yet under construction), and a curious bridge that never materialized crossing the Hudson to Hoboken at 59th Street. Central Park is clearly visible, as are the Statue of Liberty in the lower right quadrant, St. John the Divine in the upper left, and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in the upper right. New York’s signature grid system is clearly represented as are many individual buildings, many of which still stand today. The rivers, and harbor are teaming with life as countless ships of all shapes and sizes visit the many wharves on both size of the River. Smoke escapes many chimneys throughout, though especially in lower Manhattan and Jersey City, giving evidence to New York’s late 19th century industry.

This piece is exceedingly rare and we have been able to identify no record of it in any publication or major collection. It is not referenced by Stokes, it does not appear in the OCLC, has no auction records, and there are no examples in the catalogues of the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, or the New York Historical Society. Since the Colton firm would have produced this map in the final days of operation, in fact it is the latest Colton publication we have come across, it is reasonable to speculate that this view may never reached the production stage and is merely a prototype. Such would account for its uncommon rarity – indeed, this may well be the only example in existence.


Speculative Polar Cartography – Then and Now

Co-published with

The curious mismapping of Greenland’s ice sheet cover by the venerable Times Atlas recently has excited a lot of outraged commentary. But few people noted that this follows an old tradition of speculative cartography of the polar regions. ‘Modern’ mapmakers as early as the 16th century combined real facts and scientific knowledge with fundamental misinterpretations of that knowledge to create speculative mapping of the world’s unknown shores – and nowhere was this more prevalent than at the poles.

Mercator's 1606 Map of the North Pole

Mercator's 1606 Map of the North Pole

Early cartographers had a particularly difficult time mapping the Polar Regions. Factually, they based their maps on reports from mariners who dared sail the dangerous waters. This was supplemented by information from earlier maps, speculations based upon their personal theories of geography, religious beliefs, and the fiscal and political ambitions of their patrons.

The earliest specific map of the North Pole is Gerard Mercator’s 1595 Septentrionalium Terrarum Descriptio (‘Northern Lands Described’, shown here is the 1606 edition). Mercator interprets a lost work known as the Inventio Fortunata (“The Fortunate Discovery”), which, though we don’t know for certain, supposedly refers to early journeys to Iceland and the Faeroes in the 14th century. Complementing and interpreting the Inventio, Mercator added real geographic knowledge collected by explorers Martin Frobisher (1535-1594) and John Davis (1550-1605) (amongst others). Mercator used the Inventio description of lands and peoples, Frobisher and Davis’s reports on currents, ice extent, and other elements, to compose this masterpiece of cartographic speculation.

At the North Pole Mercator placed a great mountain, the Rupes Nigra (“Black Rock”) around which flows a mighty whirlpool (hence the strong currents recorded by Davis and Frobisher). From here four powerful rivers flow inward dividing a supposed Arctic continent into four distinct lands. Mercator referenced the Inventio to populate these lands with pygmies, Amazons, and other anomalies. Between Asia and America Mercator added another great sea mountain to which he ascribes magnetic properties. This mountain evolved from a pet theory devised by Mercator to explain magnetic variation. It is also noteworthy that the seas all around the poles are open and navigable – it is very likely Mercator had in mind the interests of royal patrons eager for a Northwest or Northeast Passage.

Buache's 1763 Map of the Antarctic

Buache's 1763 Map of the Antarctic

Two hundred and fifty years later, in 1763, the French geographer Phillipe Buache (1700-1773), issued another wonderful attempt to address the problematic Polar Regions. Buache drew this map to expound upon his own theory of water basins wherein he hypothesized that the Antarctic contained two distinct land masses separated by a frozen sea. From the frequency of icebergs seen by early explorers such as Halley and Bouvet, Buache presumed that there must be a semi-frozen sea at the South Pole. This sea, which he argued (correctly) could only be fed by mountains in the surrounding polar lands, disgorged ice into the southern seas. He thus maps “Land yet undiscovered” and “Frozen Sea as Supposed”, “Supposed Chain of Mountains” as well as other speculations in order to conform not only to his own theories but to accepted mappings of this region by venerable cartographers of the 16th and 17th centuries such as Kaerius and Orteilus, Buache also joins New Zealand to the Antarctic mainland and adds an expansive reservoir he names “Siberia”. Buache was highly influential in his time and aspects of his geographical speculation found their way into numerous maps of the period.

Maps such as these abound in early cartography and most, no matter how misguided, are genuine attempts to rectify the known and unknown. Some, like the maps above and the more contemporary Times Atlas’ map of Greenland, are derived from real scientific knowledge, but exhibit either a misunderstanding of geography or an erroneous hypothesis. These often lead to fictitious interpretations of factual data. Such errors do have ramifications. In the early days of polar exploration such maps often inspired to ill-fated nautical expeditions in search of pygmies, polar seas, and new lands. In modern times, such speculative mappings, both early and contemporary, have been used by some to disprove global warming, advocate for the continent of Atlantis, and prove that space aliens mapped the earth in antiquity and in