1556 Munster Map of America (first obtainable printed map of America)

Tavola dell'isole nuoue, le quali son nominate accidentali, et indiane per diuersi rispetti.

1556 Munster Map of America (first obtainable printed map of America)


First specific map to reveal America as separate continent. First European map to show Japan. First map to identify the Pacific Ocean.


Tavola dell'isole nuoue, le quali son nominate accidentali, et indiane per diuersi rispetti.
  1556 (undated)    11 x 14 in (27.94 x 35.56 cm)     1 : 50000000


This is an extremely scarce 1558 Italian example of Sebastian Munster's map of America or the New World, one the earliest and most influential obtainable maps of the Americas. The first specific published map to reveal all of North and South America in clear continental form, it was originally published by Munster in his 1540 Basle edition of Ptolemy's Geographia. The work proved popular, appearing in some 40 editions over the subsequent century. The popularity of Munster's Geographia and this map in particular made this map highly influential in establishing a number of important cartographic conventions, such as the naming of America as such, the identification of the Straits of Magellan, the naming of the Pacific Ocean (Mare Pacificum), the presumed insular form of the Yucatan, and the speculation of Verazanno's Sea. Moreover, this is the earliest printed map to identify Japan, here presented according to Marco Polo as 'Zipangri'.
A Detailed Look at Munster's Americas
Munster's map depicts all of North and South America and illustrates both in continental form. North America is largely speculative, although the Caribbean region is recognizable and identifies Cuba, Jamaica, St. Paul, Cozumel, Yucatan, Dominica, and Hispaniola. A Spanish flag flies over the region promoting the notion of European hegemony throughout the Americas. In North America, Florida is recognizable in form and the region as a whole is identified as 'Terra Florida.' Further north, another territory, defined as Francisca, is identified. This references Francis I, the French King who sponsored Verrazano's expedition. 'C. Britonum' is a reference to Cabot's expedition and is most like Cape Breton. The nearby island of Corte Real is possibly 'Terra Nova do Bacalhau' (New Land of the Codfish) supposedly discovered by the Portuguese navigator Joao Vaz Corte-Real in 1473. If so, he may have discovered Newfoundland nearly 20 years before Columbus.

South America is more recognizable. This map features a very early appearance of the Straits of Magellan as well as a presentation of Magellan's ship Victoria, the only one of the five that set out to survive, in the Pacific Ocean (Mare Pacificum), which also appears for the first time on a printed map. Catigara, a city typically located in East Asia by Ptolemaic geographers, has here been relocated to the western coast of South America, near modern day Peru. On the east coast of South America, in modern day Brazil, anthropophagi (Canibali) are identified and accompanied by a particularly gruesome image of human body parts, including a head and leg roasting over a fire. Patagonia is identified as 'Regio Gigantum'. Just off the easternmost coast of modern day Brazil a Portuguese flag appears. Across the whole, the texts 'Nouus Orbis' and 'Die Nuw Welt' (New World) are written.
The Earliest Printed Map of the Pacific Ocean
As we have noted before, this is the earliest printed map to use the term 'Pacific' to describe the Ocean to the west of America. Munster most likely theorized that this ocean was an extension of Ptolemy's Indian Ocean - a fact also suggested by his placement of 'Catigara.' Into this largely unexplored ocean he introduces the Ins. Pdonum, according to Suarez, a corruption of Magellan's 'Ladroni' or 'Thieves' Island', today's Guam and Rota. He also identifies 'Calensuan,' which Suarez suggests may be a corruption of 'Ceylon'. In another work Suarez suggests, in revision, that 'Calensuan' was one of the islands visited by Magellan's crew after the man himself was slain on Cebu. Further north, an archipelago of 7448 islands surrounds 'Zipangri.' This is Japan as referenced by Marco Polo. It is noteworthy that this is the earliest appearance of Japan on a printed map and considerably predates any European contact with the island nation.
A Census of the Italian Edition of Munster's Americas
The present example represents the 8th state of Munster's map, prepared in 1558 for issue in the 1558 Italian edition of the Geographia. Italian editions of this map were exclusively issued from the 8th state, although editions were printed in 1558, 1571, and 1575. As each of these editions were published from the same plate, it is impossible to know exactly when the present example was printed.


Sebastian Münster (January 20, 1488 - May 26 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Hebrew scholar. Münster was born at Ingelheim near Mainz, the son of Andreas Munster. He completed his studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in 1518, after which he was appointed to the University of Basel in 1527. As Professor of Hebrew, he edited the Hebrew Bible, accompanied by a Latin translation. His principal work, the Cosmographia, first issued in 1544, was the earliest German description of the world. The book proved popular and was reissued in numerous editions and languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after his death. The Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular books of the 16th century. It passed through 24 editions in 100 years. This success was due to the fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel). Munster's work was highly influential in reviving classical geography in 16th century Europe. In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, also with illustrations. The 1550 edition contains cities, portraits, and costumes. These editions, printed in Germany, are the most valued of the Cosmographia. Münster also wrote the Dictionarium trilingue in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and composed a large format map of Europe in 1536. In 1537 he published a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew which he had obtained from Spanish Jews he had converted. Most of Munster's work was published by his son-in-Law, Heinrich Petri (Henricus Petrus), and his son Sebastian Henric Petri. He died at Basel of the plague in 1552.


Ptolemy, C., Geographica (Munster: Basel) 1558.    


Very good. Light wear along original centerfold. Displays an extremely minor printer's crease, else clean. Italian text on verso. New color.


Burden, P., The Mapping of North America, no. 12. Saurez, T., Early Mapping of Southeast Asia…, p. 127. Suarez, T., Early Mapping of the Pacific. Suarez, Shedding the Veil, page 85. OCLC: 53928295.
Looking for a high-resolution scan of this?