1708 De L'Isle Map of North America (Covens and Mortier ed.)

L'Amerique Septentrionale Dressee sur les Observations de Mes. De L'Academie Royale des Sciences…   America Septentrionalis in Suas Praecipuas  Partes Divisa, ad usum Serenissumu Burgundiae Ducis.

1708 De L'Isle Map of North America (Covens and Mortier ed.)


An influential map of North America considered, 'A Foundation Map.' Also, the first printed map to show the Sargasso Sea.

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L'Amerique Septentrionale Dressee sur les Observations de Mes. De L'Academie Royale des Sciences… America Septentrionalis in Suas Praecipuas Partes Divisa, ad usum Serenissumu Burgundiae Ducis.
  1708 (undated)    19 x 23.5 in (48.26 x 59.69 cm)


An extraordinary map, this is Covens and Mortier's 1708 reissue of De L'Isle's landmark 1700 mapping of North America. Covers the continent of North America from the Baffin Bay southwards as far as the Spanish Main, westwards to Cape Mendocino, and eastwards to include the Azores and the Sargasso Sea. Cartographically this map is practically identical to De L'Isle's map though the title cartouche has been moved to the upper left quadrant and the mile scales to the upper right with a new curtain motif frame. Tooley, in his Mapping of America considers this to be a foundational map and indeed it is one of the most influential maps to emerge from the De L'Isle workshop.

Some consider this map to be one of the first to revert California to a peninsular state following the insular suppositions of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. However, this may be a misreading of the map. De L'Isle leaves the northern terminus of the Gulf of California open such that, though the form of California is suggestive of a peninsular state, should exploration prove the opposite, the cartographer was covered. On the west coast of California a false bay is notated though this may simply be a double mapping of the entrance to the Gulf of California. Further north along the coast San Diego, Seyo, Cape Mendocin, and Francis Drakes Port, and the English claim of New Albion are noted. Both Mexico and New Mexico are mapped with considerable sophistication with mines, indigenous peoples, mountains and river ways, and the missions of Santa Fe, Taos, and San Antonio de Senecu (El Paso) noted.

The Mississippi valley is well developed and based upon the most advanced French information available at the time. The forts of St. Louis, Bon Secours are noted, as is the settlement of d'Iberville at Bilochy. Following the Mississippi north we fine the Great Lakes beautifully drawn on the Coronelli model. The French stronghold on the region is evident with forts at Tadousac, Quebec, Sorel, Montreal, and Frontenac identified.

In an act of clear carto-advocacy De L'Isle confines the English colonies to the narrow strip of coastal lands east of the Alleghenies. The River and Fort of Kinibeki (Kennebec) is set as the northern border of English holdings in the region. Boston, Nantucket, Long Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Jamestown, Roanoke, Charlestown, and St. Augustine, among others, are identified along the eastern seaboard.

At sea there are a couple of elements of note. This is the first printed mapping of the Sargasso Sea, here identified as the 'Mer de Sargasse' where Icy flottent des herbes mais en montre quantite. Along the Mexican and California coastline the routes of various navigators including Olivier, Cortez, Gaetan, Mendonza, and Francis Drake are delineated.

Just to the east of Barbados, in the Antilles, a curious apocryphal island appears with the label 'I. de Fonseca selon Quelquefuns.' This island, which is here surrounded by dangerous rocks and reefs, appears in several maps of the region as early as Hondius' Americae Novissima Descriptio where is as identified as Y. de S. B. This island was also identified by M. Rochette with the label Galissioniere's Rock. Other ships, including the Rainbow, claim to have seen the island as late as 1822. De L'Isle was the first to give the map a definite name, Fonseca. Even so, with so few sightings of the island it disappeared from most maps issued in the 18th century. There is some speculation that discolored water occasionally discharged by the nearby Orinoco River led to various false sightings of land.

The condition of this map is of special note as it is nothing short of spectacular. The impression is so intense it is reminiscent of Coronelli's work and the overall state of preservation is remarkable. If you are considering adding an example of this map to your collection, this is the one you want.


The Amsterdam publishing firm of Covens and Mortier (1721 - c. 1862) was the successor to the extensive publishing empire built by Frenchman Pierre Mortier (1661 - 1711). Upon Mortier's death in 1711 his firm was taken over by his son, Cornelius Mortier (1699 - 1783). Cornelius married the sister of Johannes Covens (1697 - 1774) in 1821 and, partnering with his brother in law, established the Covens and Mortier firm. Under the Covens and Mortier imprint, Cornelius and Pierre republished the works of the great 17th and early 18th century Dutch and French cartographers De L'Isle, Allard, Jansson, De Wit, and Ottens among others. They quickly became one of the largest and most prolific Dutch publishing concerns of the 18th century. The firm and its successors published thousands of maps over a 120 year period from 1721 to the mid-1800s. During their long lifespan the Covens and Mortier firm published as Covens and Mortier (1721-1778), J. Covens and Son (1778 - 94) and Mortier, Covens and Son (1794 - c. 1862).

The De L'Isle family (fl. c. 1700 - c. 1760) (also written Delisle) were, in composite, a mapmaking tour de force who redefined early 18th century European cartography. Claude De L'Isle (1644 -1720), the family patriarch, was Paris based a historian and geographer under Nicholas Sanson. De L'Isle and his sons were proponents of the school of "positive geography" and were definitive figures, defining the heights of the Golden Age of French Cartography. Of his twelve sons, four, Guillaume (1675- 1726), Simon Claude (1675 - 1726), Joseph Nicholas (1688 - 1768) and Louis (1720 - 1745), made a significant contributions to cartography. Without a doubt Guillaume was the most remarkable member of the family. It is said that Guillaume's skill as a cartographer was so prodigious that he drew his first map at just nine years of age. He was tutored by J. D. Cassini in astronomy, science, mathematics and cartography. By applying these diverse disciplines to the vast stores of information provided by 18th century navigators, Guillaume created the technique that came to be known as "scientific cartography", essentially an extension of Sanson's "positive geography". This revolutionary approach transformed the field of cartography and created a more accurate picture of the world. Among Guillaume's many firsts are the first naming of Texas, the first correct map of the Mississippi, the final rejection of the insular California fallacy, and the first identification of the correct longitudes of America. Stylistically De L'Isle also initiated important changes to the medium, eschewing the flamboyant Dutch style of the previous century in favor of a highly detailed yet still decorative approach that yielded map both beautiful and informative. Guillaume was elected to the French Academie Royale des Sciences at 27. Later, in 1718, he was also appointed "Premier Geographe du Roi", an office created especially for him. De L'Isle personally financed the publication of most of his maps, hoping to make heavy royalties on their sales. Unfortunately he met an untimely death in 1728, leaving considerable debt and an impoverished child and widow. De L'Isle's publishing firm was taken over by his assistant, Phillipe Buache who became, posthumously, his son in law. The other De L'Isle brothers, Joseph Nicholas and Louis De L'Isle, were employed in the Service of Peter the Great of Russia as astronomers and surveyors. They are responsible for cataloguing and compiling the data obtained from Russian expeditions in the Pacific and along the northwest coast of America, including the seminal explorations of Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. The De L'Isles, like their rivals the Vaugondys , must be considered speculative geographers. Speculative geography was a genre of mapmaking that evolved in Europe, particularly Paris, in the middle to late 18th century. Cartographers in this genre would fill in unknown areas on their maps with speculations based upon their vast knowledge of cartography, personal geographical theories, and often dubious primary source material gathered by explorers and navigators. This approach, which attempted to use the known to validate the unknown, naturally engendered many rivalries. The era of speculatively cartography effectively ended with the late 18th century explorations of Captain Cook, Jean Francois de Galaup de La Perouse, and George Vancouver.


Mortier, P., Atlas Nouveau de diverse cartes choisies des Meilleurs Geographes comme Sanson, G. De L'Isle &c.. (Amsterdam) Chez Pierre P. Mortier, 1708.    


Very good, near pristine, example. Original centerfold.


Tooley, R. V. The Mapping of America, p.19, #32 & 33; p. 18, #28. Philips (America) 580-56. Wheat, C., The Mapping of the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861, #79. Schomburgk, R. H., The history of Barbados: comprising a geographical and statistical …, p. 7.