Some Very Old Maps from Martayan Lan
Fine Antique Maps & Atlases from Martayan Lan.
By Michael Stillman
Martayan Lan's 37th catalogue of Fine Antique Maps and Atlases offers 82 items from the 15th through the 19th centuries. The catalogue is actually a trip through time, as it provides a picture of the world as it unfolded before the eyes of western civilization, just emerging from the Dark Ages. Among the maps you will find in the catalogue, besides many of the world, are Great Britain, France, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, all of Europe, Africa, Asia, the Arctic, North and South America, and numerous states and areas within the United States. There are city maps or plans from places such as Washington, Paris, London and Venice, maps of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, some great early maps of the Great Lakes, Caribbean Islands, and even the stars. Some early maps show surprising accuracy; others seem to be drawn more from someone's imagination, or wild rumors. Finally, there is a collection of atlases offering many maps of the world as it was imagined at various points in time. Anyone who collects old maps, or is fascinated by how they can transport us back to an era when there was still so much yet to be learned, will thoroughly enjoy this catalogue. Here are a few of the old maps it has to offer.
The world as imagined in 1537 was a very different place. Africa and Asia were a bit misshapen at the time, though clearly recognizable. South America was too, though its southern half was but a narrow peninsula. Australia was unknown. North America is the most interesting. This map postdates Columbus and several of Vespucci's voyages, so the continent was known, but they had not penetrated the interior. The result is that North America appears as a long, narrow north to south island, by the name "Terra de Cuba." Cuba itself goes by its earlier name, "Isabella." Japan is located a bit to the west of this island, perhaps where the Mississippi River runs. It would have been much easier to import Toyotas and Sonys if this map were accurate. The oceans are filled with sea monsters, and the various continents have drawings pertaining to what one might find. For example, Asia has spices, Africa exotic people and animals, and America cannibals. Cannibals in America? I don't remember that being taught in my American history classes. A most intriguing feature is images of angels at the top and bottom of the Earth turning crank handles to spin it upon its access. This was still the era when the accepted explanation for movement of the heavens was that they were spinning around the Earth, not that the Earth was spinning. This map is found within the book Novus orbis regionum...by Grynaeus and Huttichius. The book includes information from Columbus' and Vespucci's voyages plus an early report on Magellan's circumnavigation. Item 2. Priced at $65,000.
Item 4 shows no North or South America, but mapmaker H. Schedel can be forgiven. This is the world Columbus knew, at least before he set out for India. The map is titled Secunda etas mundi (it originally appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was dated 1493). This is one of the earliest obtainable printed maps, published less than forty years after the invention of the press. The map includes illustrations of wind heads, common among older maps, the sons of Noah who repopulated the Earth, and various grotesque creatures who presumably lived in distant, unexplored lands. $25,000.
Some Very Old Maps from Martayan Lan
North America is the skinny island in the northwest quadrant, just east of Japan (Grynaeus).
The Arctic also looked very different at the turn of the 17th century. The Mercator map Septentrionalium Terrarum description, the first separate map of the arctic, combined the latest information from Canada with an older, fictional view of the polar region. The North Pole actually is a sea, as he imagined, though not one of liquid. However, the rest of the map shows four large streams, flowing into the polar sea, with the rest of that ocean surrounded by four large islands. Of course, none of this exists. One other important feature of Mercator's map is the open sea to the north of Canada, all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Mercator was making the statement that there was a Northwest Passage. He believed there was a navigable waterway, and his maps helped encourage the centuries of exploration in the North which followed in an attempt to locate this shortcut to Asia. Item 39. $4,850.
The De L'Isle and Bauche map of 1750, Carte Des Nouvelles Decouvertes Au Nord De La Mer Du Sud, has its own strange feature. It displays North America and the eastern part of Russia, much of it quite accurate for the time. However, there is this enormous sea in the northwestern portion of North America. It appears to cover most of inland Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, plus most of the states of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and the province of Alberta. Apparently, Juan de Fuca had speculated about the existence of such an inland sea a century earlier, but that was very little evidence on which to conclude there really was a "Sea of the West." Item 41. $7,500.
Item 77, the Cellarius map of the solar system, Planisphaerium Braheum... displayed Tyco Brahe's attempt to reconcile the traditional Ptolemaic, church supported view that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth, with the reality of the movement of the planets which implied otherwise. Brahe's compromise was ingenious. He concluded that the planets revolved around the sun, explaining their inconsistent movements, but that the sun then revolved around the Earth. It explained planetary movement while still keeping the earth at the center of the universe. It was a nice explanation, but suffered from being inaccurate. $6,500.
The website for Martayan Lan is www.martayanlan.com, and the phone number is 212-308-0018.