Historic Cartography

Map of California shown as an island, circa 1650, by Joan Vinckeboons; Library of Congress, G3291.S12 coll .H3 Vault: Harr vol. 2, map. 10

Map of California shown as an island, circa 1650, by Joan Vinckeboons; Library of Congress, G3291.S12 coll .H3 Vault: Harr vol. 2, map. 10

California has intrigued cartographers for centuries. For over a century it was thought to be an island. To the right is one example from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project. Done in watercolor with a comparative distance legend at the bottom, the pen-and-ink place names are readily legible on the enlarged image. One CMS publication, Occasional Paper No. 5, catalogs over 250 examples of maps from the 17th and 18th century with California as an island.

But we’re not interested in this historic anomaly alone. CMS members have broad interests in all historic cartography; many are collectors and some are dealers too. Members have offered a few of their favorite antique maps for viewing here at our web site. Those along with the stories behind each map are listed at MAPS & STORIES.

Some of our members have developed a special relationship with the Huntington Library in Pasadena and its large collection of antiquarian maps, the Union Catalog. You may enter their catalog to view their digital archive from our site.

We often visit sites with great map collections as part of our meetings. In early 2009 we previewed the new digital archive of the Roy V. Boswell Collection for the History of Cartography at the Pollak Library at California State University, Fullerton. That extensive digital library of over 1,700 maps is now available athttp://boswell.library.fullerton.edu/.

Henry Wendt, a CMS member, has taken his collecting of historic maps many steps further by producing two excellent touring map exhibitions along with stunning and highly informative website displays. His first, Mapping the Pacific Coast: Coronado to Lewis and Clark; The Quivira Collection follows the explorations of the west coast of North America from 1544 through 1802. His second, Envisioning the World: The First Printed Maps 1472-1700takes one from the Renaissance through the age of scientific and geographic discovery that molded much of our modern view of the world and universe. Don’t miss either of these exhibitions but, if you do, go to the websites for a primer on the development of civilization as seen through the evolution of the maps of the times.

The largest of our members’ collections is the over 150,000 maps gathered by David Rumsey, a Life CMS member. He focused on maps of the Americas between 1700 and 1925. He decided he wanted to be sure these maps were widely available to the public and began digitizing them in 1999. Today he has about 20,000 maps available at http://www.davidrumsey.com/ and has agreements with Google Maps, Google Earth, and Second Life for display on their sites. He has now donated his collection and their digital images to Stanford University. The digital map images and web site will be kept in Stanford’s digital preservation archive.