Folio (470 x 310 mm.), full contemporary mottled calf with five raised bands on the spine. With some professional restoration to the edges. Engraved title-page with CONTEMPORARY HAND COLOURING AND HEIGHTENED IN GOLD, (3) pp, double-page engraved portrait of Mercator and Hondius with contemporary hand colouring and heightened in gold, (9) pp., 374 pp., within which are 4 engraved divisional titles and 150 engraved maps all with contemporary hand colouring and heightened in gold, all but one double page. All titles, maps and initial letters heightened in gold. Woodcut vignettes and woodcut illustrations in text. Text foxed and evenly toned as usual, small professional repairs to some leaves. With professional restoration to the maps of Asia, Iceland, Spain, Aragon, Brittany, the single sheet map of Boulogne, Lake Leman, Belgium, Germany, Westphalia, Murs, Alsace, Saxony and Lombardy, some surface marks to the maps of the world, Prussia and Greece. Show through on most maps of the early gilt coloured letters on the versos, light verdigris, one or two creased as expected, some centrefold splits restored. Index of 35 pp. Complete with 4 blank endpapers. Overall, considering the magnificent colouring, a fine example of a great atlas.
The birth of the modern atlas as we know it is not quite so simple. The first collections of maps representing the world were put together in Italy and are loosely called Lafreri atlases after their main proponent Antonio Lafreri. However these contained maps by various cartographers and therefore were in different styles and sizes, the maps usually bear large attached margins to make them uniform. In 1570 Abraham Ortelius published the ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum’, the first collection of maps with a uniform size and style. It was an immediate success. Gerard Mercator (1512-94), the inventor of the projection named after him, began in 1585 to produce a series of ‘Tabulae Geographicae’ of differing European countries. This culminated in 1595 in the ‘Atlas Sive Cosmographicae’, the first use of the term ‘Atlas’. It contained 107 maps of the world. Mercator is one of the giants in the history of cartography; it is he who began the scientific study of the subject. This atlas was completed by his son Rumold, Gerard having died the year before.
There was one further edition in 1602 before the plates were acquired by Jodocus Hondius. He published it as ‘Gerardi Mercatoris Atlas Sive Cosmographicae’ in 1606 with 37 newly engraved maps, taking the total to 144. Publication had moved from Duisburg to Amsterdam and the first few editions were in Latin. In 1609 a French edition was published, with by now, 147 maps. This second French edition of 1613 offered here bears the final total of 150 maps which are here presented in the finest colour feasible, namely in early wash colour and heightened in gold. The year 1612 marked the final year of publication of Abraham Ortelius’ own atlas and the Mercator-Hondius atlas had the world market for folio atlases to itself. There was to be no competition until that of Willem Blaeu with his ‘Appendix’ in 1630. This therefore marks the first and the fullest edition of the atlas in a market with no competition ahead of it. The atlas like so many is now quite scarce and to find one in contemporary binding in such wonderful early colour is truly exceptional. Koeman cites examples of this edition at the Scheepvaart Museum, Amsterdam, and the Lilly Library, Bloomington, Indiana. The 1613 editions in Latin and French are the first to contain the famous double portrait of both Mercator and Hondius engraved by Hondius’ widow Colleta after her husband’s death in 1612. Provenance: Bookplate of ‘Amalia Furstin von Gallitzin’ on the verso of the title page. She was the wife of the Russian Prince Dimitrij Aleksejewitsch Gallitzin. Born 1748 and died 1806; Sotheby’s 24 June 1988 lot 289. Koeman (1967-70) Me 23A; Phillips (1909-) 3416 (Latin text incomplete lacking 3 maps and all half-titles); Shirley (2004) T-MER 2g (Latin 1613).