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The Mapping of North America

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The two most influential English printed books on voyages and travels in the sixteenth century were those of Richard Hakluyt and Jan Huygen van Linschoten. The latter’s ‘Itinerario’ was first published in 1595 in Amsterdam. Portugal had first reached India as early as 1498, the work revealed much about its relatively unchallenged presence in Asia. Linschoten’s book was a critical work in the encouragement of both the Dutch and English to make trade links of their own. ‘This important work contains all the knowledge and learning related to the East and West Indies and navigations to those parts that was available at the end of the sixteenth century. It was held in such high esteem that for nearly a century a copy was given to each ship sailing to India as a guide to the sailing directions. The fact that most copies were in continual use is in no doubt the reason that fine copies, especially with all correct plates and maps, are so very rare’ (Hill).

‘This is the first work outside of Portugal and Spain to provide detailed practical information on how to get to and engage in trade with America and India. The work was indispensable to sailors on the route to the Indies [and] served as a direct stimulus to the building of the vast English and Dutch overseas empires’ (Streeter).

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611)

Linschoten was a native of Enkhuizen who travelled to Spain in 1576 to join his two elder brothers. The family moved to Lisbon during the troubles of 1581. Through family contacts the young Linschoten became attached to the retinue of Vincente de Fonseca as he was sent to Goa aa Archbishop. Arriving in September 1583 he spent tome travelling through Malabar and Coromandel. All the while he compiled a secret account of his findings. In 1586 Dirck Gerritsz (1544-1604) passed through Goa returning from Japan having also been to China. He was probably the first Dutchman to visit the former. He passed much of his knowledge to Linschoten.

The archbishop returned to Europe in 1587 to report to Philip II but Linschoten remained. Expecting his return, he later found out that he had died at sea. He resolved to return himself and through the auspices of Dutch traders such as the Fuggers and Welsers in India obtained the position of a factor on one of their returning vessels in 1589. He remained on the island of Terceira in the Azores for two years and made his way back to Holland in September 1592. He continued to gather further information from Dutch sailors even accompanied William Barentsz’s second voyage to the Kara Sea in 1594-95. In 1594 he received permission to publish his work. The ‘Itinerario’ was an instant success and combined his first-hand accounts with translations of Portuguese and Spanish documents.

The work provided accurate sailing information and detailed descriptions of how to trade in both Asia and South America and the nature of their commodities. Legend has it that examples were given to every Dutch ship sailing to Asia.


Word of the significance of the book reached the publisher John Wolfe ((fl.1579-1601) who records in the dedication ‘About a Twelvemonth agoe, a learned Gentleman brought unto mee the Voyages and Navigation of John Huyghen van Linschoten into the Indies written in the Dutche Tongue, which he wished might be translated into our Language, because hee thought it would be not onley delightfull, but also very commodious for our English Nation. Upon this commendation and opinion, I procured the Translation thereof accordingly, and so thought goo to publish the same in Print …’. That gentleman was identified in the address to the reader: ‘Which Booke being commended, by Richard Hackluyt, a man that laboureth greatly to advance our English Name and Nation’.

Wolfe was ideally placed to undertake the work, being ‘the first London bookseller to produce a sequence of map-illustrated works. He clearly kept a rolling-press and was possibly the first regular London book-printer to do so’ (Worms & Baynton-Williams). The translation was undertaken by William Phillip. The maps and plates were engraved by Robert Beckit, Ronald Elstrack and William Rogers. Most are re-engravings of those in the Dutch edition. ‘Wolfe’s turbulent career, his clashes with his old master John Day and the Stationers’ Company, his imprisonments, secret presses, and faked imprints have sometimes obscured his other achievements. He had an extensive international trade and was ‘the father of news publishing’ in London’ (Worms).

Financial help came from a group of London merchants who provided ten pounds to Hakluyt to see the book in print alongside a further thirty shillings towards the production of maps to accompany it (Parker).

The work is made up of four parts. The first, provides the account of Linschoten’s travels in Asia and includes accounts of east coast of Africa, Arabia and as far east as Japan. The chapter is accompanied by fine folding maps of the world, Arabia and India, the southeast coast of Africa, a superb map of east Asia and the East Indies and finally one of southwest Africa.

The second book focuses on the west coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope to Arabia and India. It also details the New World accompanying which is a fine map of South America extending northwards to Florida. The third book is derived from the discoveries of the Portuguese Royal pilot Diego Affonso, and details the navigation from Portugal to India, and onwards to the East Indies. Similar detail is also provided for Spanish America and Brazil. Accompanying this is the superb ‘Spice Islands’ map illustrated with spices of the region. The final fourth book provides economic details provided by the territories of the King of Spain.

This example

This is a slightly taller example than the Church copy. The English edition did not include copies of the thirty or so illustrations of native peoples found in the Dutch edition. However, ‘sets of the Dutch engravings were apparently imported by the publisher and bound into some exemplars’ (Luborsky & Ingram), as found in this example. Examples do vary in content and some are found with examples of the Dutch maps inserted. Indeed, the British Library possess three examples, none are complete. This example only includes the English engraved maps.

List of maps

1 – Abraham Ortelius – Anon. Typus Orbis Terrarum. An English derivative of Ortelius’ more up to date plate of 1587 and the earlier more decorative cloud border. Shirley (1993) 167.

2 – ‘The description of the coast of Abex …’ (Arabia, the Indian Ocean and India). A much-improved depiction of the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Qasimi (1999) p. 32 Dutch edition only; Ankary (2001) pp. 74-6, 148-9 referring only to the Dutch plate; Gole (1978) no. 8 listing only the Dutch plate; Schilder (2003) pp. 220-3; Tibbets (1978) no. 51.

3 – ‘The Trew Description of All the Coasts of China …’ (Southeast Asia, East Indies, China, Japan and Korea), Chang (2003) pl. 16, p. 147 Dutch only, p. 192 no. 134 English; Geldart (2017) p. 19; Hubbard (2012) p. 47, fig. 36; Schilder (1976) no. 18 Dutch; Schilder (2003) pp. 222-6; Suarez (1999) pp. 178-9; Suarez (2004) p. 79; Walter (1994) no. 12 Dutch.

4 – ‘The description of the Coast of Guinea …’ (Southwest Africa). Norwich (1983) no. 239a Dutch; Schilder (2003) pp. 215-19; Tooley (1969) p. 67 Dutch.

5 – ‘The description of the whole coast lying in the South Seas of Americae called Peru…’, displays the whole of South America, Caribbean and Florida. Schilder (2003) pp. 226-8.

6 – ‘Insulae Molucca celeberrimae …’, the Spice Islands map, extends from southeast Asia to the Solomon Islands and northwards to include the Philippines. The famous Spice Island map, so called for its depiction of the spices nutmeg, clove, and sandalwood along the bottom. Schilder (2003) pp. 117-22; Suarez (1999) pp. 177-9.

Provenance: acquired c.2000 for a private American collection. Borba de Moraes (1983) 1:417; JCB (1980-97) 598:57; Church (1907) 321; ESTC S111823; Hill (1974) p. 182; Howgego (2003) L131 & G40; Luborsky & Ingram (1998) p. 509; Parker (1965) pp. 159-61; Sabin (1868) 41374; Schilder (2003) pp. 195-228; Shirley World (1993) nos. 167 & 216; Shirley (2004) G.Lin 2a; Streeter sale 1:31; Worms (2007) p. 1705; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).

LINSCHOTEN, Jan Huygen van

His Discours of Voyages into ye Easte and West Indies

John Wolfe, London, 1598
A TALL EXAMPLE OF ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL ENGLISH TRAVEL BOOKS OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. Folio (290 x 190 mm.), 4 parts in 1, old full calf, five line gilt panelled boards, spine with raised bands, each compartment with similar gilt panels, gilt titles. With engraved title, 3 letterpress divisional titles with engraved cartographic vignettes, 8 folding copperplate engraved maps and 3 folding views of St. Helena and Ascension, 4 woodcut maps in the text, EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED with 29 plates by the van Deutecum brothers from the Dutch edition, some minor reinforcement at some of the folds, otherwise a fine crisp example.
Stock number: 10672


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