Clive A. Burden LTD. Rare Maps, Antique Atlases, Books and Decorative Prints

The Mapping of North America

Mr. Philip D. Burden​
P.O. Box 863,
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‘THE ADMIRAL’S MAP’ in EARLY WASH COLOUR. One of the most important maps in one of the most significant editions of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’. It represents a decisive shift away from Ptolemaic geography to a focus on more current knowledge and exploration. There are arguably only two earlier obtainable printed maps to show America; the Johann Ruysch of 1507 and the Bernard Sylvanus of 1511, both world maps appearing in editions of Ptolemy.

This is known as the ‘Admiral’s map’ based on some of the introductory text to the atlas which states ‘the Charta Marina which they call the Hydrographia, made known from the most authentic voyages by a former Admiral of the most serene King of Portugal Ferdinand, and finally [from those] of other explorers, was given out to be engraved for the press, together with certain of the maps specified on the front of this leaf, through the generous assistance, whilst he lived, of René most illustrious Duke of Lorraine, now piously deceased’ (Stevens). The Admiral is generally understood to be Christopher Columbus, by which name he was referred to at the time. The other explorers we know included a large amount from Amerigo Vespucci. The manuscript map referred to was that in the possession of the Duke of Lorraine, it ‘was almost certainly the large chart by Nicolo de Caveri that is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (illustrated Burden I p. xxi). If it was not this chart, it was another nearly identical’ (Karrow).


Martin Waldseemüller (c.1475-c.1521) was born near Freiburg, Germany and became the greatest geographer of his age. His family moved into the town and in 1490 he enrolled at the university. One of his classmates was Johannes Schott, the printer of Waldseemuller’s 1513 Ptolemy. Amongst his tutors was Gregor Reisch. By the early 1500’s the Duke of Lorraine, René II, had developed a place of considerable learning at St. Dié. Waldseemuller was encouraged by his fine library and support for scholars and in about 1506 moved there.


This 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’ is notable for being the first to separate the ancient Ptolemaic maps from the modern ones. With their own title page there were twenty in all. It is considered the first modern atlas to have been printed. As the first map in the modern part, pride of place goes to this world map.

Karrow succinctly outlines the majority view of the history of this atlas. ‘Waldseemuller and [Matthias] Ringmann work energetically on the Ptolemy after 1507 (and quite likely earlier) and complete most of the textual collation and the drawing of the maps by 1511, when Ringmann dies. Some of the printing blocks have already been cut. The greatest obstacle to completion of the new edition is financial’. The death of their supporter the Duke of Lorraine, René II (1451-1508) hurts the project. Karrow goes on to state that the St. Dié press was too small to work on such a large book, indeed a quarto size was the largest they had produced and one small woodcut.

It was a pair of Strasbourg lawyers who rescued the project; Jacob Aeszler and Georg Uebelin. ‘With their help, the types and equipment of the St. Dié press are transported in 1510 to Strasbourg, where Schott opens a printing shop … Aeszler and Uebelin finance the cutting of the remaining blocks from Waldseemuller’s drawing and pay for the production of the whole edition, in which Waldseemuller assists Schott at the press’ (Karrow).


Under the influence most likely of Vespucci’s book, ‘Mundus Novus’ printed c.1504, Waldseemuller ‘hailed Vespucci as the modern Ptolemy and proposed that the New World should be named America in his honor’ (ADNB). It is Waldseemuller’s ‘Cosmographiae Introductio’, 25 April 1507 which called for this honour. The work refers to two maps which as late as the end of the nineteenth century were unknown. In his dedication Waldseemuller states ‘So it comes about that, while I was collating Ptolemy’s books from a Greek manuscript, by the help of certain persons [believed to be Matthias Ringmann], and supplementing them from the description of Amerigo Vespucci’s four voyages, I have prepared a representation of the whole world both in the form of a globe and in that of a map’ (Skelton). Both have since come to light.

We know from contemporary correspondence that the gores were printed most likely in April 1507. A letter on 12 August 1507 written by Johannes Trithemius wrote that he had ‘a few days before purchased cheaply a handsome terrestrial globe of small size lately printed at Strasbourg, and at the same time a large map of the world’. He goes on to describe that the large map ‘extends south almost to the 50th parallel’.

Although Henry Stevens concluded that this single sheet world map might be contemporary to, or even pre-date 1507, none of the contemporary documents surviving indicate this. The fact that this map extends to 60 degrees dismisses this map as a candidate for those mentioned. It would be more likely that a smaller derivative of the multi-sheet world map would be prepared for the intended publication of an edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’.

That larger map of course was famously discovered at Wolfgegg castle, Germany, in 1901 by Fr. Joseph Fischer. It was famously acquired by the Library of Congress in Washington, for US $10,000,000 in 2003.

‘Orbis Typus Universalis’

Karrow notes that the maps in the atlas were all woodcuts, ‘although a few have titles, place-names, or marginal information printed by means of metal type inserted in the blocks or by stereotype plates. These, it has been argued, were probably early blocks made at a time when it was hoped to use typeset lettering for all the maps.’ This being one of them.

The idea that the map pre-dates the publication date of the atlas by some margin is supported by three other factors; the geographical content, the fact that it is larger than all the others and the presence of the name ‘America’ in one surviving example acquired for the John Carter Brown Library in 1900. Henry Stevens had acquired it in an auction in London, December 1893. It was the only map bound into a largely imperfect example of the 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Geographia’. He paid two pounds and four shillings!

Aeszler and Uebelin stated that they had saved the project from ‘six years of neglect’. If the map dates from the earlier period, then we are placing a c.1507 date on the map. It would appear not to pre-date the large world map or set of gores therefore a date of issue in late 1507 or before Duke René dies on 10 December 1508.

There is an argument that Ringmann was the force behind the naming ‘America’ and that following his death in 1511 Waldseemuller was freed to pursue a different path and removed all reference to the name and Vespucci’s part in it. This decision was no doubt influenced by the publication of a collection of travel narratives first published in Italy in Vicenza 1507 entitled ‘Paesi Novamenti Retrovati’ [Lands recently discovered]. News of it likely did not reach St. Dié before it was translated into German as ‘Newe Unbekanthe Lanndte’. The book argued for Columbus’ primacy in discovering the new world. It went on to describe those of Cabral in 1500 and then Vespucci in 1501, not 1497 as had been claimed. The chronology it laid out was adopted henceforth by him. Despite this the name had taken seed in popular culture. It was resurrected in Petrus Apianus’ reduction of the 1507 wall map published in 1520. This might be an indication of its ready use by this time.

Geographical content

In the middle of the North Atlantic is a large unidentified island with jagged east coast. This likely relates to the Portuguese voyages of Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real, brothers from the Azores. They landed in Newfoundland in 1501 which has numerous inlets in which European processing of cod was already active. No doubt it is due to their Portuguese allegiance that the land is placed far enough east to fall on their side of the Papal Demarcation Line of 1494 and not the Spanish. To the south west are Cuba and Hispaniola, both named, and an unidentified Jamaica.

In South America are only a small number of place names. ‘Batoia’ represents the Gulf of Venezuela. Nearby are ‘giganti’ and ‘brasil’, the latter was an Irish myth usually placed in the Atlantic. It would morph into the discoveries of Pedro Álvares Cabral. When he landed in present-day Brazil in April 1500, he named the area Cape of the Holy Cross, displayed as ‘Captit Ste Cruns’ on the map. Terra da Santa Cruz was the official, original name for Brazil but the demand for Brazilwood in Europe ultimately morphed the two into one. Found all along the coast the wood produced a deep red dye which was highly sought after in Europe. It is derived from the word for ember which in Portuguese is ‘Brasa’. Also found is ‘Canibiles’ indicating the Gulf of Paria, Columbus’ landing point which he believed led to Paradise. The furthest south is ‘alto pago de S. paulo’ or the village of St. Paul. The origin of Sao Paolo?

The continent of Africa is very well depicted with extensive knowledge of the Portuguese discoveries along its coasts. Bartolomeo Dias’ voyage of 1487-88 passed the southern tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean extends to knowledge of the western coast of India. The depiction of the Indian subcontinent is considerably improved. Further east the Malay peninsula is less accurately so and the even larger one further east is a Ptolemaic relic, here at least, divorced from its prior land bridge to Africa in a southern continent. Asia is depicted with a clear eastern coast, separating it from the New World.


A study of three examples of the 1513 edition at the Library of Congress identified three different papers used. The Fleur de Lys, Crown watermarks or none at all, the latter being on inferior paper.

Provenance: private English collection for nearly 40 years. Albro, Bertonaschi, Brostoff, de Simone, France and Spaulding (2011) ‘Solving the Ptolemy Puzzle’; Baldacci (1997) pl. XXIV pp. 113-4; Brotton (2012) ‘A History of the World in Twelve Maps’ pp. 146-85; Dalche (2007) ‘The Reception of Ptolemy’s ‘Geography’, in ‘History of Cartography’ vol. 3 pt. 1, pp. 347-9; Harris (1985) ‘The Waldseemuller World Map: a Typographic Appraisal’, in ‘Imago Mundi’ 37 pp. 30-53; Harrisse (1892) p. 97; Karrow (1993) pp. 568-83, no. 80/32; Nordenskiold (1889) ‘Facsimile Atlas’ p. 19-20, 69-70; Nordenskiold (1979) no. 205.28; Pastoureau (1984) Ptolemee A.29; Schwartz (2007) ‘Putting ‘America’ on the Map’; Shirley (1993) World no. 35; Shirley (2004) T.Ptol-6a; Skelton (1966) Introduction to facsimile of 1513 Ptolemy; Stanton (1935) ‘The Admiral’s Map What Was It? And Who the Admiral?’; Stevens (1928) ‘The First Delineation of the New World and the First Use of the Name America on a Printed Map’; Suarez (1992) no. 11 & p. 56; ‘World Encompassed’ (1952) no. 56.


Orbis Typus Universalis iuxta Hydrographorum Traditionem

Strasbourg, c.1508-[13]
‘THE ADMIRAL’S MAP’ in EARLY WASH COLOUR. 440 x 580 mm., in full early wash colour, trimmed close as usual due to the map being larger than all the others in the atlas, with some loss to lower portion including the scale, some reinforcement to the centrefold due to not being published with guards, again as usual, otherwise in good condition.
Stock number: 9745
$ 135,000
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