Abraham Ortelius’ ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum’ was an instant success, and four versions of the first edition were published in 1570. ‘When it appeared, it was the most expensive book ever printed’ (Broecke). This is an example of the very rare FIRST ISSUE of the FIRST EDITION of the FIRST MODERN ATLAS. The WARDINGTON COPY. ‘I have only seen three copies for sale; one very inferior, one quite superb in a richly gilt-stamped contemporary Antwerp binding of red morocco, offered by Nico Israel, and this… I eventually paid for this by exchanging my father’s gold Frodsham repeater watch with Mr Crawford of Bobinet!’ (Wardington Catalogue).
The first issue was dated 20 May 1570 in the colophon. The succeeding three issues contain small changes including the number of names in the ‘Catalogus auctorum, text alterations etc. All were in Latin text. ‘The first copies of the Theatrum were ready in June 1570. On 17th June 1570 Ortelius delivered forty copies of the atlas to Plantin. During that year, 119 more copies of the Theatrum followed’ (van der Krogt).
Abraham Ortelius (1527-98) developed an interest in cartography, geography, and history at an early age. He began as a ‘kaarten afzetter’ (or illuminator of maps) and would purchase single maps from booksellers and colour them for re-sale, mounted on linen suitable for wall-hanging. At twenty he was entered in the Guild of St Luke at Antwerp. Ortelius travelled extensively in Europe, and maintained regular correspondence with mapmakers, historians and scientists, acquiring information which was to form his greatest opus, the ‘Theatrum Orbis Terrarum’. What made the atlas stand out as the first modern atlas was its uniformity. They were produced in a similar style and none of the ancient Ptolemaic maps were included. The atlas was accompanied a catalogue of the authors whose source Ortelius had drawn upon in compiling the work. Without this list many cartographers of the day would remain unknown to us today.
From its first appearance in 1570, the ‘Theatrum’ was far more comprehensive in scope than any contemporary work. In all, over forty different editions were published, with text in Latin, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, English or Italian, with the maps being frequently revised or replaced. By 1612, when the final edition was published, the atlas contained no less than 128 maps.
‘The first owner, William Patten, was an historian who later became a Teller of the exchequer, Receiver General of Revenue in Yorkshire and JP for Middlesex. He accompanied the expedition into Scotland with the Earl of Warwick in 1548, and from his diaries and those of William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who had also been there, he wrote his Expedicion into Scotland of the most woorthely fortunate Prince Edward, Duke of Somerset published in 1549. This was used extensively and quoted by Ralph Holinshed… The most important result of finally proving that this is Patten’s signature is the fact that it means almost certainly that the colouring is English. Most copies of the first edition are uncoloured, and those issued in the Netherlands sometimes coloured for special presentation… this copy could be the only example of early English colouring; though I am told that a copy at Hatfield is also coloured, but it is not of the 1570 edition’ (Wardington Catalogue). Provenance: William Patten (d. c. 1598), ownership inscription on title dated 1570. ‘I originally thought the name was Lattell… Christopher de Hamel suggested it might be Patten and when I compared it with signatures in the Bodleian it obviously was’ (Wardington Catalogue). Koeman (1967-70) III, Ort 1A; van der Krogt (2003) 31:001A; cf. Shirley (2004) T.ORT-1a.