“French prosecutors on Thursday sought prison terms of up to seven years for a group of Hungarians on trial over accusations they stole rare maps worth millions of euros from a string of French libraries,” Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (Expatica France, The Local). The group of seven reportedly cut maps from books in libraries in cities like Lille, Nancy and Toulouse; they were caught when one of them was stopped by Hungarian customs officials. We usually talk about map thieves as single, even singular individuals, but a gang of map thieves? Move aside, Smiley. [Tony Campbell/WMS]
Another one in French. Last month, Radio-Canada had the story of a manuscript map of the St. Lawrence River that was recently acquired by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The 18th-century map takes three sheets to trace the course of the St. Lawrence from the Ottawa River to Anticosti Island, and the BANQ’s map librarians have concluded that it’s the work of French philosophe and cartographer Jean-Nicolas Bellin. The map can be viewed on the BANQ’s website, which those who can’t read French should be able to manage. [WMS]
The general consensus is that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery, not a pre-Columbian 15th-century map showing Norse explorations of North America. That doesn’t seem to stop Yale University from continuing to study the map, which is held in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The map is being subjected to a battery of non-destructive tests to provide better and more precise physical data about its parchment and ink. The results will be published in a forthcoming book edited by Raymond Clemens, who for the record does not believe the map is authentic. (Neither do I, for what it’s worth.) [GeoLounge]
The Vinland Map is also being put on display for the first time in half a century. It’ll be at the Mystic Seaport’s R. J. Schaefer Gallery in Mystic, CT from 19 May to 30 September.
The definitive book on the Vinland Map, though it may have been overtaken by later investigations and claims, is Kristin A. Seaver’s Maps, Myths, and Men: The Story of the Vinland Map (Stanford University Press, 2004).
The Texas A&M University Libraries has acquired a rare copy of Stephen F. Austin’s 1830 map of Texas. Called “the first map of Texas printed in the United States” and “the first meaningful map of Texas” (presumably there’s an earlier map of Coahuila y Tejas out there), only eight copies of the 1830 edition are known to survive. (Above is a scan of the Library of Congress’s copy.) The map will be on temporary display from today through May 4th and will be the centrepiece of a future exhibition. KBTX-TV, press release. [Tony Campbell]
In April 2017, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh made a shocking discovery in the course of a routine insurance appraisal of its rare book holdings in the library’s main Oakland branch: some 314 rare books, folios, maps and plates were missing. News of the thefts was finally made public last month: see coverage from CBS Pittsburgh, Hyperallergic, Library Journal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Smithsonian magazine, among others. The police do have suspects in the thefts, which had apparently taken place over a long period of time; the total value of the stolen items is around $5 million. A full list of the stolen items (PDF) has been posted, and includes maps by Hondius, Jefferys, Ogilby and Ortelius, as well as two copies of the Italian translation of Ptolemy’s Geography. Make no mistake: as thefts of rare maps and books go, this is a staggeringly large incident. [Tony Campbell]
An exhibition of astronomical maps and illustrations opened this week at the Osher Map Library in Portland, Maine. Art of the Spheres: Picturing the Cosmos since 1600 is, at least in its online version, divided into two categories: Works of Scientific Investigation features chromolithographs of various astronomical phenomena, the moon, planets and deep sky objects from The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings (1881); Popular and Pedagogic Works includes celestial globes, charts and other graphical representations of the universe. Runs until 6 October.
It’s International Women’s Day, and the British Library is taking a moment to mark the life of Helen Wallis (1924-1995), who headed the Library’s map collections between 1967 and 1986.
Helen Wallis was one of the leading figures in map librarianship who pioneered the study of cartography. She was the first woman to hold the position of Map Librarian, following on from her predecessor R.A. Skelton (1906-1970) in 1967. Over 19 years she made the British Library the centre for map studies through research, publications and exhibitions including the Cook bicentenary exhibition of 1968, the American War of Independence exhibition of 1975 and the Francis Drake exhibition of 1977.
A research fund for visiting scholars has also been set up in her name; details at the link.
More on the cancelled auction of the Waldseemüller globe gores from Minneapolis-St. Paul TV station KARE, which looks at the work by the James Ford Bell Library that raised questions about the authenticity of the gores that Christie’s was set to auction last week. And a seriously buried lede: another set of Waldseemüller globe gores may not be authentic either: “During this process, experts also discovered that a copy at the Bavarian State Library in Germany may not be authentic, as well. Ragnow said that copy matches closely with the 2017 Christie’s one.” [WMS]
The Library of Congress has acquired the Codex Quetzalecatzin, an extremely rare 1593 Mesoamerican indigenous manuscript that depicts, using Nahuatl hieroglyphics and pre-contact illustrative conventions as well as Latin characters, the lands and genealogy of the de Leon family. John Hessler’s blog post describes the codex and helps us understand its significance.
Like many Nahuatl codices and manuscript maps of the period it depicts a local community at an important point in their history. On the one hand, the map is a traditional Aztec cartographic history with its composition and design showing Nahuatl hieroglyphics, and typical illustrations. On the other hand, it also shows churches, some Spanish place names, and other images suggesting a community adapting to Spanish rule. Maps and manuscripts of this kind would typically chart the community’s territory using hieroglyphic toponyms, with the community’s own place-name lying at or near the center. The present codex shows the de Leon family presiding over a large region of territory that extends from slightly north of Mexico City, to just south of Puebla. Codices such as these are critical primary source documents, and for scholars looking into history and ethnography during the earliest periods of contact between Europe and the peoples of the Americas, they give important clues into how these very different cultures became integrated and adapted to each others presence.
Cartografías de lo desconocido persigue dos objetivos. Primero, hacer que el espectador se fije más en el mapa y menos en el territorio, pues sucede a menudo que el mapa—como cualquier buen truco de magia—suele esfumarse, tiende a borrar las convenciones visuales y espaciales sobre las que se apoya para susurrarle al espectador y mostrarle con aparente trivialidad: “Usted está aquí”, “así es la Tierra”, “este es su país”.
Sin embargo, nada es lo que parece. Por eso, en segundo lugar, queremos ofrecerle al visitante un recorrido por algunos de los recursos y los temas más frecuentes en esta historia del conocimiento y el ilusionismo, cómo han gestionado los mapas la información improbable, las novedades, los hechos inciertos, las regiones ignotas, los fenómenos invisibles.
McMaster University’s Daily News has a piece on a large-scale map of Vimy Ridge—a World War I battle fought by Canadian troops that has since entered the national folklore—that reproduced from McMaster’s extensive collection of trench maps. The map, created by Canadian Geographic and 17 × 13 feet in size, is currently on display in the foyer of the university’s Mills Library, but it’s been on tour for at least the past year: the Vimy Ridge map is one of several giant floor maps produced by Canadian Geographic’s education division; each can be booked for a three-week loan period. [WMS]
Meridian, an “experiment” from the DX Lab at the State Library of New South Wales, overlays old maps onto virtual, 3D interactive globes. Two globes have been created to date—one based on the 1706 Miranda world map (previously), the other on a set of Coronelli globe gores from 1693—with more in the works. Details here. [Cartophilia]
The National Library of Australia’s fragile copy of Joan Blaeu’s Archipelagus Orientalis, sive Asiaticus (1663) has now been restored. (I told you about the fundraising campaign for its conservation, and its trip to the University of Melbourne to begin conservation work, back in May 2016.)
It took over one thousand hours for the 11 person team at the Grimwade Centre to painstakingly restore the 354-year-old map.
“Normally we’d only dedicate one or two people to a conservation project, but this was a very special object, and it was significantly more difficult to conserve than most of our projects.
“The surface was very fragile and there were a lot of complications along the way.
“We thought we were just removing varnish, but we discovered a dirty layer underneath which meant we had four passes at each square on the gridded map—of which there were around 300.”
There’s a video of the conservation process:
And if you need a reminder of what the map looked like before restoration:
A rare Braille globe held by the Queensland State Library is being digitized so as to create a 3D-printed replica. The globe, invented by Richard Frank Tunley in the 1950s, is one of the last copies still in existence and is in poor physical shape—problematic for something designed to be touched. That’s where the replica comes in. It’s funded by the library foundation’s crowdfunding initiative, which will also help fund the original globe’s restoration. ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald. Media release. [ANZMapS]