The Michigan State University Map Library now has on display three copper plates used to make the 1912 USGS topographic map of the Lansing, Michigan area. “From the 1880s to the 1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey used engraved copper plates in the process of printing topographic and geographic quadrangle maps. Copper alloy engraving plates were inscribed with a mirror image of the points, contour lines, symbols, and text that constitute a topographic map. Each plate was inscribed with details for a single color of ink.” [via]
The National Library of Scotland has an online map viewer that overlays georeferenced old maps atop a modern web map interface (Bing, I believe). Among my crowd, it’s the various 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of London that generate the most excitement, though there are plenty of other locales (mostly but not exclusively in the U.K.) and time periods.
The Hunt-Lenox Globe, a five-inch engraved copper globe dating from the early 1500s, is one of the earliest surviving globes, one of the earliest depictions of the New World and one of only two places where the phrase hic sunt dracones (“here be dragons”) can be found. It’s held by the New York Public Library, who are justly proud of it. They’ve received a grant to produce a 3D scan of the globe; once that’s finished, the 3D model will be available online. In the meantime, here are some other images of the Hunt-Lenox Globe from the NYPL. [via]
NPR and the Washington Post report a fascinating story of how a rare atlas was identified in an unlikely fashion: being posted to Reddit. Last month, reference librarian Anders Kvernberg stumbled across an uncatalogued atlas in the vaults of the National Library of Norway. He could make out that it was an Ottoman atlas from 1803, but not much more than that, since he couldn’t read Ottoman Turkish. He did scan and post one of its maps to Reddit, where Redditors went to work translating the text. Then, a couple of weeks later, another Redditor posted an Ottoman map of Africa, which was identified as part of the Cedid Atlas (Cedid Atlas Tercümesi), published in Istanbul in 1803. The Library of Congress has a copy, which it acquired in 1998, digitized, and put online. Kvernberg went and looked—and, he says, “started recognising the scans. Then I realized this was the very same atlas I had held in my hands a few weeks earlier.” The Cedid Atlas was rare: only 50 were printed, and only 14 were known to be held in public institutions. It turns out that the National Library of Norway has the 15th. [via]
On New Year’s Eve The Arts Newspaper reported on the British Library’s efforts to digitize the 50,000 maps and plans that make up the King George III Topographical Collection. (George III was apparently quite the map collector, one not above choosing not to return maps he borrowed.) They’re about a quarter of the way through so far. The collection’s crown jewel, so to speak, is the ludicrously large (176 × 231 cm) Klencke Atlas.
Yesterday the New York Public Library made available high-quality downloads of some 180,000 public-domain photographs, postcards, maps and other items from its digital collection—of which more than 21,000 are maps, based on my quick search. I can see spending an awful lot of time poking around in there, can’t you?
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well-known and well-connected map dealer, an expert who helped build the Slaughter and Leventhal map collections. Then in 2005 he was caught—on videotape—stealing maps from Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Libraries he had frequented scrambled to check their own holdings and found additional maps missing. Smiley, who cooperated with the authorities, would eventually be sentenced to 3½ years for stealing nearly 100 maps from the British, Boston Public, New York Public, Harvard and Yale libraries, among others. The libraries believed he stole many more.
With The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents a book-length exploration of the Forbes Smiley affair, which stunned map collectors and map libraries alike in 2005. Its publication, coming nine years after Smiley’s arrest and four years after his release from prison, is something of an anticlimax, especially for those of us who followed the case so closely as it unfolded (I blogged about it more than 60 times, myself).
Map thieves fascinate us, even if they themselves are not that fascinating (see, for example, the essential blandness of Gilbert Bland, the subject of a previous book about map thefts, Miles Harvey’s Island of Lost Maps), because of what they steal. As stolen goods, antique maps are a curiosity: like art, but more stealable, because there are few copies, not just one.
In 2005 and 2006 my map blog, The Map Room, was full of posts about one E. Forbes Smiley III, who had been caught stealing rare maps from the Beinecke Library at Yale University. As is often the case with map thieves, Smiley was found to be responsible for many other map thefts from other libraries, and suspected in other thefts. Smiley was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (I posted a lot about the Smiley case: see The Map Room’s Map Thefts category archives.)
I knew there would have to be a book on the Smiley case at some point, and one is coming out next month: The Map Thief, whose author, Michael Blanding, has managed to interview Smiley himself, and promises new information about the case. I’m really looking forward to seeing how well Blanding has managed to tell this particular tale, which consumed so much of my attention seven or eight years ago.