Stevens Brown mapStevens Brown mapThe fundamental factor that brought maps into the JCB collection was that the discovery and exploration of the New World were primarily a series of geographical events, and the cartographic and written records through which Europeans learned of the unknown parts of the world ran parallel to one another. The total number of maps in the John Carter Brown Library collection isn’t accurately known, but separate maps numbered 1,200 at last count. There are approximately three hundred fifty atlases containing varying numbers of maps, and about ten per cent, or 4,000, of our rare books contain maps, but we have no way to determine exactly how many maps are in individual volumes. Our working estimate is 35,000-40,000 maps total.

We are adding maps from the collection to our image database, Early Maps | The John Carter Brown Library

Separately-Published Maps

In the nineteenth-century, when John Carter Brown began to collect, maps were often seen as a risky business because the lack of an extensive carto-bibliographical literature made it difficult to be certain of what one was buying.  Now, the Library has more than half of the separately published maps listed in J. C. Wheat and C. F. Brun’s cartobibliography, Maps and charts published in America [i.e. United States] before 1800 (New Haven, 1969) and a strong collection of maps of North and South American focus issued in the publishing centers of Europe throughout our collecting period. 

Scull and HeapScull and HeapThese maps and charts document the attempts of Europeans and European colonists to delineate the geography and the events unfolding in their back yards as well as in the farther reaches of the continents of North and South America.  Events of the French and Indian War were documented by Samuel Blodgett’s Prospective plan of the battle near Lake George (Boston, 1755).  The Scull and Heap Map of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1752) was the first map of Philadelphia to be engraved and printed there, and shows the city as it was seventy years after its founding.  Cyprian Southack’s  A new chart of the English Empire in North America (Boston, 1717), the first map to be engraved on copper and published in North America, warned English colonists of French encroachment on their outlying communities.  John Fitch’s Map of the Northwest parts of the United States of America (1785) was the first map to highlight settlement possibilities in the newly-conceived Northwest Territory.  The cartographer/surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon’s Plan of the boundary lines between Pennsylvania and Maryland (Philadelphia, 1768) could be considered as an emblem of the often problematic geographical and cultural division of the north and south parts of what is now the United States.  Many significant large-scale maps of the Americas were published in Europe and reflected, with an overseas perspective, the several government economic and military interests in New World territories, from fishing areas in the far north, to trading and plantation opportunities in the West Indies, to the lure of unknown wealth in the Amazon and the Orinoco, and everything else in between.  Augustine Herrman’s Virginia and Maryland (London, 1673), was the basic map of the Chesapeake Bay area for more than a century.  Robert Baker’s New and exact map of the island of Antigua (London, 1748/49), the first large-scale (2 inch) map of the island, shows boundaries, roads, plantations and their owners, and is a rich resource for historians of the Caribbean.   Miguel Costanso’s Carta reducida del Oceano Asiatico, o Mar del Sur (Madrid, 1771) is a fundamental source for the mapping of the coast of California, while to the south, the impressive, eight-sheet map of South America by Juan de la Cruz Cano y Olmedilla published in Madrid in 1776 (and immediately suppressed) presented a more accurate view of that continent than any contemporary map could offer for North America.  

Camocio mapCamocio mapOften, maps were issued both as separates and in atlases, a practice particularly in evidence in Italian publishing centers during the 16th and 17th centuries, often called the “golden age” of Italian cartography.  The information that filtered back from Italian-sponsored voyages of discovery was given shape by engravers who had honed their skills in the Italian metal trades and was disseminated by publishers who answered the need of a public hungry for new information about the world and its possibilities.  Between 1957 and 1960 Library received a major collection of Italian maps of American interest from George L. Beans of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a collector and specialist in early Italian cartography.  These maps reflect the rapidly developing understanding of the physical world as well as the primary geographical debates of the day. 

Sometimes separate maps were gathered together by their owners and bound for convenience in so-called “made-up” atlases or atlases “factice.”  In 1911 the  Library acquired what is now called the Blathwayt Atlas, a group of separately-issued maps of English overseas possessions gathered together by William Blathwayt, secretary for the Lords of Trade and Plantations, sometime before 1683.  Many of these maps were of exceptional importance in and of themselves, but taken together the volume amounts to the first “management tool” of British Empire.

Maps in Books and Atlases

Maps that were issued in books and atlases in the JCB collection are of the first importance in the history of the expanding world and the mapping of the western hemisphere.  The 1493 Basel edition of the Columbus letter includes the first printed attempt to depict any part of America in a cartographic form.  The earliest published map devoted exclusively to Africa appears in Montallboddo’s Itinerarum Portugallesium, Milan, 1508.  Among the earliest of John Carter Brown’s purchases was the second letter from Hernan Cortés of 1524 with the first printed map of Mexico City and the Caribbean, and the French newsletter, Coppie d’une letter venant de la Floride (1565), which contains a plan of Fort Caroline built by French Huguenots near present-day Jacksonville, Florida, the earliest known printed plan of a European settlement in what is now the United States.  The maps in Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages of 1613 and 1632 are as fundamental to the history of the cartography of New France as the maps of Virginia and New England in Captain John Smith’s various writings are for the first English colonies in North America

As early as 1841 John Carter Brown purchased a 1570 edition of Ortelius’s Theatrum orbis terrarum.  The Library now has twenty-two editions of this cartographer’s work.  The Rome, 1508 edition of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geographia includes the fan-shaped world map of Johannes Ruysch that at the time it was acquired in 1846 was the earliest known printed map to show America.  Today the Library has forty-seven editions of Ptolemy.  The principal cartographic collecting emphasis of John Carter Brown’s son and heir, John Nicolas Brown, was atlases.  His last purchase, two weeks before his death in 1900, was the 1477 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, the first to include maps.  The first edition of Mercator acquired for the collection, the Atlas minor of 1651, was bought in 1866.  Today the Library has ten editions of his work including the important Atlas sive cosmographicae of 1598.