17 June 2013
I was thumbing through some old Map Library invoices the other day in order to answer a reader enquiry about the provenance of a map we purchased, back in those heady days of 1891.
The quantity of invoices from the 1890s shows that the Map Library (formed in 1867) was extremely active in purchasing material from the map and book trade. Not just modern, up to date mapping, but historical mapping too, as the invoices show. An Ortelius atlas here (1570), a Hondius atlas there (1638), interspersed among then 'modern’ multi-sheet large scale sheet maps.
It is a really important period, because not only was the discipline of geography then developing into the modern academic university subject we recognise today, but old maps (as opposed to contemporary maps of 'classical geography') were becoming recognised as having value as historical sources.
I know the maps on this invoice very well. Dated 20th January, 1891, it lists a number of Dutch 17th century sea charts, including one by Willem Blaeu of 1625, printed onto vellum (Maps S.T.7.), and another map of 1784 which we included in the Magnificent Maps exhibition back in 2010. This is Buell's map of the USA, in fact the first map of the independent USA, and the first produced by somebody from the USA. There are still only seven known copies in the world.
It was purchased from a Dutch dealer called Frederick Muller. Muller was also a scholar, an author, a map enthusiast, and thus an important figure in the development of the history of cartography (see Harley, History of Cartography vol. I , chapter 1, pp. 15-17). A descendant of Muller's is in the same business today. I saw their stand at the London Antiquarian Book Fair last week, along with a great many other antiquarian and rare book and print sellers. London is traditionally buzzing in June. A week earlier, the London Map Fair had taken place at that most venerable institution the Royal Geographical Society (which, let us not forget, has its own historical and integral collection of maps and views).
You may have heard the organiser of the map fair Tim Bryars, a historian in his own right, speaking about maps on the Today programme and Robert Elms show last week. Also at the fair, head of Cartographic & Topographical Materials our own Peter Barber gave a lecture on the ‘Cartomania of George III,’ describing our fundraising project for the digitisation and full cataloguing of the King’s Topographical Collection. And as well as the projects, possibilities and enthused map chat, there was even a purchase or two for the national map collection.