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The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Mythical Geography


California As An Island

California as an Island

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The History

Perhaps the most famous geographic myth is California shown as an island. The earliest maps of North America showed California as a peninsula, based on the reports of Francisco de Ulloa who explored the Bay of California in 1539. The famous maps by Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius showed a correct depiction of California in the late sixteenth century, but that was to change early in the following century.

In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino sailed up the California coast, and Father Antonio de la Ascension wrote a journal of the voyage. Ascension claimed that California was separated from the American continent by the "mediterranean Sea of California." It is not clear where Ascension got this notion, but this claim led to the mapping of California as an island beginning in 1622 with a small map on the title page of Antonio de Herrera's Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales. The first folio maps to show this myth were by Abraham Goos' in 1624 and by Henry Brigg's in 1625. However, it wasn't until the more important commercial Dutch publishers accepted the insularity of California that this notion achieved universal acceptance. The first of these influential insular renderings was by Jan Jansson, whose map of North America from 1636 graphically displayed this myth, and this was soon followed by all other major publishers such as Nicolas Sanson, Guillaume Blaeu, Pierre Duval, and Herman Moll.

California was depicted on maps as an island for over 100 years, even after Father Kino established its penisularity about 1705. Beginning with Delisle's map of America in 1722, some cartographers began again to show a peninsular California, but many cartographers continued to depict it as an island. Finally in 1747, Ferdinand VII of Spain issued a royal edict declaring California as part of the mainland, and soon after that insular California finally disappeared from the map.


A Selection of Maps

Speed America
John Speed. "America with those parts in that unknowne worlde both people and manner of buildings Discribed and inlarged by J.S. Ano. 1626." From A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World. London: George Humble, [1626]-1627. First state. 15 1/2 x 20 1/5. Engraving by Abraham Goos. With a few light stains. Otherwise, very good condition. English text on verso. Burden: 217 (1).

The rare first state of one of the most decorative and interesting maps of North and South America from the seventeenth century. It was produced by the English cartographer John Speed (1552-1629). Speed is well known for his county maps of Great Britain, but in his Prospect of the World he issued fine maps of other parts of the globe, many of which were decorated with illustrations of native costumes and principal cities of the areas shown. This map of the western hemisphere is the most famous of this type, with views of eight cities in the Americas, as well as ten depictions of natives from the various regions, including the northern, middle and southern parts of the eastern coast of North America.

These superb decorative and historical vignettes provide a perfect frame for Speed's interesting cartographic rendering of the Americas. Considerable detail is shown in South and Central America and the eastern parts of North America, including indications of the Chesapeake, Delaware and Hudson Bays. It is for its depiction of California as an island, however, that this map is particularly famous, for this is the first atlas map upon which this misconception appeared and Speed's depiction of the island was thus a major contributing factor in the longevity of this notorious myth. The final flourishes of the map are the myriad small etched ships, sea monsters and flying fish shown in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Speed's maps were issued uncolored, though most of subsequently been colored by dealers or collectors. This is a rare example of the map as issued, and it is a classic combination of best decorative and historic aspects of antique maps. $7,500



Sanson North America
Nicolas Sanson. "Amerique Septentrionale." Paris: Mariette, [1650]-1659. Third state. 15 1/2 x 22. Engraving. Original hand color. Mark extending into image in top center and a few minor marginal blemishes. Else, very good condition. Burden #294, state 3. Denver.

This is one of the most significant maps of North America, and one of the classic California as an island map. Nicolas Sanson, known as the 'father of French cartography,' is one of the great figures in the history of cartography. Beginning his mapmaking career at the age of 18, Sanson went on to be appointed the first geographer-royal to Louis XIII of France (1640). Due to his royal position Sanson had access to the official French records of the explorations in the New World and used this information to establish himself at the forefront of the mapping of the Americas. Following the expeditions of Champlain in the 1620s, a new picture came to Europe of the interior of North America. Sanson was the first to compile this information, from Champlain and the Jesuits that followed him, into an depiction that included all five Great Lakes.

This is the map that first represented all of the lakes, and the first to name Lake Superior and Lake Ontario. The map shows the complete extent of the Jesuit exploration and mapping of the region. Besides its importance concerning the Great Lakes, this map is also significant for its depiction of the trans-Mississippi west, and its naming of the Indian tribes before the great dispersions of the 1640's and 1650's. Though erroneous, the maps graphically shows California as an island, one of the most famous myths about North America. This map established the predominant image of North America for the remainder of the 17th century. Its significance is reflected in that its original date of publication, 1650, is usually given as the date of the switch in cartographic dominance from The Netherlands to France. This is the third state of the map where Lake Ontario is now shaded like the other Great Lakes. $6,500



Speed America
John Speed. "America..." London: Thomas Bassett & Richard Chiswell, 1676. 15 1/2 x 20 1/5. Engraving by Abraham Goos. Hand coloring. Very good condition.

A nicely colored version of Speed's map of the Americas, issued in the 1676 edition of his atlas. $8,500



Coronelli Mare del Sud
Vincenzo Coronelli. "Mare Del Sud, detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico." From Atlante Veneto. Venice, 1690. Engraving. 17 3/4 x 23 7/8. Some very light stains in top corners. Overall, very good condition.

Another great map by Coronelli. This map shows the Pacific ocean and the western coast of the Americas, including a nice example of the famous cartographic myth of California as an island. To the west of this is the large, vaguely drawn "Terra De Iesso," reflecting the current unknown state of the lands to the north of Japan and west of America. Coronelli shows the 1615-1617 route of Jacob Lemaire round Cape Horn and west across the Pacific. Lemaire was the first to sail south of Tierra del Fuego, proving that it was not part of the great, unknown Southern Continent. The map is particularly interesting for its early and important depiction of Australia and New Zealand. Part of Australia, including "Nuova Hollanda" in the north and "Terra D'Antonio Diemens" (Tasmania) in the south are indicated, as is part of the western coast of New Zealand. Not realizing New Zealand's insular nature, Coronelli connects this coastline with an eastern coast, "not yet well know" which runs off towards Tierra del Fuego-part of that hypothetical southern continent. One of the landmarks maps of the region by one of the great cartographers of the seventeenth century. $2,900



Jaillot America
Alexis Hubert Jaillot after Nicholas Sanson. "Amerique Septentrionale." Paris: A. H. Jaillot, 1692. 21 5/8 x 34 3/8. Engraving by Robert Cordier. Some light, original outline color. A few light spots/worn areas and some soft creasing along centerfold. Overall, very good condition and appearance. McLaughlin California As An Island, 55-1.

A striking 17th-century map that shows the development of early modern cartography. Jaillot, in re-engraving and publishing the then less widely known work of his compatriot Nicolas Sanson, brought French cartography forward to compete with the hitherto unchallenged work of the Dutch. This beautiful map of North America illustrates the beginnings of the precise and scientific mapping associated with the French. Sanson was the first to show all five Great Lakes, which reflects Sanson's concern to get as current information as was available, and his map of 1669, upon which this is based, was the best of North America of the time. Jaillot received permission to re-engrave Sanson's maps on a larger scale and this is the first edition of his effort, following Sanson closely.

Still, many geographic misconceptions were prevalent at the time, and these are well illustrated here. Most noticeable is the depiction of California as an island, but we can also find the legendary Cibola and Quivira depicted in the interior of the continent. A non-existent mountain range crosses the middle of the continent and the equally mythical Apalache Lake resides in the southeast. West of California is a large land of Jesso, and to the north Sanson gives a strong hint at the existence of a northwest passage out of Hudson's Bay, and he also shows the alleged Frobishers Strait running through the tip of Greenland. The decorative flourishes remain strong, but they are confined to the elaborate Baroque cartouches, gracing the left side of the map. With its attractive cartouches, and curious mixture of accurate and illusionary geography, this is much a map of its time. $2,800



Moll: Cod Fish Map
Herman Moll. "To the Right Honourable John Lord Sommers...This Map of North America according to ye Newest and most Exact observations." London: H. Moll, ca. 1715. 22 3/4 x 38. Engraving. Outline color. Full margins. Very good condition. Denver.

One of Moll's impressive, very large maps issued at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This map shows North America as it was known at the time. Detail of rivers, lakes, cities, and so forth is excellent. The map is quite accurate in parts, but it is for its myriad geographic myths that the map is most interesting. To the north, Moll is quite conservative in showing the long-sought-for Northwest Passage, indicating that Hudson's Bay did not have an opening to the west and only showing the entrance of the postulated Straits of Anian. Moll is not so accurate in the middle part of the continent, where he shows Baron Lahontan's mythical geography of the Long River and the lake and river of the Mozeemleck Indians. Even more prominently Moll shows California as an island, a cartographic error that lasted over 100 years. These geographic features are nicely complimented by the large, decorative cartouches that appear above the ten inset detail maps. The title cartouche is elaborately drawn showing native Indians including an Eskimo family. Below this is an engraved view of a Cod production plant on Newfoundland. An historically and decoratively wonderful map by one of the leading cartographers of his day. $4,200



Voyages of R Crusoe
After Herman Moll. "A Map of the World on wch. Is Delineated the Voyages of Robinson Cruso." London: 1719. Engraving. 7 x 11 7/8. Some very light off-set, but very good condition.

This small world map is an unusual and scarce piece which was printed for the second volume of the first edition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The depiction of the world follows Moll's, though this map was likely not drawn by Moll himself. It follows the commonly understood depiction of the world, including a nice example of California as an island. What is of particular interest is the connection with Robinson Crusoe. A dotted line traces the fictitious voyage based on Alexander Selkirk's experiences during Dampier's voyage and "R. Crusoes I" can seen off the north coast of South America. $925



John Senex. "A New Map of America From the latest Observations." London: J. Senex, 1721. 19 x 21 7/8. Engraving by J. Harris. Attractive hand color. Full margins. Very good condition.

A striking example of the early eighteenth-century English view of the 'New World.' The basic outline of the continents is accurate, but California is shown as an island. This was a myth that had begun in the early seventeenth century and lasted until the middle of the eighteenth. By 1721, the leading scientific cartographers had reattached California to the mainland, but Senex remained conservative in his depiction. Besides this cartographic illusion, the map contains much other strange renderings in the interior of North America. The Great Lakes are shown in an unusual configuration, as is the Mississippi River system, the mouth of which is drawn entering the Gulf of Mexico just north of the Rio Grande. The nonexistent "Great Lake of Thongo or Thoya" is drawn in the northwestern part of the continent, and a long, wide river is shown running along the course of the Appalachian range and debouching into the Gulf of Mexico just west of the Florida panhandle! The interior of South America is somewhat better, but the map does include one of the greatest of all cartographic myths, viz. El Dorado shown on the shores of the equally non-existent Parime Lake. This delightful cartographic representation is complemented by a wonderful title cartouche filled with scenes of native Americans. $2,100



Homann World
Johann Baptist Homann after Johann Gabriel Dopplemayr. "Basis Geographiae Recentioris Astronomica." Nuremberg: J.B. Homann, ca. 1730. Engraving. 19 x 22 1/2. Original hand color. Very good condition.

An attractive world maps drawn by Johann Gabriel Doppelmayr. Doppelmayr was a professor of mathematics in Nuremberg and he wrote on geography, astronomy, cartography, and other mathematical subjects. He was also a globe maker and was concerned with bringing scientific ideas to the growing educated public during the Enlightenment. Towards that end he collaborated with Nuremberg cartographer Johann Baptist Homann in producing a number of excellent celestial charts and diagrams. In 1702 Homann, who was appointed Geographer to the Emperor in 1715, founded a map and globe making business, which upon his death in 1724 passed on to his son, Johann Christoph Homann and then to his heirs, who traded under the name of Homann Heirs from 1730 into the nineteenth century. This firm came to dominate German cartography and the beautiful production of this world map graphically demonstrates the appeal of the firm's output. This map shows the world based on the latest astronomical observations by Dopplemayr. The focus is on the outline of the principal landmasses, including the then known parts of Australia. The basis of Dopplemayr's rendering was the longitudinal and latitudinal measurements of major cities around the world, and these are listed in tables at top and bottom. It is interesting that this map which was so focused on an accurate portrayal of the continents would be one of the last maps to included the myth of California as an island. Along the bottom are vignette scenes of putti engages in the study of geography and astronomy. $1,800



Homann: World Clock
Johann Baptist Homann. "Geographische Universal-Zeig und Schlag-Uhr." Nuremberg: J.B. Homann, ca. 1730. 19 x 22 1/2. Engraving. Original color. Very good condition.

A fascinating map/clock issued by German cartographer, Johann Baptist Homann early in the eighteenth century. While the French and then the English generally dominated the cartographic world in that century, the Homann firm from Nuremberg, Germany was producing many influential maps and atlases. The firm was founded about 1702 by Johann Baptist Homann, who was appointed Geographer to the Emperor in 1715. This wonderful image shows a clock built by Zacharias Landteck, combining the time-telling function with a map of the world indicating the how the sun revolves and affects times and light around the globe. Text surrounding the clock explains its functioning. The map shows the northern hemisphere as it was known at the time, including the myth of California as an island. The seasons are also noted around the earth, represented by the signs of the zodiac. The clock must have been an amazing item, but this dramatic print is itself a wonderful representation of the wonderful mechanical devises being built in the early eighteenth century. $2,100



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