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Sealing the fate of 'America' as the name for the New World

Geographia Universalis, Vetus et Nova, Complectens Claudii Ptolemaei Alexandrini enarrationis libros VIII.
PTOLEMAEUS, Claudius; MUNSTER, Sebastian.
Henrichum Petrum
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300 by 205mm. (11.75 by 8 inches).


Folio (300 by 205mm). Woodcut portrait of Ptolemy, 55 double-page woodcut maps, including the map of the Americas in two states, decorated on the versos with woodcut borders by Hans Holbein, printer's device on final verso, without c6 blank, seventeenth-century gilt paneled brown morocco.

Collation: aa4 *6 a-b6 c6 (-c6) A-N6 2A-2B6 2C8 [$4 (-aa4, F4; +2C5) signed]; pp. [54], 1-156, 157-196 (misnumbering p. 69 as '96', 95 as '65', 100 as '90'; p. 140, 142, 152, 156, 174, 196 unpaginated).


This third Latin edition of Munster's Ptolemy includes a number of new maps: the first separately printed maps of England and Scandinavia, the earliest map of Africa, and significantly a set of maps of the continents for the first time, and in this copy two examples of the map of the Americas: 'Novae Insuale XVII Nova Tabula' (Burden 12, state 1, 1540), and 'Novae Insulae XXVI Nova Tabula', (Burden 12, state 2, with 'Regio Gigantum' in South America moved to the east of the small river, 1545). This is the first printed map to depict the Americas as a continent. When it appeared in Munster's 'Cosmography' in 1544, it "sealed the fate of 'America' as the name for the New World". The map also shows Japan, as 'Zipangri', in the 'Mare Pacificum', just a short distance off the west coast, and is decorated with a large galleon, a very gruesome vignette of what 'Canibali' do in South America, and the Portuguese and Spanish flags.

The new map of the world, 'Typus universalis', is on an oval projection, and is in the first state with 'Terra nova sive de Bacalhos', the mythical island north and east of North America, which refers to early Portuguese maps which report on the abundance of Cod fish in the area.

In addition to the Ptolemaic map of the world, 'Typus orbis a Ptol. Desriptus', Munster includes 26 other old maps of the world, and 27 modern ones. The inclusion of 'ancient' Ptolemaic maps served to add geographical gravitas to his work, while also emphasizing how far human knowledge had advanced.

Munster (1488-1552), already had a reputation as a grammarian, was a publisher of lexicons, and had contributed greatly to the knowledge of Hebrew by the time his many interests were synthesized in the publication of his 'Cosmographia' in 1540. Although a Franciscan monk, he became Chair of Hebrew in Basel from 1529-1552, and adopted the principles of the Reformation. Basel, with an air of scholarly humanism, an intellectual environment in harmony with his own views, supported a thriving printing industry.

Travelling extensively in his youth, Munster studied mathematics, astronomy, and chronography. With the rediscovery of Ptolemy "descriptions of the world, and the activity of producing such descriptions, became a substantial feature of the northern Renaissance; for a time, in certain areas, it seemed to assume the proportions of a 'craze', becoming an ostentatious part of the mental furniture of all educated men" (McLean, page 87). Munster made a dramatic contribution to the technology of map printing, by inserting moveable pieces of type into his woodblock maps, a cost-saving device, that allowed placenames to be changed for different language-editions, and for the correction of errors.


Provenance: 1. Thomas Estoc, a student at the Collegio Regio Cadomensi, S.J., (the Jesuit College in Caen), presentation inscription from 'Joan Cay. De Mornay' dated the 22nd of August 1683, as an enlightened prize for public speaking, on the front free endpaper, with further inscriptions by him in the margins, and in French and Latin beneath the printer's device on the last page. 2. Welsh armorial supra libros. 3. Carolus Malandain, early eighteenth-century inscription on verso of the front free endpaper. 4. Pencil trials dated 1757 on the front paste-down


Burden 12; Dr. Matthew McLean, The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster: Describing the World in the Reformation, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Jun 28, 2013