In this section we explore in more detail some of our favourite rare maps, atlases, and first editions of travels and voyages, as well as antique globes and scientific instruments.
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DCRB visit to the Vermeer exhibition 2023
Gathering 28 of his 37 known works, the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has brought together more of his paintings than ever before. Despite being one of the most highly anticipated and in-demand exhibitions in recent years, some of the team at DCRB were lucky enough to get a closer look at the 17th century masterpieces.
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Whether alone or in teams, for pleasure or profit, sporting or seated, games have been an ever-present feature of every civilization. With multiple participants vying to achieve a goal by following a set of rules, games provide an outlet for the natural human instinct for competition without the risk incurred in, for example, battle. Indeed throughout history, many games have served as a microcosm of war, whether that involves taking down one’s opponent’s king, as in chess, taking turns to attack and defend, seen in all sorts of games from rugby to bridge, or racing to a certain destination, be it on foot or with a counter.
Maps have always been indispensable tools of war. A clear knowledge of one’s own and one’s enemy’s territory allows leaders and rulers to strategise, plan and arrange resources around the land they strive to conquer or defend. On cartographical representations, obstacles can suddenly become obvious, as too can weak-points. In today’s world of live-mapping, frequent updates on everything from traffic to changes in the travel network have also been utilised by the military. For this reason both Apple and Google recently disabled live-mapping updates in Ukraine, so that the feature would not aid the Russian invasion.
The Thames Frost Fairs
From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, Europe experienced several periods of cooling known as Little Ice Ages. Many factors have been proposed to explain these dips in temperature, and their effects were likewise manifold. One of the most well-loved and well-documented results was the phenomenon of the Frost Fair.
Sir Gregor MacGregor, the Cazique of Poyais
In 1820, self-proclaimed Scottish nobleman Gregor MacGregor launched one of the most audacious and elaborate frauds of all time, tricking thousands of Brits into investing in “Poyais”, a territory in Central America which turned out to be entirely fictional.
The Darién Scheme
Scotland’s one and only attempt at colonisation resulted in thousands of deaths and an economic disaster that paved the way for the 1707 Act of Union.
“Good country” (Stuart): hunting for the Australian wilderness
The history of colonial exploration in Australia has often been depicted as heroic drama, by turns a tale of extraordinary good luck and terrible tragedy; extremes of fortune mirrored by the landscape, in which either “undulating grazing country”, or “stony desert” may be around the next bend.
Contagious Cartography: A Panorama of Pandemics and Plagues
The vocabulary of disease runs parallel with the language of place and space. We talk of “spread”, “dispersal” and “distribution”, of “global” pandemics, and, however inaccurately, “The Spanish Flu” and the “China Virus”. Indeed, “The Plague of Athens” 430 BC is often cited as the earliest recorded epidemic (item 1). Our view of disease can appear decidedly geographic. The word “pandemic”, however, also has Greek origins, and comes from “Pan”, meaning “all” and “Demos”, meaning “people”. This points the finger in an altogether different direction. Whilst maps and data visualization can help us to track and understand disease, it is the actions of people that determine its cause, its dissemination, and its cure.
Heute Deutschland! Morgen die Welt!
“Heute Deutschland! Morgen die Welt!” - (Germany today! Tomorrow the world!) was a popular slogan among the Nazis during their rise to power, not disguising at all their plans for world domination. The scale of this ambition is visible in the detail and the efficiency of the cartography of the Third Reich, and was made explicit with a series of maps related to Germany’s projected global empire.
The Legacy of Charles Booth
Charles Booth (1840–1916)
A composite atlas of Italy with the arms of the father of three kings of France
Louis, Dauphin of France was the only surviving son of King Louis XV and the father of three kings of France
Charting the course for Queen Victoria’s Royal Yacht
A glass-fronted chart case and set of charts from Queen Victoria’s Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert (II)
A magnificent portolan atlas by Battista Agnese in its original binding
Inscribed and attributed to Agnese by the eminent bibliographer Henry Harisse