Spectacular Maps and Other Cartographic Items from Daniel Crouch Rare Books

Daniel Crouch Rare Books, the London-based merchant of maps, atlases, and other high-end cartographic items, recently released their Catalogue IV. This is a thick, 127-page tall volume offering just 25 items. Naturally, these are all very special selections. With an average of five pages each, the descriptions are thorough, the illustrations copious. For anyone who collects maps at the highest level, the catalogue is a must. Here are a few of the pieces being offered.

AE Montly

We will start with the quintessential look at the pre-Columbian world, Cosmographia, better known as the Ulm Ptolemy, the great atlas printed in 1482. It was the first atlas printed outside of Italy, and it displays the world as known for almost 1,500 years, since the age of Ptolemy. Little could its editor, Nicolaus Germanus, have known that maps that had so long stood the test of time would soon be outdated by the Age of Discovery, then just beginning to dawn. This was a much smaller world than we know today. It consisted of Europe, northern Africa, and eastern and central Asia, including India and as far as the Malay Peninsula. Newer discoveries of Iceland and Greenland make it to the corner of the world map, and a massive southern continent attached to Africa turns the Indian Ocean into a closed sea. Vasco da Gama could not have made his journey to India around the southern tip of Africa just 15 years later if he took this map too seriously. The atlas contains 32 maps. Item 2. Priced at £750,000 (British pounds, or approximately $1,190,600 in U.S. currency). 

Just as the Ulm Ptolemy was the greatest collection of pre-Columbian maps, this next item was the greatest history of the world up to that time. Item 4 is the Liber Chronicarum, better known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartman Schedel. Crouch describes it as a mixture of fact and fantasy,” starting with creation, Adam and Eve, and moving through Noah, antiquarian times, ancient Greece and Rome, and right up to the present, which in the case of this book was 1493. That was the year Columbus returned from his discovery of America, so the great explorer’s findings were not yet available to Schedel. His map is of the Ptolemaic world, to which he has added creatures at times fantastic, such as a four-eyed man and one with six arms. Imaginations ran wild in the days when no one knew what was out there beyond the horizon. The book includes 1,809 woodcut illustrations taken from 645 blocks (Schedel frequently repeated his illustrations). Among those who likely worked on the woodcuts was a young assistant named Albrecht Durer. £320,000 (US $509,500).

About 20 years later, Durer well established, he would create a woodcut image of an animal that must have looked as fanciful to Europeans as some of Schedel’s creatures, but this one was very real. This is Durer’s Rhinocervs (or Rhinoceros using today’s lettering). It is dated 1515 but was printed a few years later. In 1515, a live rhinoceros was transported from India as a gift to King Emmanuel of Portugal. Naturally, the beast was quite a sensation. The copy with the image explains that a rhinoceros can defeat an elephant in battle, the latter being defenseless to the beast’s great horn, which he rips into his opponent’s belly. King Emmanuel decided to put the theory to a test. He arranged for a fight between the rhinoceros and an elephant from his collection, but the crowd noise spooked the elephant, who fled without confrontation. By the end of the year, the King decided to make a gift of the animal to Pope Leo X in an attempt to curry favor. The rhinoceros was put on a boat, but the ship sank in a storm and the animal was lost. Durer created his image without ever seeing the rhinoceros. Durer was in Nuremberg while the animal was in Portugal. He created his woodcuts based on two drawing he received, which explains the inaccuracies in Durer’s depiction. Durer’s rhinoceros is covered with hard armorial plates, something the real animal lacks. Durer also showed a smaller second horn at the back of the neck, another feature the real beast lacks. Item 5. £55,000 (US $87,500).

Item 11 is the rare, separately issued Hondius map of the voyages of Drake and Cavendish, circa 1589–1595, Vera Totius Expeditionis Nauticae… Drake and Cavendish were the first two Englishmen to circumnavigate the globe, and numbers two and four overall. Drake was on a financial mission which proved to be most successful, even if he lost four of his five ships. Drake’s purpose was not circumnavigating the globe, but that made sense as he went to the Pacific coast of the Americas to pursue Spanish treasure (he was, in effect, a pirate, or privateer” since he had the Queen’s permission). He brought back a ton of wealth, and earned the great affection of Queen Elizabeth, who got a 50% share. However, he was required to lay low as she did not wish to offend the Spanish. If treasure was his aim, Drake is now best remembered for his visit to California, which is shown on this map. The peninsula now referred to as Baja California” is labeled California,” while to the north, in the area of today’s American state of California, is a land called New Albion” (New Britain). Drake claimed this territory north of the northernmost Spanish settlement for England, and it would be a basis of British claims for another two and one-half centuries. Drake found a bay in which to rest, repair his ship, and converse with the natives. The location of this bay remains a mystery, though the best guess appears to be a bay just north of San Francisco. Drake supposedly left a plaque, but despite a famous hoax a few decades back, it has never been found. £265,000 (US $421,500).

Item 23 is a Chart of the World…Illustrative of the Impolicy of Slavery. Published circa 1825, it shows the regions on a world map suitable for the cultivation of sugar. It is designed to show the economic disadvantages of the slave system, though moral objections were undoubtedly paramount. While England had earlier outlawed the slave trade, slaves were still used on plantations in the colonies at this time. £2,500 (US $3,975).