Monday, May 11, 2015

20th Century Pictorial Maps

Maps have long had a pictorial element to them. Maps can, of course, be fairly “cartographic” in appearance, using lines, dots, contour lines, and other symbols, but for centuries other maps have been more illustratively graphic.

Pictorial images have been scattered about their surface from as early as fifteenth and sixteen century portolan maps, with vignettes of walled cities, to the putti of Dutch seventeenth century maps, to the elaborate title cartouches of the eighteenth century.

Other maps have been themselves pictorial, for the image was designed to look like some object such as a person or creature. The Leo Belgicus maps from the seventeenth century are among the most famous of these, but there are many others were made over the years.

A new type of pictorial map, though, made its appearance about the second decade of the 20th century. These pictorial maps added a pictographic element to the underlying cartographic rendering, adding a visual narrative onto the geographic background. Rather than having small, illustrative images as an adjunct to the main map, the vignettes became much more the heart of the maps.

These maps were produced not so much to present a topographical image, but provide an informative and amusing picture of a place with the cartography providing the stage for the main roles played by the pictorial illustrations. These maps were usually drawn by illustrative artists for commercial or commemorative purposes. They were used to promote tourism, advertise products or companies, illustrate news events, or other similar non-geographic purposes. These maps were designed to appeal to the eye and mind, adding colorful vignettes, text and often a humorous element.

While issued in large numbers, these maps were ephemeral and so they are often quite uncommon. Many important American graphic artists, such as Ernest Dudley Chase and Jo Mora, created these maps, each developing his own style. Since the turn of the millennium, these maps have become increasingly collectible, with some maps reaching the four figure mark, though on the whole they remain much less expensive. For those interested in collecting maps which are still surprisingly affordable, these are a great choice.

The Rocky Mountain Map Society is featuring 20th century maps, including pictorial maps, as part of its 2015 Map Month. This year, the RMMS is working with both Denver Public Library and the University of Denver, both of which are holding major exhibitions of these maps through the end of June 2015. The exhibit at Denver Public Library focuses on 20th century maps from the collection of the Western History Department and the exhibit at University of Denver is exclusively about pictorial maps, showing wonderful images from a local, private collection. Both are well worth a visit if you are in Denver between now and the end of June.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Of all the legends relating to America, perhaps the most recognizable myth concerns “the search for El Dorado.” While this phrase is very familiar, the actual story behind the hunt of El Dorado is not. This myth is one of my particular favorites, for it has all the elements of a great story—-mystery, riches, adventures, madness, deaths--and to my delight, maps.

The myth of El Dorado started in the early sixteenth century as the search for “El Hombre Dorado,” that is, the golden man. By 1540, the Spanish in America very much had gold on their minds, and no wonder. In Cuba they had heard tales of a rich kingdom on the mainland of North America, and when Hernán Cortés went there in 1519, he discovered and conquered the immensely rich Aztec Kingdom. Just a few years later, the Spanish in the newly subjugated territory heard of another rich kingdom to south, and Francisco Pizarro soon discovered and conquered the also immensely wealthy kingdom of the Incas. After those two tales of rich kingdoms proved so fruitful, who among the Spanish would be lax in following up any subsequent rumors? Such a story soon appeared, that of El Hombre Dorado, and this led to one of the most horrific, bizarre and unending searches for riches in the history of the Americas.

The story of the golden man began in the Columbian highlands, fairly near present-day Bogota. There are a number of explanations of the true basis for this legend, but they all concern the Muisca Indians of the central Colombian plateau in the area of Lake Guatavita. There seems to have been some sort of religious ceremony concerning a Muisca chief, the lake and gold. One story had this chief coating his body with gold dust and then bathing in the lake, an event shown by Theodor De Bry (engraving illustrated above) and also supposedly depicted in the famous gold Muisca Raft. There does seem to have been some sort of ceremony involving the Muisca and gold, but whatever its factual basis, when the story of a golden man reached the Spanish about 1541, it set off a long series of searches for El Hombre Dorado.

A number of Spanish conquistadors set off in 1541 and did make it up to the area of Lake Guatavira, even attempting to drain the lake to find any gold under its waters. Using their typical methods of persuasion—-including torture—-the Spanish tried to get the Muisca to show them the gold. There was some gold in the area, but not nearly enough to convince the Spanish that they had found the true El Hombre Dorado. Finally the Muisca realized that the only way to get rid of the gold-crazed Spanish was to send them away by telling them, in effect, “Oh, that El Hombre Dorado. Yes, we know where he is, over the mountains that way....”

For the next half century, the search for El Hombre Dorado worked its way slowly across the northern part of South America, from the Colombia highlands, down into the Amazonian basin, working ever eastward. Time and again, the Spanish would arrive in an area that they had been told was the location of El Hombre Dorado, only to find none of the riches they sought even after “questioning” the locals, and then to be told, “Oh, that El Hombre Dorado. He resides over that way...”

A number of major expeditions went in search of this myth, including Francisco Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana in 1541 and Lope de Aquirre in 1560, wasting much effort, expenses, and hundreds of lives, both natives and Spanish. The huge effort and costs expended on the search and the horrors experienced made this legend one of the most powerful of American history. A nice depiction of the madness which consumed the Spanish is Werner Herzog’ movie, “Aquirre, the Wrath of God.”

At some point, the story began to morph in its content as well as location, for the search began to focus on a rich kingdom or city, rather than a man, the legend becoming that of simply “El Dorado.” One man who accepted as true this form of the legend was Antonio de Berrio, who believed the city lay in the Guiana Highlands. Berrio started to search there in 1584 and he heard from the Indians that there was a large lake south of the Orinoco River that was so large it took them three days to paddle across it, and upon the shores of which lay a rich city, that is, of course, El Dorado. He tried several times to find the city, eventually becoming convinced it lay up the Caroni River, a branch of the Orinoco. Berrio was unable to ascend the river, but his delusion was fully confirmed when he met a man named Juan Martinez (aka Juan Martin de Albujar).

Martinez had been on a ship sailing on the Caroni River when its gunpowder exploded. Martinez, blamed for the accident, was left behind as punishment. He eventually made it back to Spanish settlements, claiming that he had been rescued by friendly Indians who took him to a city called Manoa, where the palace was made of gold. He further claimed he was given great riches when he left, but that they were stolen from him on his return trip. Thus it was that El Hombre Dorado now became the city of Manoa, or El Dorado, located on a large lake in the interior of Guiana.

At this time another famous figure makes his appearance in our story, Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh set sail from England in 1595, in order to discover “a better Indies for her Majestie [that is Queen Elizabeth] then the King of Spain has any.” Ralegh captured Sa Jose on Trinidad in April 1595 and took Antonio de Berrio captive. Ralegh had heard rumors of El Dorado and was able to convince Berrio to tell him all he knew of this legendary city, a story which Ralegh bought into totally.

Ralegh wanted to convince the Queen to conquer Guiana so he published a report, The Discovery of a Large, Rich and Beautiful Empire of Guiana in 1596. This included a full description of Manoa/El Dorado, conflating many of the old stories about El Dorado. About the same time Ralegh produced a map of northern South America showing the large lake, now named as Lake Parima, and the city of Manoa.

After Queen Elizabeth died, her successor, James I, who immune to Ralegh’s charms, threw Sir Walter into the Tower of London. Ralegh petitioned James to get out so he could go find El Dorado and make the monarch rich. James was convinced enough to allow Ralegh out on this mission, but only on the condition that he not get into a fight with the Spanish. Ralegh set off for South America in 1617, and through a series of misfortunes, including battles with the Spanish resulting in the death of his son, returned to England a failure. James threw him back into prison and soon thereafter, at the urging of the King of Spain, Ralegh was beheaded; one of the last deaths directly related to the legend of El Dorado.

Though his search for the fabled golden city failed, Ralegh did manage to put El Dorado on the map. Based on Ralegh’s book, Joducus Hondius, Sr., Theodor De Bry, and Levinus Hulsius all issued maps by the end of the sixteenth century showing Lake Parime with Mano or El Dorado on its shores.

The lake and its golden city continued to appear in the seventeenth century, changing shape and with Manoa moving around a bit.

In the eighteenth century, the lake began to be called into question. Some of the more scientifically inclined (and skeptical) cartographers such as Vincenzo Maria Cornonelli and Guillaume Delisle either showed the lake with notes calling it into question, or didn’t show the lake, but included notes mentioning its possible existence.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Manoa was pretty much forgotten and “El Dorado” had simply become a phrase meaning hopeless quest. Manoa/El Dorado soon disappeared from most maps, though interestingly, Lake Parima, which was simply one more fictional element of the El Dorado myth, did not disappear along with the city. This was an excellent example of how once some location—-real or fictional—-appears “on the map” it tends to stay on the map.

In the early nineteenth century, the famous German explorer and scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, went looking for Manoa and Lake Parima, concluding that neither had any basis in fact. His prestige was such that this tended to remove Lake Parima from many maps, but the lake did continue to appear on others well into the century.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Map of Paris by Vince Szilagyi

One of my favorite jobs at the shop is trying to determine the origins and history behind the maps and prints in our inventory. Recently we acquired a wonderful map of Paris that took me on quite a journey to figure out its bizarre and interesting history.

This is the wonderful and bright folding map of Paris we recently acquired from a collector. The first thing I do when dating maps of Paris is look at the size of the city itself. For much of its modern history, Paris was a much smaller city surrounded by a ring of well-to-do suburbs like Montmartre and Issy. Then in 1860 as part of Georges-Eugene Haussmann's famous plan to redesign Paris, Emperor Napoleon III annexed these suburbs and dramatically increased the size of the city. This map shows Paris with its pre-1860 borders, with some of Haussmann's early improvements like the Bois de Boulogne Park.

Everything about this map’s depiction of Paris, from its boundaries to its railroads, places it between 1856 and 1860, except for one. This map also includes the Eiffel Tower, which was not designed, let alone built until the late 1880s! An explanation for this strange historical juxtaposition can be found with a little digging. It is most likely the lithographic stone that was used to produce this map was originally made to show the changes in the city of Paris Haussman had completed in the late 1850s. However, when city of Paris annexed the surrounding suburbs this map became severely out of date, as it now only showed a fraction of the city's size and attractions. This stone was probably shelved and a new one created that showed the new extent of the city. Most old lithographic stones that were obsolete were eventually redrawn or recycle into something new.

However, this old stone likely got a new life thanks to the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The 1889 World’s Fair was hugely popular and millions of people flooded into Paris to join the festivities. This also created a huge market for maps of Paris that these travelers could use. It was this demand that could have brought new life to the old 1850's lithographic stone we mentioned earlier. Seeking to capitalize on the new demand for Parisian maps, the British publishing company of Charles Smith & Son most likely bought the old 1850s lithographic stone of Paris and simply updated it by adding in the fairgrounds and the Eiffel Tower. Evidence supporting this addition is the fact that while all the other Parisian attractions shown on this map are outlined in heavy black and have light red and green coloring, the Eiffel Tower and fairgrounds are in a very light outline and have no color. This would seem to suggest that these were added to the map at a different time than the rest of the attractions.

Further supporting this idea is the fact that the Tower depicted on the map looks slightly, but noticeably different from how it appears in real life. Smith & Son most likely based their depiction of the Tower off of the numerous sketches of how the yet unfinished tower was supposed to look, rather than waiting for it to actually be completed. This sort of situation was not wholly unusual in 19th century mapmaking, but it certainly resulted in a wonderfully weird map that I personally had never seen before.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meat Extract and Chromolithography

A rather unusual juxtaposition of subjects, but one which is delightfully represented in a set of six cards issued by the Liebig Meat Extract Company in the late nineteenth century.

Baron Justus von Liebig was a German chemist of considerable note, considered one of the founders of organic chemistry. Concerned about providing inexpensive nutrition for Europe’s poor, he invented a method for producing extract from cattle carcasses, supposedly preserving the flavors and nutrients of the beef. The cost for the process proved considerable, but a young Belgian, George Christian Giebert, came up with a feasible plan to produce the extract in Uruguay, where land and cattle were plentiful.

In 1865, Liebig and Giebert formed the Liebig Meat Extract Company, with its factory in Uruguay, and it went on to great success. Not only did the company make its meat extract a popular item for kitchens throughout the world, but it also introduced both Oxo meat extract and beef stock cubes, not to mention Marmite (which I think is pretty awful, but which my wife loves!).

In 1872, the company started to issue promotional trading cards on all sorts of subjects, usually issued in sets of six cards on one topic. They were produced initially in lithography, then chromolithography, and finally offset printing. These cards were hugely popular and supposedly by the time Liebig stopped producing them in 1975, they had produced over 10,000 different cards!

The early chromolithographed cards are the most collectible and I was surprised and delighted when I came across a set of the Liebig cards on the subject of chromolithography. Chromolithography is a printmaking process, developed by the late 1830s, where a colored subject was produced by using multiple lithographic stones, each using a different color ink. The Liebig set, “Les Phases de la Fabircation d’un Chromo Liebig,” shows all the steps in making a Liebig trading card set. Included is a wonderful demonstration of the process, showing the development of a portrait of Liebig through six stages from just two stones to the finished image having used twelve stones.

Card 1: The first card shows the artist composing the subject in his studio. He is drawing a water color onto a sheet of paper, carefully working on an image of the exact size of the intended print. The portrait of Liebig is printed in gold and yellow and is barely visible.

Card 2: This card shows the quarrying of the limestone to be used for making the prints. Though many different stones were tested, it was limestone from Solnhofen in Bavaria which proved to be the best. The portrait of Liebig now has had red and blue ink added, and the visage is beginning to appear more distinctly.

Card 3: This image shows the process of transferring the image to the multiple lithographic stones to be used. The explanation on the verso explains that an outline of the image is transferred, in an inverted manner, to each stone which has been polished with pumice powder. That part of the image appropriate to the color for each stone is then added to that stone for a total of twelve stones. Liebig’s portrait is now quite visible, having been printed with six colors.

Card 4: This card shows the testing of the stones. Each stone is cleaned with nitric acid, so that the ink will not adhere to the stone except where the image has been drawn on it. Then the stones are tested, and the different colors combined onto sample images in sequence, working from the lightest to the darkest ink colors. Liebig’s portrait now appears with 8 colors having been used.

Card 5: Once the test stones are perfected, the final images are printed on a rotary press, being compared with the test images. Other than the placing of the paper on the press, this process is all automated. The portrait of Liebig is now almost finished, with 10 colors having been printed.

Card 6: This shows the cards being cut from the larger sheets and then packed. The portrait, with 12 stones used, is complete.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Maps of Ireland and the Black Irish

The term “Black Irish” is usually used to describe Irish who have dark features, black hair and dark eyes (in contrast to the more “typical” stereotype of the fair skinned, blue eyed and blond or red headed Irish). The Black Irish are generally found in western Ireland. There are a number of explanations of the origin of the Black Irish, but my favorite has to do with maps!

In 1588, the Spanish Armada was beaten badly by the English and were driven out of the English Channel to the east. Fearing trying to run the gauntlet by returning through the Channel, the surviving ships of the Armada sailed north, around Scotland, planning to head west, then south back to Spain.

The ships turned south too soon, sailing very close to the Irish western coastline. This proved disastrous when gales blew in from the west and sent quite a number of ships to destruction on the Irish shore. Many men died by drowning or were killed by English troops, but some did survive. The story is that these Armada survivors married into the local population, thus propagating the Black Irish.

So why did the Spanish turn south too soon? One factor was simply the fact that it was at that time very difficult to know your exact longitude, and another was perhaps that they did not account as they should have for the Gulf Stream, which flows to the north-east. However, the story I like, is that they were using maps which didn’t show Connaught’s western bulge. The Mullett Peninsula in County Mayo extends quite a ways further west than the more northern coast and this was not shown on the earliest maps of Ireland.

For instance, Gerard Mercator’s map of Ireland (which is shown as printed at top of the blog and oriented to the North just above) shows the western coast as with very little western bulge and most other maps of the earliest period were like this. If you were navigating south along the western coast of Ireland in 1855, using a map such as this, you would not expect the Mullett Peninsula to jut out as you got past Donegal Bay. Perhaps this was what happened to the Armada ships?

In any case, by the end of the seventeenth century a more correct shape of the west coast of Ireland appeared and that mistake would no longer occur. Collectors usually like earlier maps in any case, but for maps of Ireland, it is maps such as Mercator’s that are particularly desirable. Even if not a true tale, it certainly makes a good story!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Point of Beginning for the American West

One of the earliest issues facing Americans after they won independence from Great Britain was what to do about the lands lying northwest of the Ohio River. There were competing claims there by a number of states, based on their original charters, and the nascent nation could very well fall apart if these conflicts were not resolved.

The solution was to have those states each waive their claims, turning this “northwest territory” over to the American government. This not only resolved the conflicts between the states, but solved a number of other problems. First, there was a need for lands to reward veterans of the Revolution, and it also made land available to American citizens to seek their fortune in the west. Finally, it offered a means for the federal government to raise revenue, as the Articles of Confederation, which were then in place, did not allow Congress to tax its citizens.

As a result, in 1787, Congress passed “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio” which established the manner in which this area would be measured, divided and then distributed.

The ordinance called for the surveying of the territory with a single, consistent system, dividing it into a grid of townships and smaller sections, each with border lines oriented strictly north-south and east-west. These sections could then be used for public purposes, distributed to veterans and sold to individuals and land companies. A process was established so that as a certain population was reached, the Northwest Territory would be divided into new states. This not only gave access to citizens for land, but also would provide a source of revenue for the federal government.

In order for this all to work, the Northwest Territory had to be surveyed and divided into sections. The task of doing this was given to the first Geographer of the United States, Thomas Hutchins, who developed a system for doing this which became the foundation for how most of the United States was surveyed and divided as new lands were added.

Hutchens devised a system where the government lands were to be divided into townships of six miles square. The townships were stacked in north-to-south columns called “ranges.” Each township was itself divided into thirty-six numbered sections of one square mile each, and those were in turn divided into half, quarter and quarter-quarter sections, the smallest units being 40 square acres.

This system was eventually extended throughout the Northwest Territory, and then later to most of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, Mexican cession, and Oregon Territory, explaining why so many roads, towns, farms, and other properties west of the Ohio and Mississippi River are so regular and straight-sided.

In order to start the survey, Hutchens had to lay down a base line, called the Geographer’s Line, off of which the rest of the survey would work. The base line itself had to start somewhere, a place called the “Point of Beginning.” Hutchens picked a spot on the north bank of the Ohio River, directly north of the western terminus of the just surveyed southern border of Pennsylvania. This point of beginning is now in East Liverpool, on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The first area that Hutchens surveyed was called the “Seven Ranges,” that is, the first seven stacks of townships, each six miles wide and lying between the Geographer’s Line and the Ohio River, running from the Point of Beginning forty-two miles to the west. Hutchens set off on September 30, 1785, but the survey team did not make it very far before they heard of Indian troubles no too far west, and so decided to high-tail it back to Pittsburgh. Hutchens and the surveyors were later able to secure military protection and so returned to finish the job, completing the Seven Ranges in 1787.

A map of the seven ranges was issued in 1796 by Mathew Carey and engraved by W. Barker. The title of the map says:
“Plat of the Seven Ranges of Townships being Part of the Territory of the United Sates N.W. of the River Ohio Which by a late act of Congress are directed to be sold. That part which is divided into sections or tracts of a mile square will be sold in small tracts at public auction in Pitsburg [sic] the residue will be sold in quarters of Townships at the seat of Government.”

W. Barker sculp.

Surveyed in conformity to an Ordinance of Congress of May 20th 1785. Under direction of Thos. Hutchins late Geographer to the United States

Hutchens’ system, now known as the Public Land Survey System, is still in use today, all surveys working off of the initial Seven Ranges survey of the late eighteenth century. It is this national survey grid which allowed for the orderly division and distribution of land to farmers and settlers, railroad companies, prospectors and all the other Americans who emigrated from the east to the west as the country expanded. Thus Hutchens’ “Point of Beginning” for this first survey, was in fact the Point of Beginning for all the American West.