Monday, October 16, 2017


It has been a while since I’ve written about mythical geography, so today I’m going to look at a myth which appeared in the mid-sixteenth century and which lasted for about a century and a half, that is, the geographic error of showing a mountain range running east to west across the southern part of today’s United States.

This myth had its origins in the reports of the explorations of Hernando De Soto. De Soto was the governor of Cuba and was given a license by the Spanish King to explore “Florida,” which was the name applied to the essentially unknown land north of Cuba which had been discovered by Ponce de León in 1513. De Soto set sail in May, 1539, landing in today’s Tampa Bay with 600 men. He explored to the north and then west, discovering the Mississippi River in May 1541. De Soto died the following year, with the survivors of his expedition sailing down the Mississippi and then along the coast to Spanish settlements in today’s Mexico.

De Soto had set off to the north from the Gulf until he ran into the Appalachian mountains in the area where today's North and South Carolina and Georgia meet. The expedition then marched in a west-southwest direction, following the foothills and this seems to have led to the conception of a range of mountains running across the continent east to west.

This concept is graphically shown in a map probably drawn about 1544 by the Spanish royal cartographer, Alonzo de Santa Cruz, based on reports by the survivors of the De Soto expedition.

This notion soon made it to the general map publishing world, for instance in a 1562 map by Diego Gutiérrez, though he does seem to just scatter a whole series of mountains in North America under the large royal crest.

The east-west mountain range is even more strongly shown on Gerard Mercator’s important 1569 world map, one of the most influential maps of the sixteenth century, as well as graphically on Cornelis de Jode’s “Americae Pars Borealis” [Northern part of America] from 1593.

This notion of a great east-west mountain range running from Georgia to New Mexico was continued into the middle of the following century, principally by the leading cartographer of the day, Nicolas Sanson.

This map makes graphic one of the most important consequences of this belief, the topographical impossibility of a very large and long river emptying into the Gulf of Mexico from the central part of the continent, even though by the middle of the sixteenth century there had been numerous reports of the size of the Mississippi, beginning with the De Soto expedition. Sanson and other cartographers tried to get around this by having numerous shorter rivers joining together to form a large river near the gulf, but the mythical mountain range prevented mapmakers from showing the very real Mississippi River.

The southern Mississippi River had been discovered by De Soto in 1541, with its northern parts first heard of by the French in the Great Lakes region in the early seventeenth century. In 1673, Jolliet and Marquette sailed as far south as the Arkansas River before turning back, and La Salle also explored the northern part of the Mississippi a few years later. Both parties deduced that the river flowed directly south into the Gulf, though this was not yet proved.

In 1683, a map by Louis Hennepin showed the upper part of the Mississippi with a dotted line extending south. Note that Hennepin does not show any orography in North America, thus neatly side-stepping the issue of the mountain range other maps showed blocking the projected course of the Mississippi.

In 1682, La Salle continued his exploration of the Mississippi, this time sailing all the way down to the river’s mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, proving that the river was long as well as wide. However, for a number of reasons, including the idea that there were mountains running east-west across the continent, the mouth of the Mississippi was placed too far west, as shown on the 1691 Le Clercq map of North America. This became the dominant picture of the Mississippi’s course for the rest of the century.

Not all cartographers followed this, as for instance the Robert Morden maps of 1688 showed the mouth of the Mississippi in the correct location, but note how he has the mountains running right up to the river.

It wasn’t until 1703, with Guillaume Delisle’s “Carte du Mexique et de la Floride,” that the Mississippi was firmly placed in its proper course. Delisle was the leading French cartographer of the day and so he had access to the best material of the French explorers in North America. This map was based on reports from many of those explorers, including survivors of the La Salle expedition.

Delisle shows the Mississippi flowing in essentially its correct course, dealing with the east-west mountain range issue by removing it from the map completely.

He did include that mythical range on his 1718 map of North America, though like Morden, he simply stopped it at the Mississippi. This range made an appearance on a few subsequent maps, but generally the western extend moved further and further east until the cartographic picture of the southern Appalachian mountains matched reality.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Return of the Currier & Ives Buffalo

A few years ago, we posted a blog about how we had discovered the source of some very strange buffalo which appeared in the classic Currier & Ives print, "The Rocky Mountains." Well I just realized that the same buffalo turned up again!

Conningham lists five different versions of the subject of "Noah's Ark" done by Nathaniel Currier or Currier & Ives. Though all are undated, this was likely an early subject for Nathaniel and I would imagine the firm kept some of these prints in stock for most of their existence.

Sometime between 1874 and 1878 (based on the address of the firm), they issued what may have been their last version.

This had a wide variety of animals,

including some very strange looking buffaloes.

This is essentially the same image as appeared in "The Rocky Mountains," which as explained in the earlier blog was based on an illustration in a French natural history from about four decades earlier. This odd looking buffalo first appeared in the print from 1872-74 and obviously the firm like the image, so they reused in a couple years later for a new version of "Noah's Ark." I wonder if it was ever used again?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Musings on Selling Confederate Prints

We have recently acquired a couple of important historical prints with a Confederate theme: a portrait of Robert E. Lee and an image of a Confederate encampment. Both of these are rare, significant images, the type of prints I have always been proud to handle. However, the recent controversy related to the statues of Confederate “heroes” has given me pause to consider just how pleased I should be to be selling such prints.

Personally, I believe that the statues of Confederate figures should be removed from general public display, where they are presented as glorifications of a cause essentially based on the preservation of slavery, and put into places where they would be presented instead as historic artifacts to be understood as part of our history. That is, where they will be objects which we can learn from rather than glory in.

So, how does this belief relate to my shop selling Confederate prints to the general public? After considerable thought, I believe that it is fine to sell the images, even though they do, in their own way, present aspects or individuals of the Confederacy in a positive light.

To decide this, I looked at what I consider to be the main arguments for removing the Confederate statues from prominent public display.

  • The Confederacy was based on the belief of white supremacy, with the aim of maintaining slavery, and this should not be honored by our society or members of our society.
  • The statues are sanitized symbols of a horrible part of our nation’s history and to place them in an honored, public space ignores the evil which the Confederacy embodied.
  • While the Confederacy is a part of our nation’s history and we should not try to “erase history,” the statues are a glorification of this loathsome part of that history, not simply a recognition of its existence.
  • In almost all cases, the statues were created and erected specifically to venerate the Confederacy and to promote its concept of white supremacy. The majority were built not just after the Civil War—when most monuments related to the war were memorials to individuals—but between the 1890s and the 1950s, erected specifically in response to Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement.

So, how do these arguments apply or not apply to prints of the Confederacy? There are many prints which present a negative view of the Confederacy, and these are not at issue. The prints which are at issue are those which present aspects or figures of the Confederacy in a positive light.

Most of these prints have their genesis in the notion of “The Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” This was a conception, which appeared soon after the war, based on a wishful reimagining of the history of the Civil War in order to vindicate the actions of the Confederacy and restore some sense of pride to Southerners. The “Lost Cause” model presented the Confederate cause as a heroic one, where overwhelming odds led to the defeat of a noble South. The war was presented as a struggle to maintain the Southern way of life, which was more Christian and civilized than the greedy Northern life-style.

Part of the “Lost Cause” idea was a denial of the significance and horror of slavery. Slavery was not supposed to be central to the Confederate cause, and it was often presented as a relatively benign institution. The prints issued as part of the “Lost Cause” idea were published not as a reaction against civil rights and equality of the races, but rather an avoidance of those issues totally in an attempt to reestablish a sense of pride in a culture which had suffered abject defeat.

A great example of the “Lost Cause” concept is William D Washington’s image of the “Burial of Latane.” This painting, and the print based on it, show the burial of Captain William Latane, who was killed while on a raid with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. In the image of Latane’s burial there is a stark absence of any men; the burial party is composed solely of women, children and “faithful” slaves, celebrating both the devotion of Southern women and their bond with the slaves. This print was issued in 1868 and would have hung in many Southern homes, allowing the population there to retain some sense of pride in their history and culture.

The print of the Confederate encampment by Conrad Wise Chapman had a similar role. Chapman, a sergeant in the Confederate army, made many sketches of his experiences in the war, including one upon which this print was based. It clearly expresses aspects of the “Lost Cause” concept, with the proud Southern soldiers going around with bare feet, while several blacks are shown happily at leisure, even while the soldiers cook or otherwise work, a highly unlikely state of affairs.

One can look at these prints not as glorifications of slavery and white supremacy, as are the statues, but rather as unfortunate attempts at Southern self-respect. The claim has been made that this is the case also for the statues, but that just is not true. A look at the history of their erection makes it clear that the original intent of the statues was to glorify the Confederacy and promote its defense of white supremacy.

However, I do not think that the original intent is the essential difference between the statues and the prints. That, I think, lies instead in the way the present impact of the prints, compared to the present impact of the statues. I do not think that all, or even most, of the citizens in the communities where the statues now stand would endorse white supremacy, but given their history and their prominent locations, where they loom over public spaces, these statues silently yet expressively make a statement that can and is read by members of those communities as an endorsement of that abhorrent position.

The prints, in contrast, are almost exclusively used in a private or an academic setting, where the reasons for their display can be understood benignly, and where there is no similar deleterious public impact like that of the statues. Now I am sure that there were instances where Confederate images were put on display in a court house or other public location, where they were intended to have an impact similar to the statues. If such a situation exists today, for instance with a portrait of a proud General Lee hanging in a court house, I think that is a situation which does mirror that of the statutes and the portrait should be removed.

However, most of the uses of Confederate prints are in private homes, collections, or in museums and libraries, where they do not have a general public impact. If a Confederate statue is placed in a similar setting, for instance if someone has a statue of Lee in a private home, perhaps because an ancestor fought under the general, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think having the statues on display in a historic setting, say in a museum, is important, for it would be a mistake to ignore our history, and it is important to understand our past in all its complexity.

I would like to say that owning Confederate images is ok as long as one’s intent is “pure,” that is, as long as one is not intending to promote the odious aims of the Confederacy, but instead where one is treating the images as artifacts, part of the multifaceted fabric of our history. However, it is an impossible and probably incoherent to try to judge the intent of a buyer (though if I knew that a potential buyer was intending to use a print to promote white supremacy I would not sell it to that person).

In the end, however, I think the original and current use of prints is quite different than the original intent and current effect of the statutes, and I do think that they are important artifact of our past (the statues too are important artifacts of our past, just ones that should not hold places of public honor), so it is ok for our shop to be selling them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A few "interesting" maps

I love history and I love maps, so naturally I love my job! Just handling the old maps, researching them and chatting with fellow cartophiles makes my career a wonderful one. However, I do get extra enjoyment when I find some fact or bit of information on a map which makes it even more fun than usual. I thought I would share three such stories which I have come across recently.

In February 1844, a fairly obscure magazine, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, issued a map entitled "The Indian Territory." This was issued as part of an article about the U.S. Government's policy of creating a territory west of the Mississippi where all the Native Americans, including those from the East, would be confined. This small map (which is oriented to the west) illustrates that territory, with the location of each tribe marked out, from the Sioux in the north to the Choctaws in the south.

Though the U.S. government claimed that this policy was for the benefit of the Indians, really it was to get the Native Americans out of any land which might be useful to "Americans" and place the Indians on land which was (at the time) considered to be essentially worthless.

When we got this map the other day, I was surprised and fascinated by the dashed line across the middle of the map labeled "Western habitable limit." What is interesting about that is that a fair bit of the land set aside for the Indian Tribes (including most of the land marked for the Pawnees) is west of that habitable line. This means that not only were the Indians given land that wasn't of use to "Americans," but much of it wasn't even considered habitable!

Looking closely at maps often reveals interesting tidbits. Such is the case on a map issued in the Illustrated London Times on June 1st, 1861. This is just after the beginning of the Civil War, and this map features that event by indicating with its different tints those states which are slave and those which are free states.

1861 was also the year in which three official and one unofficial new U.S. territories were created: Nevada, Dakota, Colorado and Arizona. It appears that the cartographer, Theodor Ettling, received information on these new territories, as all three are depicted. Both Nevada and Dakota are shown properly, and Ettling also shows the territory of Arizona--carved out of the southern part of the Utah Territory, but never recognized by the U.S. government. Colorado is also depicted, but very incorrectly.

Ettling must have heard that a territory of Colorado was being created, but not the reason for this (i.e. Pikes Peak gold rush). He did know of the Rio Colorado located in Texas, so it appears he assumed that is where the new territory would be located. Thus he drew a border around a territory labeled “Colorado” in the southern part of Texas!

The final map which I'll write about today is a map of Central Asia which appeared in the 1804 A New and Elegant General Atlas jointly produced by Aaron Arrowsmith and Samuel Lewis. The American maps were on the whole drawn by Lewis, while the maps of the rest of the world were by Arrowsmith. Aaron Arrowsmith was at the time the leading cartographer in the world, very concerned to make his maps as up-to-date and accurate as possible. He compiled many maps himself, but also used the maps by other cartographers if they were the best source available to him. As a conscientious scientist, Arrowsmith would often note at the bottom of a map when he used someone else's mapping.

I had a good chuckle when I looked at the attribution on this map of Central America, for there Arrowsmith put “From Du Halde, D’Anville Islenieff &c.&c. but Imperfect and inaccurate authorities." I guess even though Arrowsmith didn't think the source was very good, it was the best available to him. Still, I have never seen a map before where the mapmaker labeled it as "imperfect and inaccurate"!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Itinerary Maps

I have always loved maps of all sorts. As a kid I studied maps in books and magazines, poured over automobile maps from gas stations, and then when I realized that one could actually get hold of them, became entranced by antique maps. Back in the sixties, when my family would go on a road trip, we would use the famous AAA “triptiks.” I would love to follow along the routes, noting the intersections and sites that appeared on either side of the route we were following.

The triptiks are a good example of itinerary or directional map. That is a map the primary concern of which is to follow an itinerary or route from point A to point B, noting the places, rivers, bridges, intersections one would come across in following that route, but not showing anything further afield than what one might see along the way.

These maps are in contrast to “area” maps, which show cartographic information for an entire area—-usually rectangular but sometimes circular—-without predetermining a starting or ending point, nor a route to take (though one can, of course, draw a route onto an area map).

[ Facsimile part of the Peutinger Table centered on Rome ]

The earliest directional map I know of is the famous “Peutinger Table.” In the late first century B.C., Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa produced a road survey and map of the world for Emperor Augustus. None of the original maps has survived, but a later version was found near the end of the fifteenth century and eventually found its way into the library of Konrad Peutinger (fl. 1508-47). Though that map is now lost, copies of various cartographers and modern facsimiles have been made.

[ Detail of facsimile of area around Rome, with roads in yellow ]

The Peutinger Tables consist of eight sections depicting the world along the primary roads of the Roman Empire. The area shown extends from the southeast corner of England—part of the first section showing the rest of Britain having been lost—to Ceylon, the eastern edge of the known world. Reflecting its source in Agrippa’s road survey, the map is drawn around the roads, which are laid out in a schematic fashion—not dissimilar to the way the lines are laid out on the famous tube map of London—though here the roads are put down mostly in a horizontal direction, creating a map that is essentially a long, narrow strip. The Roman roads are given in detail, each notched to indicate a day’s march, with the places and camps one would come to if traveling on those roads. Really, very similar in intent and execution to a triptik.

The notion of itinerary map appeared again in the middle of the thirteenth century in the work of Benedictine month Matthew Paris. Paris worked in the monastery of St. Albans and he was one of the greatest mapmakers of the medieval period. He produced maps of England, Palestine, and itinerary maps for the Pilgrim route to the Holy Land. Written itineraries for pilgrims were well known in the Middle Ages, and they contained descriptions of what one would find along a pilgrimage route. Paris went further and presented much of this information in map form, showing the route from England to Apulia, each day’s journey marked out and important topographical and social features noted along the way. As an aside, the cartographers for a number of the area maps produced in the medieval period, such as the Hereford world map, used written itineraries to create the maps, though presenting them in an area rather than itinerary format.

The next examples of directional maps are the strip maps issued by John Ogilby in his Brtiannia of 1675-76. Ogilby (1600-1676), one of the more colorful figures associated with cartography, started life as a dancing master and finished as the King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer. In the course of an eventful life he built a theater in Dublin, became the Deputy Master of Revels in Ireland, translated various Greek and Latin works and founded a book publishing business. In the process he twice lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the English Civil Wars and then in the Great Fire of London. Even this disaster he turned to advantage by being appointed to a Commission of Survey following the fire.

After the fire, Ogilby organized a survey of all the main post roads in the country, and then published a road atlas, Britannia. In this atlas, the maps were engraved in strip form, essentially like a series of triptik pages put next to each other on the same sheet. The maps give details of the roads themselves and descriptive notes of the country on either side. Intersections of other roads are indicated and each strip has a compass rose to indicate changes in direction. Topography is shown using the molehill style, and uphill or downhill is illustrated by inverting the picture of a grade on the page. A number of other publishers later followed the Ogilby model, which was particularly popular in Great Britain.

[ One of four sections of Simpson map ]

Another place one finds itinerary maps is from explorers, who would make maps they surveyed along their routes. These surveys would often be amalgamated into area maps, but they also were sometimes issued as itinerary maps. James Hervey Simpson mapped a route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe, producing a map in 1849 which was intended as a wagon road itinerary map for emigrants and traders.

[ One of seven sections of Preuss map ]

Another example of that is the seven sheet map drawn by Charles Preuss based on the surveys and notes made during John Frémont’s expedition along the Oregon Trail in 1842-43. These maps were combined into the Preuss/Frémont map of 1845, but the seven sheets were very much in the tradition of an itinerary map intended for use by the many emigrants along the Oregon Trail, as well as 49’s heading off to the gold fields of California.

In the twentieth century, AAA was not the only firm to produce itinerary maps, though their triptiks were by far the most commonly used. Today, in the twentieth century, itinerary maps are even more common, though now they are not on paper, but rather appear as ephemeral digital maps on car dash boards and on smart phones. Google maps and Waze both are programs which produce itinerary maps in a modern and incredibly detailed form.

On a personal note, though I still love maps in all different formats, I am a bit sad to see the relative demise of the use of area maps. So many people use the digital directional maps, that area maps—especially printed ones—have become almost obsolete. This is a shame, as while one can follow a route most easily using an itinerary map, area maps put those routes into a wider context. They also allow one more easily to stray from the planned itinerary—either physically or just mentally—and the loss of that is I think a sad one.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Foolish men jumping

One of the great things about antique prints and maps is that even after 35 years in the business, I still am surprised and delighted on a regular basis by things we come across. Just yesterday, while organizing some of our prints here in the shop, we came across two prints with remarkably similar images of foolish men jumping. No connection at all between the prints, but a pretty funny coincidence.

The first print is from a delightful series of illustrations of Mother Goose rhymes by Frederick Richardson. These prints, issued in 1915, are fun both because they include many of the rhymes I learned as a child, but also because of the charming illustrations. This print has a rhyme I am not so familiar with, but the drawing is a hoot. This man is definitely foolish though he seems to come out of his trials ok.

The second print was issued over four decades before and it shows French journalist and "demagogue," Henri Rochefort. The print was issued in Vanity Fair on January 22, 1870 and the description of Rochefort by the magazine is anything but flattering.

It may be total coincidence that the two images are so similar, but we might speculate that perhaps Richardson was familiar with this image from Vanity Fair and decided to borrow it for the nursery rhyme print. Whatever the case, another of the many fun things we've run into over the years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Provenance of prints and maps

Anyone who has read about the huge prices on oil paintings will have heard of the importance of their provenance. The provenance of a item is a record of its ownership/location since it was first created. This is important for some expensive items such as paintings mostly to establish their authenticity. As a painting can be reproduced by a skilled forger, knowing that the painting was, say, in a family estate since it was originally purchased from the painter, gives one assurance that it is an original.

Provenance can also be important if the item in question was owned by someone famous. So, the earrings worn by Katherine Hepburn in a famous movie would be worth more than the same items never owned by anyone famous, so having a solid provenance can be important in established their value.

Interestingly, rarely does provenance matter for antique maps and prints. For the vast majority of such items, not only is the provenance not important, but it is unknown. A dealer might know the immediately previous owner of something in her stock, but almost never any of the owners before that. There are a number of reasons for this relative lack of importance of provenance for antique maps and prints.

The main reason for that is that the authenticity of the items is determined not by tracking their ownership since creation, but rather simply by looking at the physical objects. If the process is right and if the paper is right, then the print is almost certainly authentic. It would be possible, by getting hold of old paper and using the proper process to create the object, to fake an antique prints or map, but prints and maps usually do not have the value to warrant the effort it would take to do this. When some antique maps started getting very expensive towards the end of the 20th century, some pretty good fakes started appearing, but these could be identified by a close physical examination. There are also some known "good" fakes of some of the old master prints, but such good fakes are very rare in the antique print and map world. Because of this, the main purpose of provenance just does not apply to most old prints and maps.

Secondly, in very, very few cases is the provenance known. Unlike paintings, prints were rarely considered "important" enough to be tracked and recorded through the years. Much like the history of most books, people bought prints and maps for decoration or interest, but didn't write down or pass on the history of that purchase for future generations. It is very rare that someone who owns a print can tell you its provenance beyond perhaps the person they got it from.

There are a few cases where a print was owned by someone famous or, perhaps, appeared in a movie, and that can add some value, but rarely a lot, so again that provenance is relatively unimportant.