The wait for this long-anticipated volume was well worth it. Truly a tome (over 8 pounds), this work represents an amazing effort. There are 639 entries, illustrated by 440 figures. Following an introductory essay, individual entries describe the various maps. Many of the maps are of breathtaking beauty. A surprising number are known from just a single surviving copy. One such map, the van Langeren wall map of circa 1599, may have had 2,000 copies printed. Fortunately an incomplete set of photographs survives from the time it was exhibited in Amsterdam in 1925. The map itself was probably destroyed or stolen in 1945 when Breslau metamorphosed into Wroclaw.
To criticize such an admirable effort is a bit like complaining that the Great Pyramid is dusty. However, there are a few minor points. I find the entries on Bible maps a little confusing. While looking up a recently purchased Stoopendaal Bible map with the title "Werelt Caert," I could find only a passing reference to a map of that title but with different dimensions under the description of a different Stoopendaal plate. The practice in this instance of grouping different maps under one entry is confusing. Each plate should have its own number. In another case, I found little useful information about a Moxon Bible map I recently sold (no. 458). It is also puzzling why an entry number was assigned to a map carved on an ivory table (no. 200). Oriental maps have been excluded. What I found most distressing was an appendix giving a combined rarity-significance rating to each map, e.g., "RRR" for an "exceptionally rare and important map." I have no objection in principle to this practice, only to how it was carried out. Mathematically speaking, the author is mapping a two-dimensional space (rarity-significance) onto an ordered sequence. While this is possible, in this case the mapping is not one-to-one, implying the lack of an inverse function. What should have been done is to provide separate ratings for rarity and significance. Thus an extremely rare but insignificant map might have a rating of RRRRR-S, while a relatively common but important map such as the Ortelius world might be rated R-SSS (or whatever). It would have been more convenient to put these ratings in the main entries - there is plenty of room - but given the flaws in the system, the appendix is appropriate.
Another problem was discovered when I first received the book and started leafing through it. I began to notice that the printing and many of the figures were hard to discern. Only when I put the book down to rest my eyes did I realize that several hours had elapsed and that it had grown dark outside. Do not pick this book up without having a free block of time! There are also serious psychic dangers for the collector. Many of the illustrations show maps of startling beauty. By comparison, such maps as the world map from Blaeu's atlas look like the 1952 Esso road map of Indiana, and collectors may find their egos bruised. Also, on first reading it may be helpful to wear a soft glove on your right hand to protect your forehead from injury. Several collectors and dealers have already suffered mild concussions when they discovered that the map they decided not to buy several years ago, or recently disposed of, is known in only a few examples, and is one of the most significant and valuable maps ever published. If you can afford this book, buy it.
David C. Jolly, 1985
[For a review of a subsequent edition, click here.]
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