Gerhard Mercator: 1636

Not the classic 1595 Mercator Atlas, whose title literally defined the term (before that, Atlas just meant a guy who held up the sky), but the later edition, assembled in concert with Jan Jansson, who in fact executed this map of Ostfriesland, giving due credit to his model, the earlier work of Ubbo Emmius. (Click on the image below for a larger version.)

From the explanatory notes:

The Harlingers inhabit Eastward reaching ten miles further than Norder-land, they have 16 Villages with Churches, and two towns [Esens and Wittmund, at the lower right corner—note the different symbols for villages of various sizes, with churches and without]. And the nearer the Land lieth to the Seaward, the more fruitful it is, & the further it lieth to the Landward the less fertile; the Sea upon this Coast is raging, and very troublesome, saving upon Funixum [the large bay with a boat floating in it above], where it is calmer.

Note how Jansson picks up Ubbo’s corner artwork, a visual homage to the original author, then extends it with his own iconography. (Click on the image above for a larger version.)

This is a modern facsimile of an English-language version of the Mercator Atlas. It’s pretty much a word-for-word translation of the original Dutch.

Each map takes up a full-size sheet of paper, which is then folded in half, defining the size of the book. On the back side of the sheet, text describing the geography is printed, extending to additional pages as necessary. A few dozen maps printed this way are bound together to make a volume. Any single map can be removed, then, and voila! it comes out with its explanatory notes intact.

There are other ways of binding volumes (a Bible, for example, might have signatures of regular size, say 16 pages each, instead of being broken into irregular chunks depending on how much text accompanied each map), but for an atlas this is a practical method of construction.

(A folio volume, about the size of a large modern atlas or a tabloid newspaper, is a book that’s made by taking the largest sheet of paper available in the olden days and folding it in half. Probably the most famous folios in the English language are the earliest complete editions of Shakespeare’s plays, called the First and Second Folios. Fold the paper a second time, making quarters of the original sheet, and you get a quarto volume, about the size of a typical hardbound first edition these days. Fold it again and you have octavo, the size of a paperback. Each size is useful for different purposes.

(You can make even smaller books if you want, and early bookmakers did, all the way down to tiny travelers’ prayerbooks and novellas. Once you go beyond folio size, of course, someone has to cut the pages apart after they’ve been printed and folded. When you find a rare edition that hasn’t even been cut along the creases yet, you know nobody ever opened it to read.)

This facsimile was produced by Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1968.

Back to Ancient Maps of Harlingerland index

All maps on these pages are reproduced courtesy of

The Map Division
The New York Public Library
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

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