For over fifty years, Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) was the most highly regarded cartographer in the world. His name is synonymous with the form of map projection still in use today. Although he did not invent this type of projection, he was the first to apply it to navigational charts so the compass bearings could be plotted on charts in straight lines, solving an age-old problem of navigation at sea.
Mercator was born Gerard Kremer in 1512 in Rupelmonde, on the banks of the Schelde river in Flanders and studied in Louvain (both in modern Belgium). Kremer being German for ‘merchant’, caused Gerard to choose the Latin name Mercator to become the merchant peddler, the global citizen, self made, multi-cultural opportunist operating across the boundaries of both Church and State.
In Louvain, he was taught by Gemma Frisius, Dutch writer, astronomer and mathematician, who had a strong influence on his early development. He established himself in Louvain as a cartographer and instrument and globe maker. At the age of twenty-five, he drew and engraved his first map (of the Holy Land) and went on to produce a map of Flanders (1540) supervising the surveying and completing the drafting and engraving himself. The excellence of his work brought him the patronage of Charles V for whom he constructed a globe. He became caught up in the persecution of Lutheran Protestants and charged with heresy, resulting in imprisonment. Fear of further persecution may have influenced his move in 1552 to Duisburg, Germany where he continued the production of maps, globes and instruments.
In later life he devoted himself to his own edition of the maps in Ptolemy’s Geographia,and to the preparation of his three volume collection of maps, which was called an ‘Atlas’. The first two parts of the Atlas were published in 1585 and 1589 and the third, with the first two making a complete edition, in 1595 the year after Mercator’s death.
Mercator’s son Rumold was responsible for the complete edition in 1595. A second complete edition was produced in 1602. Mercator’s map plates were bought in 1604 by Jodocus Hondius who, with his sons, Jodocus II and Henricus, published enlarged editions, which dominated the map market for a quarter of a century thereafter.
Matthaus Merian (1693-1650) “the Elder” was a notable Swiss engraver born in Basel. He worked and studied in Germany and France before moving to Frankfurt where he inherited his father-in-law’s publishing house in 1623. There he produced numerous very detailed and stylized town plans of German and Swiss towns. Together with his son Matthaus Merian (1621-1687) “the Younger”, he produced a 21 volume Topographia Germaniae containing a large number of town plans and views, maps of most known countries and a World Map. He also completed the later parts and editions of Grand Voyages and Petits Voyages begun by is father-in-law Johann Theodor de Bry in 1590.
Samuel Augustus Mitchell (1792 – 1868)
Samuel Mitchell was a school teacher frustrated with the low quality and inaccuracy of maps of the early 19th century. As a result, in the early 1830’s he began his map publishing business in an attempt to rectify the problem. During the ensuing 20 years, he became the most prominent American map publisher of the era.
He obtained full copyright protection on his maps in 1847, many of which were collaborations with well-known engravers J. H. Young, H. S. Tanner and H. N. Burroughs. In 1849, he sought the help of printer Cowperthwait & Company and produced Mitchell’s Universal Atlas and Mitchell’s General Atlas.
In the 1850’s, his copyrights were purchased by Desilver and Co. which continued to publish his maps until Mitchell’s son, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, Jr. repurchased the copyrights. In the 1860’s, the son published his own New General Atlas and carried the Mitchell name into the late 1880’s when the copyrights were again sold ending the Mitchell family business.
Dutch cartographer Herman Moll (1678-1732) moved to London in about 1678 and worked as an engraver for other publishers, such as Moses Pitt, Greenville Collins. John Adair, and Seller & Price. Soon after his arrival he set up his own business publishing atlases and separate maps. He developed a wide range of work covering all parts of the world and in miniature as well as large wall maps. All were decorative.
His first maps were prepared for the atlas volume accompanying Sir Jonas Moore’s New System Of The Mathematicks …, in which Moll began to develop his characteristic engraving style, with large cartouches and often large vignettes. This style carried on into his large folio atlas, The World Described. This atlas contained one of the largest world maps of the early eighteenth century to appear in atlas form. Published in 1724, the map is truly outdated, showing California as an Island long after subsequent explorations around the turn of the century proved it to be a peninsula. In spite of the evidence to the contrary, Moll is now famous for perpetuating the myth.
His map New and Exact Map of the Dominions of the King of Great Britain on ye Continent of North America, depicting the English colonies along the east coast is his best known. The map is popularly called the “Beaver Map”, after the attractive vignette scene showing beavers building dams.
Moll’s other works include the Atlas Manuale (1709), New and Complete Atlas (1719), the Atlas Minor (1729) and Atlas Geographus (1711-17) in five volumes.
Moll also published a fine series of county maps, in the New Description of England, published in 1724. The maps are famous for their side panels with drawings of architectural remains from the counties. His work was much copied by other publishers and he enjoyed a high reputation.
Robert Morden (1668 – 1703) was a publisher, bookseller, mapseller, cartographer, globe and instrument maker. He worked in London at the Atlas in New Cheapside and at the Atlas in Cornhill from 1675 to 1703. His output in cartographical works was quite large and varied.
His work was often much criticized but he produced interesting sets of geographical playing cards, maps of various parts of the world and the county maps for Camden’s Britannia, for which he is best remembered. These were issued in 1695 as part of a new translation of the Britannia by Dr Edmund Gibson and subsequently were re-issued a number of times up to 1772.
Three names dominated cartography in the 16th century: Mercator, Ortelius & Munster. Of these three, Sebastian Munster (1489 – 1552) probably did the most to spread geographical knowledge throughout Europe in the middle years of the century. HisCosmographica, issued in 1544, included an encyclopedic amount of detail about the known – and unknown – world. It was likely one of the most widely read books of its time, going through nearly forty editions in six languages.
An eminent German mathematician and linguist, Munster became professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle, where he settled in 1529. In 1528, following his first mapping of Germany, he appealed to German scholars to send him descriptions, so that all Germany with its villages, towns, trades etc. might be revealed in a `mirror`. The response was far greater than expected. Foreigners as well as Germans sent so much information that eventually he was able to include many up-to-date, if not very accurate, maps in his atlases.
He was first to provide a separate map of each of the four known continents and the first to separate print a map of England. His maps, printed from woodblocks, are greatly valued by collectors.
His two major works, the Geographia and Cosmographia were published in Basle by his sep-son, Henri Petri, who continued to issue many editions after Munster’s death of the plague in 1552. Munster’s dominance of the cartographic market was relatively short lived once Abraham Ortelius produced his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1570.