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.