Librarians at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, have discovered a previously unknown variant of the famous map of the world printed by Martin Waldseemüller.
When Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel officially handed over the famous map of the world by Martin Waldseemüller (ca. 1470 – 1522) to the Library of Congress in Washington in 2007, she referred to it as “a wonderful token of the particularly close ties of friendship between Germany and America.” And indeed, the gesture had great symbolic weight, for the chart – then exactly 500 years old – can be seen as America’s birth certificate. On this map, the New World appears for the first time under the name “America”, chosen to honor the explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451 – 1512), whom Waldseemüller erroneously regarded as the discoverer of the continent.
The 1507 world map is a wall map, with an area of three square meters. But the much smaller maps, the so-called globe segments, that Waldseemüller also produced were at least as important for the dissemination of geographical knowledge in his own time. These depict the world in twelve individual segments, or rather surface wedges, which taper to a point at each end and are printed on a single sheet, like cut-outs on construction paper. When correctly arranged, they form a small globe of about 11 cm in diameter.
The wall map was only a part of a carefully designed package put together by the cartographer Waldseemüller and his colleague Matthias Ringmann in their workshop in the monastery of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges – a combination with which they no doubt hoped to revolutionize how the world was perceived. In addition to the large map, the package included an introduction to the principles of geography or “cosmography” (the Cosmographiae Introductio) and the segmental maps.
Only a handful of the perhaps 100 sets printed from the original woodblocks are known to have survived.
The copy now in Washington, which belonged to the Princely House of Waldburg-Wolfegg and Waldsee in Germany, is the sole copy of the large world map that has come down to us. A copy of the Cosmographiae Introductio is among the treasures kept in the Munich University Library.
Four copies of the segmental maps were previously known to researchers. Three of them are now in Minneapolis, Offenburg and in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, respectively. The fourth was sold at auction for the handsome sum of 1 million dollars by Christie’s in 2005. Members of the staff of the University Library have – quite by accident – now discovered a fifth.
“The newly discovered sheet differs in a number of details from the copies that were already known, and can therefore be regarded as unique,” said Sven Kuttner, Curator of the Library’s Department of Early Printed Books.
“For one thing, the outlines of the upper halves of the lanceolate sections are much less distinctively incised. The position of Calicut on the Malabar Coast, where Vasco da Gama (1469 – 1523) had made landfall in May 1498, is shown on the fourth, not the fifth, segment of the global map,” he said.
The style of hatching and the forms of certain letters also differ from their counterparts in other copies.
“The watermark impressed in the paper suggests that this version may have been printed at some time after the first edition of 1507, somewhere in Alsace,” Kuttner concluded.