Guide to the Research Collections




The Map Division contains approximately 300,000 sheet maps, 6,000 atlases, and 11,000 volumes on cartography and the techniques of map making; a sample of almost every type of map available is included. The primary aim of the division is to secure maps, atlases, and works in the field of cartography of use to the reading public. The division collects sheet maps and atlases on a universal basis, irrespective of date, country of origin, size, or rarity; large-scale maps are preferred. Particular emphasis is placed on maps of New York City and New York State.

The collecting policy follows the tabulation given below:

Weather charts

The Research Libraries do not collect in the following categories:

The 6,000 atlases now in the Map Division date from the seventeenth century to the present. Atlases and separate maps published prior to 1600 in Europe and before 1800 in the United States are housed in the Rare Book Division; the Map Division maintains a growing collection of facsimiles of early atlases and maps. Manuscript maps are generally held in the Manuscripts and Archives Division; there are many rare atlases and maps in the Spencer Collection, the Prints Division, and in other divisions of the Research Libraries (discussed in later paragraphs).

The Map Division catalog includes entries for these items with analytic entries for maps in atlases published before 1800; it is a union list for all maps in the Research Libraries. The 11,000 volumes in the division form an outstanding collection on the history of cartography and the techniques of map making.


The map collection began as a dual heritage of the Astor and Lenox Libraries. Because the Astor Library served as the reference library of New York City it secured the best atlases and maps of the period in keeping with Dr. Cogswell's intention to provide standard and authoritative

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works in all branches of knowledge. Although there is no indication that Cogswell emphasized rare maps and ancient atlases, his voluminous collecting of geographical works, accounts of voyages and explorations, and rare works of travel literature brought many notable maps into the Astor Library.

The Lenox Library was definitely a collector's library of rare and unusual works. Lenox's securing of accounts of voyages and travels and early Americana brought to his collection a great number of facsimiles of famous maps as well as certain rarities. There were few ancient maps of consequence not present in the Lenox collection in some form. After Lenox's death in 1894, separate maps were acquired from the George H. Moore and the Livermore library sales.

Dr. Billings, the first director of the consolidated Astor, Lenox and Tilden foundations, reported that during his European trip of 1896 he had purchased a valuable collection of early atlases and maps. Alexander Maitland's gifts of rare Americana in 1898 and of $20,000 for the purchase of Americana and early cartography in 1907 added unusual materials. At the time of the move from the Astor Library to the Fifth Avenue building in 1911, holdings of 1,200 atlases and about 7,000 sheet maps were placed in the Map Room.

By 1930 the collections had expanded to 25,000 sheet maps. In that year Louis C. Karpinski gave the library a collection of photostats of early maps of the Americas from the originals in French, Spanish, and Portuguese libraries.1 In 1933 the library published the first English translation of the Geography of Claudius Ptolemy.2 Prince Y[umacr ]suf Kam[amacr ]l began to donate volumes of his Monumenta Cartographica Africae et Aegypti (1926-51) in 1938; there is now a complete set in the library. The map collection became a division of the library in 1941. At the end of World War II, the U.S. Army Map Service began to deposit surplus maps; until 1949, when the program was temporarily deactivated, the Map Division received thousands of items, including sets of captured war maps from Germany and other countries. The program was reactivated in 1957 and continues to enrich the collections immeasurably.

The number of maps in the collections reached 180,000 by 1949. In that year the first two volumes of Monumenta Cartographica Vaticana (1944-55) with reproductions of treasures in the Vatican Library were acquired; the set of four volumes is now complete. In 1956 the division purchased 213 insurance atlases and 1,789 insurance sheet maps published by the Sanborn Map Company, for the most part covering New York City and New York State from 1884 to the 1930s. In 1962 the division received as a gift of the Portuguese government Armando Cortes[amacr ]o and Avelino Teixeira da Mota's Portugaliae Monumenta Cartographica (1960).


The Map Division catalog contains cards not only for the maps and other cartographic publications in the division but also for manuscript maps in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, early printed maps in the Rare Book Division, and maps in the Phelps Stokes collection of American historical prints in the Prints Division. The catalog is a dictionary listing, with entries under author's name; place entries (the most extensive type); subject entries (for such topics as geology and pictorial maps); and title entries for some books. The catalog of the Map Division was published in book form in ten volumes by G.K. Hall & Company of Boston in 1971.

The following special files are in the Map Division:

Bibliography File

This is a card file arranged first by map subject (globes, braille maps, etc.) and then alphabetically by author under these subjects (active, 9 card drawers). The file refers to books and periodicals containing information on maps and cartography.

Clipping File

The Map Division clips from newspapers and other sources information on maps and cartography (active, 10 folders). Clippings are mounted on sheets arranged by geographical area in file folders. The material is not cataloged.

Vertical File

The division retains maps in unusual format (such as those used in advertising, on dust jackets, on Christmas cards, or on place mats) arranged in folders by broad subject or form (active, 1 file drawer). This material is not cataloged.

The American History Division maintains the following file relating to maps:

American Historical Maps

This is a card index to historical maps found in the older books in the American History Division (inactive, 1 card drawer). It includes primarily maps of the United States and does not index historical maps in the Map Division or in other divisions of the library.


This discussion is composed of two sections, the first relating to the resources of the Map Division, and the second the maps and atlases located elsewhere in the library, for the most part works printed before 1600, manuscripts, and other rarities. It should be noted that the holdings in geography, administered by the General Research and Humanities Division, are considered in chapter 44 of this Guide.

Map Division

The division's holdings number approximately 300,000 sheet maps, 6,000 atlases, and 11,000 volumes on the history of cartography and the techniques of map making. Although the rarest treasures are shelved elsewhere, the atlas collection dates from the beginning of the seventeenth century and includes the works of most of the outstanding masters of cartographic art of this period. There are editions of Mercator (1616,

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1623, 1638), Blaeu (1659, 1664), Jansson (1652-75), Groos (1672), de Wit (1690?), and Jaillot (1695). There is also a representative and fairly complete collection of atlases of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including editions of Moll, Vandermaelen, Jeffreys, and Faden. The division has 3 copies of Des Barres's Atlantic Neptune, including both folio and narrow folio examples; with the 8 Atlantic Neptune views in the Phelps Stokes collection of the Prints Division there are 167 different plates in the collections.3 For the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there are a number of detailed atlases of various counties of the United States, as well as insurance and real estate atlases for New York City and other American regions. Modern world atlases include the standard works of Stieler, Andree, Philips, Bartholomew, the Italian Touring Club, Rand-McNally, and Hammond, as well as Soviet atlases. More detailed atlases cover individual continents and countries.

Facsimile atlases and books on the history of cartography are useful in studying the development of map making. Scholars frequently refer to Karpinski's collection of photostats of early maps of America from originals in French, Spanish, and Portuguese libraries. There is also an outstanding collection of books dealing with the technical problems of cartography and map interpretation.

The rich and varied collection of miscellaneous sheet maps includes some of the best efforts of private and governmental cartographers dating back to the earliest printed maps. Especially noteworthy is the group of nineteenth-century American maps. There are several thousand maps of New York City and New York State.4 Another useful and growing collection is that of modern plans of American and foreign cities. The growth of American cities, which are more fully represented, can be traced by plans in the division from the time of their founding to the present day. Foreign cities, particularly those of Western Europe, are documented from early periods; for example, Venice from the sixteenth century, Cuzco from 1606, Tokyo from 1845, and Shanghai from the 1880s. Road maps and automobile guidebooks for all states and for many foreign countries are available. Included are some editions dating from the early years of motoring and a number of bicycle guides from the 1890s. The collection of several hundred modern pictorial and animated maps is of considerable interest.

More specialized types include complete sets of the topographic maps of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Forest Service maps, and RFD maps of the Post Office Department. Charts of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Great Lakes Survey, the U.S. Hydrographic Office (now the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office), and the Mississippi River Commission are held in strength.

Also available in the Map Division are the sheets issued to date of the International Map of the World on the scale of 1:1,000,000, as well as the Army Map Service (now the U.S. Army Topographic Command) collections. There are excellent holdings of topographic maps covering parts of all the continents. Included is the complete set of Cassini's "Carte Géométrique de la France" (1789), the first of the detailed national surveys.

The division receives approximately 20 current periodical titles, including such items as Globen (1922-62, 1964-), Cartactual (1965-), and Map Collectors' Circle (1963-).

Resources Elsewhere in the Collections

The Rare Book Division has an outstanding representation of early geographies and atlases, most of which came from the Lenox Library. Among them is an almost complete collection of the various editions of Ptolemy's Geography; forty-six editions of the work range from the first printing of 1475 to 1730.5 The Ulm 1482 Ptolemy in the Spencer Collection is printed on vellum, and was once owned by Prince Eugene of Savoy. The earliest and rarest of the Ptolemys is the Ebner Codex (de Ricci 97), purchased in 1892. Now in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, it was edited in northern Italy about 1460 by Nicolaus Germanus. Its twenty-seven exquisitely colored maps were the main source of those in the Roman editions of Ptolemy.6 In 1932 the library published the first English translation of the Geography, with reproductions of the maps in the codex.7 Another edition, the so-called German Ptolemy in the Rare Book Division, is the only known complete copy containing both text and hand-colored world map of a work printed about 1493 by George Stuchs in Nuremberg.8

One of the greatest rarities in the collections of the library, the Hunt-Lenox globe in the Rare Book Division, is perhaps the oldest extant globe.9 Dating probably from the first decade of the sixteenth century, it is a hollow copper ball about five inches in diameter, engraved to show the orb of the earth with the four continents. Holes at its polar points suggest that it was originally fixed on a rod, possibly as part of an astronomical clock. In 1937 the globe was mounted by the library in a bronze armillary sphere. Richard Morris Hunt, architect of the Lenox Library, first brought the globe to this

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country in 1855; he gave it to James Lenox between 1870 and 1880.10

Globe gores of the first half of the sixteenth century in the collections include the Boulengier gores, to which the library has assigned a date of ca. 1518; a set of gores possibly made at Nuremberg about 1530 which indicate the course of Magellan's voyage; and the De Mongenet gores of 1552.

Among map first editions in the Rare Book Division is one of two known copies of Mercator's first published double cordiform map of the world, Orbis Imago (1538), and the first American map, engraved by John Foster in William Hubbard's A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England (1677), the so-called White Hills map. The division also owns a copy of the White Hills map appearing in the London 1677 edition of this work. There is a good representation of Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, including the first issue, dated May 20, 1570; a copy of the Epitome of Ortelius (1602) bound in contemporary vellum bears the gilt badge of Queen Elizabeth I. One of the most important maps of modern times, the Wright Molyneux map from Hakluyt's Principall Navigations (1598-1600) represents the practical exposition of the theory and method by which Wright made the Mercator system of projection practicable for the use of mariners.

In the Spencer Collection is an illuminated Portolan atlas of great beauty assigned to the third period of Agnese's atlases, or about 1552. Purchased by the collection in 1920, it is in its original binding of red morocco.11 Also to be noted is a hand-colored example of Joan Blaeu's Geographia (1662).

Of the maps and charts in the Phelps Stokes collection housed in the Prints Division, the following may be mentioned as among the most important: the Virginia Company chart of circa 1606-08, a manuscript map drawn in gold and colors on vellum and mounted on a roller; Blaeu's "First Paskaart" of 1617; one of five known impressions of the earliest issue of Smith's map of New England made in 1614; the rare early issues of the N.J. Visscher and Danckers maps of New Netherland (ca. 1647-51, 1651-55 respectively); and a group of maps recording the birth of the United States in 1783. This last group includes the earliest known impression of the important Abel Buell maps, the first maps of the country engraved within its borders. Of the plans in the Phelps Stokes collection, the most important are the first and fourth issues of the Bonner maps of Boston issued in 1722 and 1743, and the best of three known impressions of the Bradford map or Lyne Survey of New York, depicting the city in 1730. Other items include early engraved surveys and plans of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and other cities.12

In addition to the famous Ebner Codex the Manuscripts and Archives Division houses Nicholas Comberford's celebrated "Manuscript Map of the South Part of Virginia," an original colored drawing with the artist's signature mounted on hinged oak boards and dated 1657.13 Two fifteenth-century manuscripts of Leonardo Dati's La Sfera (de Ricci 109, 110) are in Italian verse, both of them delightful in their colored maps, diagrams, views, and real or fanciful pictures of actual buildings. Other manuscript maps in the division relate to the American Revolution, and to estates and properties, roads, and city plans of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century America; the individual maps in the division are cataloged in geographical groupings. A "Mapa de la Sierra Gorda" on vellum (ca. 1763) shows the towns and missions established in Mexico by José de Escandon.