Guide to the Research Collections



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).