Map of the World on Mercator’s Projection showing the Discoveries at the North Pole and the New Settlements in Australia and New Zealand &c. additions to 1855
Cruchley’s 1855 map of the world in original boards and marbled backing — an attractive addition to any world map collection.
This stunning world map is highly characteristic for the age in which it was produced; that is, a time when humanity – especially the colonial powers of Europe – thought themselves pretty savvy when it came to understanding the world’s geography. European explorers, merchants, and war ships had after all been plowing the high seas for centuries at this stage. Nevertheless, the map is also testament to a global political structure and hierarchy that was doomed to fail. In this light, the map is full of oddities and curiosities, but also full of errors, assumptions, and very short-lived constructions. Let us dive into a few of them here.
The map consists of two sheets, with each sheet having been dissected and backed on linen so that it measures approximately 33 x 37 inches (c. 84 x 94 cm). While clearly two parts of a single whole, each sheet depicts a set of landmasses; Eurasia, Africa and Australia on the right and the Americas on the left. When joined, this provides a perspective in which the Pacific Ocean constitutes the centre of the image.
One of the most interesting aspects of the map for an American audience is certainly the labeling of Alaska as ‘Russian America.’ This was of course the common term for Russia’s colonial possessions in North America. While Russians had maintained a presence in America since the mid 18th century, it was not until Paul I issued the decree (or Ukasse) of 1799 that these settlements were formalized as Russian territory. While the majority of the Russian presence was in Alaska, with their capital at Novo-Arkhangelsk (modern Sitka), there were also small Russian colonies in California and three Russian forts on Hawaii (here still labeled the ‘Sandwich Islands’). Initially, the Russian settlements in Alaska prospered – especially as a result of the fur trade. But excessive hunting, unreliable transport infrastructure, and domestic problems back in Mother Russia, lead to a slow decline over the course of the 19th century. By 1860, five years after this map was published, most Russian settlements in Alaska had been abandoned, and only seven years later, in 1867, the Russian territory was formally sold to the United States for just over seven million dollars.
In general, many of the labels stand out as either strange or extremely out of place in a modern context. The fact that direct British control of India had not yet been established is behind the naming of India as Hindoostan; just as Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dissolved into Baluchistan and Cabool (also labeled Afghanistan, but in a smaller font). South Asia had of course been a central pillar in the British Empire for some time at this stage, but direct British control in the form of the Raj was only established in 1858, three years after this map was issued. Other interesting labels include a distinction between China and the Chinese Empire; Thailand as Siam; Taiwan as Formosa; and the inclusion of a Tartar State in Bucharia.
In Europe, the German Empire remains divided between Germany and Prussia, and we see a fledgling Austrian Empire bordering the still enormous Ottoman Empire. That said, the Greeks had at this stage managed to establish independence in the Peloponnese. The most notable European label is perhaps found in Greenland, which carries the words ‘Danish America’ in large bold lettering. Despite having its own scattered indigenous population, Greenland was settled and colonized by Danes and Norwegians over the course of centuries (starting as early as the late 9th century). Much of this was driven by commercial interests, with everything from whale blubber to a potential Northwest Passage playing a role. However, Greenland was only formally entered into the Danish Realm in 1814, the same year that Norway became independent from Denmark. Their breach with Danish sovereignty and subsequent limited status on the world stage meant that the Norwegians could make no claim to Greenland (although the repeatedly tried). So when Cruchley published this map, Greenland had indeed formally been part of the Kingdom of Denmark for some time; however, the labeling of it as ‘Danish America’ is to our knowledge something new. Over the course of the next half century, the term was applied especially on maps of North America that include Greenland, whereas on Cruchley’s map it could in some ways be seen as a balancing counterpart to his inclusion of ‘Russian America.’
A final note should be made on the many blank spaces that still characterize this map. While large parts of the world had not only been explored and mapped, but also colonized, there remain enormous swathes of uncharted territory. This is seen most apparently in Central Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, both of which would only be more thoroughly explored by westerners during the latter half of the 19th century, and well into the 20th century. Yet great swathes of Central Asia, Australia, and the Indonesian Archipelago remain blank spaces as well. In the case of Africa, we see how European explorers had begun venturing deeper and deeper into the continent via its great rivers, plotting an abundance of both physiography and culture along the way. This was the age of Mungo Park and David Livingstone, and it is quite apparent from the map how Africa’s rivers constituted the avenues for European discovery of the continent.
Engraved map on two sheets with bright contemporary hand-coloring, sectioned and laid on linen.
Slight staining, marbled endpapers with map seller's labels on each.
Contained in contemporary half morocco gilt boards with morocco gilt label to upper cover. Boards slightly stained, rubbed and worn at extremities.