The Only Obtainable Mercator World Map
There is much to unpack in this influential map, but above all it is important to keep in mind that it is directly connected to one of the seminal maps in the history of cartography, Gerard Mercator’s 1569 large world map that introduced the Mercator Projection. Our map, published by Gerard’s son Rumold, is a folio-size version of the 1569 work with some updates and a double-hemisphere layout, and as the 1569 is all but unattainable, the Rumold map is the only available world map directly influenced by Gerard Mercator, and thus a piece worthy of any collection.
Dominating both hemispheres is a large southern continent, Terra Australis. The search for Terra Australis was a constant theme of Pacific exploration and theory from the mid-16th to the late 18th century. An important reason for this endurance is evident on this map: when Magellan sailed through the straight named after him, many geographers assumed that the land lying to the south – in reality Tierra del Fuego – was part of Terra Australis. This was true for the influential Mercators, and on this map we see ‘Terra del Fuego’ as a part of the southern continent, complete with fabricated river and bays. On the other side of the world, still in Terra Australis, is another influential Mercator error: the locating of Marco Polo’s Beach as part of the southern continent below Java.
The map’s depiction of the western hemisphere is a classic representation of 16th and early 17th century geographic conceptions of the New World. Many elements are similar to those on Abraham Ortelius’s popular Americae Sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio, including the bulge-shaped South America. California is shown as a peninsula and the Sierra Nevadas are labeled. Quiuira, the mythical kingdom sought by Coronado, is shown, along with kingdom of Anian, which has made its way over from Asia. Originally mentioned by Marco Polo, Anian gave its name to the straight supposed to separate North America from Asia. The maps of Mercator, along with those of Ortelius, were influential in promoting the existence of the Straight of Anian; the discovery of the “real” Anian had to await the early 18th century and the voyages of Vitus Bering.
Also in North America, the mapmaker has left is not 1, not 2, but 3 possibilities for a Northwest Passage through the continent, that most desired of cartographic myths (not to mention an actual arctic passage above the continent). Starting at the St. Lawerence River, one branch veers north similarly to the actual Coppermine River and reaches tantalizingly close to a large inland bay, labeled ‘Mare Dulce,’ which connects to a north sea and on to the Straight of Anian. Two other water ways continue across the continent to the Gulf of California, with only a single mountain range enigmatically breaking the paths.
The North Pole follows Mercator’s conception of four islands separated by radiating rivers.
Overall, a truly wonderful and interesting map.