The North American Volume
Of a Monument in the History of Cartography
Atlas/ History of Cartography/ Western Americana.
VANDERMAELEN, P [Brussels, 1827]
Atlas Universel De Geographie Physique, Politique, Statistique et Mineralogique, Sur l'echelle de 1/1641836 ou d'une ligne par 1900 toises Dressee Ph. Vandermaelen, . . . Lithographie par H. Ode, . . . Quatrienne partie... Amer. Sept. Bruxelles. 1827.
Folio. Original full, red morocco, somewhat scuffed; finely gold-stamped borders on boards; gold-tooled lettering on spines; 78 maps with original hand color; stamps on backs of maps; half title and title page foxed; few maps lightly toned, else fine, bright examples of the maps.
An overall fine copy of the North American volume (the fourth of six) of a landmark atlas in the history of mapmaking and containing an important depiction of the American West. “The atlas was distinctive in being printed by lithography…the first world atlas to be so produced.” (Woodward) One of the most ambitious works in the history of cartography, “it was the first atlas ever published in which every map was drawn on the same projection and to the same scale.” (Stefoff) As a result, certain newly emerging areas, such as the American West, are shown on a larger scale than ever before. Wheat: “no mapmaker had previously attempted to use such a large scale for any western American area.” Thus, even though Vandermaelen relied primarily on existing maps, his contribution was nevertheless considerable in making these sources more accessible. The atlas begins with a key map of North America—“Carte D’Assemblage De L’Americque Septentle.”—that displays on a single sheet the areas covered by the maps in the atlas.
Although a pioneering work in the use of lithography, the atlas is notable for the precision, easy readability, and economy of design of its maps. Not surprisingly, therefore, the atlas was very expensive in its day, costing $800 for the full set. Further evidence of the quality and care of its production are its high-quality paper, attractive hand-coloring, and handsome binding. As a work of graphic art, it is a good deal more “modern” in appearance than most printed maps of the period.
Since the atlas’ maps were produced on the same scale and projection, it is conceivable that they could be joined to form a globe. According to the British Library account of the atlas, one such instance in known, and a globe of more than 20 feet (6.1 meters) in diameter was produced.
Stefoff, R. The British Library Companion to Maps and Mapmaking, p. 117; Wheat, C., Mapping the Transmississippi West, II, pp. 94-5; Woodward, D., ed. Five Centuries of Map Printing, pp. 102-3; Phillips, Atlases 749.