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Sunday, 2 October 2011


The first modern atlas was the Theatrum orbis terrarum, by cartographer Abraham Ortelius. It was published on May 20, 1570. by Gilles Coppens de Diest at Antwerp.

The atlas contained virtually no maps from the hand of Ortelius, but 53 bundled maps of other masters, with the source as indicated.

Demand for the Theatrum orbis terrarum was immediate and persisted for decades, during which time dozens of editions were published in several languages.

Ortelius World Map Typvs Orbis Terrarvm, 1570.

The first English atlas was a 1579 collection of the counties of England and Wales by Christopher Saxten.

From 1569 Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator devoted himself to producing a series of large engraved maps, designed for binding into volume form. By the time of his death in 1594 he'd published or prepared maps, of France, Germany, Italy, the Balkans and the British Isles.

When Rumold Mercator published his father's maps in 1595, he illustrated the title page and decorated the outside cover with the image of the Greek mythological character Atlas supporting the world on his back. In doing so the giant's name became the standard European word for a volume of maps.

The Goode's School Atlas, named for its first editor, Dr. J. Paul Goode, was published in 1923. It became a standard text for high school and college geography curricula. Later retitled Goode's World Atlas, it is now in its 22nd edition.

The Rand McNally Auto Chum, later to become the ubiquitous Rand McNally Road Atlas, was first published in 1924. The first full-color edition was published in 1960. It became fully digitized in 1993.  

The Doria Atlas, commissioned by Andrea Doria in the late 1500s, was saved from a fire in 2004 by a human chain.

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