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The Earliest, Acquirable Map On Which America Appears

World. RUYSCH, Johann [Rome, 1507]
Universalior Cogniti Orbis Tabula. Ex Recentibus Confecta Obserationi. 15 3/8 x 21 inches.
Two unjoined sheets; very slight cropping at top, else a fine example with a strong impression.

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The very rare Ruysch world map has long been one of the Holy Grails of map collectors. It appeared the same year as the legendary Waldseemuller wall map of the world, the first to name America. This map was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2003 for ten million dollars. Only one other printed map precedes the both the Waldseemuller and Ruysch maps in showing America—the Contarini-Rosselli (Shirley 24) of 1506-- but this map is known in a single example (now in the British Library).
The Ruysch map would have been immortalized for the above distinction alone, but in this endlessly fascinating work, we are permitted to witness a talented geographer respond to the onrush of new information and attempt to integrate it into an imperfect template. Ruysch’s mapping of newly discovered areas reveals that he struggled with the question as to whether they were part of Asia or a new continent altogether. Very telling in the regard is a note near Hispaniola (‘Spagnola’), in which Ruysch confesses that he does not know for sure where to locate Japan but concludes that ‘Spagnola’ must be the Japan (‘Sipangu’) as described by Marco Polo. Also, Newfoundland (‘Terra Nova’) is appended along with Greenland to the Asian continent. In this area is also ‘In[sulas] Baccalauras,’ one of the first references on a map to the cod fishing industry.
As Shirley points out, “there are several advanced features of this [the Ruysch] map…” It is possible that some of these features were the result of direct observation by Ruysch himself. In a commentary in the 1508 Ptolemaic atlas in which this map appeared, it is said of Ruysch that he “’…sailed from England westward,…bearing a little northward, and observed many islands.’” A factor that speaks persuasively to the independence of Ruysch’s sources is how different this map is from the Contarini-Rosselli map, published just a year earlier (even though they share the rarely seen, fan-shaped, conical projection). A clearly more recognizable shape for South America obtains on the Ruysch map, but the Contarini shows a complete Cuba, with Ruysch including just a partial one. These facts suggest Ruysch relied more on Portuguese sources, while Contarini leaned on Spanish sources. Both maps, though the Ruysch more so, do unequivocally suggest by the sheer mass of South America presented that indeed a new continent had been found in the Western Ocean. Ruysch is the more explicit about this; in fact, this is the first map to invoke the term Mundus Novus (New World) for South America.
Shirley further points out that “Ruysch’s map is the first to show many parts of Asia in the light of the latest Portuguese discoveries.” For the first time India approximates its actual shape, and both Madagascar and Sri Lanka have been adjusted to correspond more closely to reality. However, Ruysch compromised with tradition by still including Taprobana, the erstwhile, greatly inflated Sri Lanka, but moved it away from India.
The Ruysch map is of considerable and documented rarity. McGuirk’s census uncovered 63 examples of the map. He estimated, however, the total number of extant examples is more likely in area of 100, still a relatively small number. Of the examples located by McGuirk, about three quarters of them were in institutional collections. Thus, only about 25 examples of the map are in private collections and could ever conceivably change hands.
This map appeared in some copies of the 1507 Rome edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, but it must have been a late addition to this edition, as it does not even appear in the table of contents. Most extant examples of the map appeared in the 1508 edition of the atlas. The map would not be re-published in any later works. Five states of the map have been identified. Sixty per cent of the examples surveyed by McGuirk were in the fifth state, as is the present example.


Shirely 25; McGuirk, D. L. Ruysch World Map Census; Fite & Freeman 9; Nordenskiold, pp. 63-7; Suarez, Shedding the Veil, no. 12.

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