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The Best Ptolemaic Map of the British Isles

British Isles/ History of Cartography. MERCATOR, G./ PTOLEMY, C. [Cologne, 1584]
Europae. I. Tab:. 13 3/8 x 16 inches
Fine hand color; two light stains upper left & right, else excellent condition.


A superb example from an early edition of Mercator’s definitive edition of Ptolemy’s geography. “The ancient British Isles map has been finely drawn and engraved by Mercator himself” (Shirley). Mercator’s edition of Ptolemy became the standard text; it was based on the best available sources, and all of its maps were re-edited and redrawn to conform to Ptolemy’s original design. As Shirley noted, “Mercator’s plates in his Geographia represent some of his best work and such was their excellence that seven further editions were printed from them.” This map was from the scarce second edition; only this edition and the first of 1578 were published during Mercator’s lifetime.
Mercator in 1540 published Literarum latinarum, the first instructional handbook in the use of the italic hand to appear outside of Italy. It was also the first work to offer instruction in the use of italic script in the engraving of maps. The maps in Mercator’s Ptolemy are arguably the finest demonstrations Mercator provided in the use of italics. Moreover, “the beauty and legibility of the best sixteenth and severteenth-century Dutch maps can be traced in large measure to Mercator’s influence” (Karrow, p. 382).

Shirley, R. Early Printed Maps of the British Isles, no. 141, cf. no. 123; Karrow, R. Mapmakers in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 376-406;

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