The following information defines the meaning and scope of terms and concepts used in the descriptive records for the maps in this digital collection. The information also provides users new to rare maps the context for understanding the physical parts of a map as well as the elements of its composition and publication. The information has been organized into relevant categories.
Physical Parts of Maps
- Recto - front of the sheet on which the map is published.
- Verso - back of the sheet on which the map is published.
- Centerfold - fold or crease along the center of the map that usually denotes that a map was part of an atlas.
- Binder's guard - a strip of paper glued to the verso of the map along the centerfold. This strip was used to sew the map into an atlas (Manasek, 17). The glue was usually of a poor quality and often causes darkening of the sheet along the centerfold.
- Neatline - line that marks the map's edge.
- Platemark - the indentation around the map that is visible on the sheet. It is caused during the printing of the map and is usually a result of metal engraving plates pressing into the sheet
- Margin - the space between the neatline and the platemark.
Map Production and Publication
- Cartography - “Cartography” is here used to refer to the science and art of mapmaking as well as its history and development.
- Cartographer - “Cartographer” is here used to refer to mapmaker.
- Engraving - During the sixteenth and up to the nineteenth centuries, metal plate engraving was the most common way to print maps and it used the intaglio process. Usually copper was used to create map plates. An engraver would use a sharp tool called a graver or burin to form the lines of the map. The plate was then covered with ink and then wiped clean. The sheet of paper was then pressed with a high amount of pressure against the plate usually with a heavy roller. The lines of an engraved map are usually “slightly raised” on the surface from this process. The process also usually leaves a platemark.
- Woodcut printing - In the early period of printed maps in Europe, woodcut printing was often used to print maps. This is a form of the relief process of printing. Basically woodblocks were cut along the grain of the wood, leaving only raised lines that formed the map and thenh the raised portion covered with ink. This was common from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries (Manasek, 53).
- Lithography - Lithography was a common form of planographic printing in the nineteenth century. Originally this printing involved the use of a stone. The image of the map was “drawn on the stone with a wax or grease crayon.” The stone was then dampened and an “oil-based ink” was applied where the ink would cling to the areas of wax. This image would then be transferred to paper by pressing the paper against the stone (Manasek, 59).
- Atlas - Atlases were usually a volume or set of published volumes that contained maps by one or more cartographers. Atlases were usually reprinted in several editions if they were very popular. Multiple editions of atlases can have maps that are in the same state or a combination of states (Manasek, 65).
- States & Editions - During the “lifetime” of an engraved map plate, the plates were often altered to produce “different images” of the map. Maps were also reprinted from an unaltered plate several times. The relationship between printings and changes in the plate may be explained in the concepts of “edition” and “state.” Every major change made to a plate is a new state of a map. Often times, these states were formed when areas of the plate were re-engraved or "erased". Each time a set of map “impressions” are produced, all of the maps from this set are part of the “same edition” (Manasek, 64).
Elements within maps
- Cartouche - a device that contains the title of the map as well as additional information such as the year of publication, the name of the cartographer, the engraver and illustrations. A cartouche may be very sparse in appearance or quite detailed. In fact, Manasek writes that cartouches may be "a study in themselves" for their interesting "iconography" (20). They may appear completely uncolored, partly colored or completely colored. Cartouches may appear at the top of the map, at the bottom or in any corner. They should be quite easy to identify.
- Scale - a scale presents a comparison of different methods of measurement. Scales usually use “graduated distance bars” to show the multiple measurement units common at the time (Manasek, 22). It is common to see scales containing up to 5 or 6 different units such as English miles, German leagues, Spanish leagues or French leagues. Units presented often depended on the region depicted. For instance, a map of Spain might contain units of distance distinct to a particular region. Units also depended upon the inclusion of major bodies of water in the map. Maps with much of the ocean shown might include sea leagues by different nations.
- Color - In addition to decoration, cartographers and their publishers often employed color as a means to improve the selling power of their maps. Color was usually watercolor employed on a map after it was printed. Blue was often used for bodies of water, brown was used for roads and mountains and a myriad of color was applied to illustrations (Skelton, 19). Color was also used to indicate distinct geopolitical entities either through color used along borders between entities or complete coloring of each entity. Colorists usually used watercolor to paint in the color on maps after printing.
- Outline color - When color is used to distinguish borders, it is called outline color.
- Body color - When color is used for each geopolitical area, then it is called body color.
- Full color - When color is used for most of the area depicted, the term “full color” is used to describe the map.
- Orientation - Orientation in maps today is usually shown with north as the map's top, east at the right edge, west at the left edge and south at the bottom. This was not always the case with maps of the past. Some maps in this collection are oriented in directions other than north.
- Compass rose - an illustrated compass that typically showed the major cardinal directions and indicated in which a direction a map was oriented by signifying north as a unique point on the compass.
- Figures - Figures or illustrated people within a map's border or around a cartouche or in unknown geographic areas within a map were common appearances on seventeenth century maps. They were usually “native peoples in their native costumes, nobility, famous individuals and scenes considered typical of the regions shown on the map” (Manasek, 25). Such images were common in the maps of Willem Blaeu, John Speed, Jan Jansson and Nicolas Visscher.
- Mythical Places - Mythical places are legendary or fanciful places that appear on maps. For instance, the idea of a kingdom of Anian in northwestern North America was one such place.
- Cartographic Curiosa - Maps with major geographical inaccuracies are referred to as Cartographic Curiosa. Such maps are often valuable for their “erroneous concepts” (Manasek, 44).
- Projection - A projection is a representation of the earth. As maps typically present the earth as a flat two-dimensional model and the earth is spherical, maps cannot accurately model the earth (Manasek, 31). As such, a projection is a “technique for transforming a spherical coordinate grid to a planar one,” and is often a distortion of the actual world's shape (Manasek, 31).
- Latitude - Latitude divides the earth horizontally along a north-south division. The lines of latitude usually mark out the earth into different numbered degrees of latitude. The latitude begins at the equator and moves to 90 degrees at the north and south poles.
- Longitude - Longitude starts at a denoted Prime Meridian which is the 0 degree mark of longitude and is placed running through a city chosen by the cartographer to be the Prime Meridian. Longitude lines run vertically and are marked out in degrees east and west from the Prime Meridian. Claudius Ptolemy used several prime meridians in his maps including Alexandria, Egypt and the Canary Islands.
- Ptolemaic Projection - Claudius Ptolemy first codified the notion of longitude and latitude. His maps usually have a Prime Meridian but did not have a “magnetic pole or the geographic pole.” His maps usually look trapezoidal in shape (Manasek, 32). The Ptolemaic projection is quite distinctive and easy to identify due to this shape.
- Mercator Projection - Mercator's projection is basically a “mathematical transform” that shows “straight lines [to] represent compass courses” (Manasek, 36-7). These lines or loxodromes cross meridians at “equal angles” (Manasek, 36-7). Longitudes are all shown as parallel, causing a greater amount of distortion in geographic appearance as one moves further away from the equator to the poles. Areas at the far north and south look larger than they actually are.
- Bird's Eye View - Bird's Eye View projections show maps with an “oblique” view of a town or city. From this perspective, a town's layout is visible as are buildings, “streets, parks, and blocks” (Manasek, 40).
- Polar Projection - A polar projection shows one of the earth's pole at the map's center. Such maps usually present the world “as though viewed from a great distance” (Manasek, 36).
Works Consulted and Cited For This Glossary
Manasek, Francis J. Collecting Old Maps. Norwich, VT: Terra Nova Press, 1998.
Moreland, Carl and David Bannister. “Antique Maps: A Collector's Handbook.” New York:
Longman Group, Ltd., 1983.
Skelton, R.A. “Decorative Printed Maps of the 15th to 18th Centuries; a Revised Edition of Old Decorative
Maps and Charts, by A. L. Humphreys.” London: Staples Press, 1952.