From 18th century printings to Second Life: David Rumsey's map collection


David Rumsey had a 20 year career in real estate before founding Cartography Associates 16 years ago.
David Rumsey talks about maps of the past and future

By this stage, Rumsey had been building a private map collection for a full 15 years, and these days his collection consists of an extraordinary 150,000 maps.

The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century maps of North and South America, although it also has maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania.

Indeed in general it's a very broad collection and includes atlases, wall maps, globes, school geographies, pocket maps, books of exploration, maritime charts, and a variety of cartographic materials.

It's impossible to summarise the collection, but a few examples might help give an idea of the variety and quality:

For example, there is a range of examples of a style of map that was a visualisation of the heights and lengths of the world's mountains and rivers. The form was popular through the 19th century, such as with this example by S. Augustus Mitchell.

Moutains rivers map
S. Augustus Mitchell's moutains and rivers of the world


If any one mapmaker captures the quality of the American maps it is probably Julius Bien (1826-1909). An American lithographic printer and cartographer who worked in New York City in the late 19th century, he created thousands of maps.

An impressive 1,100 of Bien's maps are part of Rumsey's collection. He was a pioneer in the development of chromolithography and recognised as one of the finest map printers of his time.

Just in the past few weeks, Rumsey has confirmed online the first atlas of Russia, dated to 1745. Published by the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Russia, it expanded on the cartographic work done previously by Russian cartographer Ivan K. Kirilov.

The atlas maps present the first complete national survey of the entire country at uniform scales for European and Asiatic Russia.

First Russian atlas general map
General map for the first Russian Atlas

Sometimes when a major collector accumulates a high proportion of the collectibles in a market, they vanish from view for everyone else, but Rumsey has gone out of his way to ensure that that doesn't happen.

From 1995, Rumsey began the task of making his collection public by building the online David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, uploading 26,000 high resolution images and winning Rumsey was given an Honors Award from the Special Libraries Association.

He has lectured widely regarding his online library work, including talks at the Library of Congress and at conferences all over the world.

"When you can see all the maps, globes, charts, atlases and their related materials in one space, as you can in my physical library, you can start to sense how maps grow one from another in time, as one map incorporates the new discoveries of an earlier map, and thus you can visually feel the flow of history over several centuries," says Rumsey.

"By putting all my maps in one site on the Web, I hope to re-create this sense of connection between the maps and history, as well as introducing people to the stunning beauty of these arcane materials that most have never seen."

Recently creating historical map projects both in Google Earth, Google Maps and even the virtual world of Second Life, Rumsey is doing all he can to bring these historical collectibles to the cutting edge of technology in the 21st century.


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