Edward Luther Stevenson was among the most important scholars of early cartography active at the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. He was responsible for numerous cartobibliographic books, including the first translation of Ptolemy to English, as well as a series of impressive facsimile maps produced while he was at the Hispanic Society of New York. Dr. Stevenson viewed facsimiles as integral to the study of early cartography, and he committed himself to building an unparalleled collection of photographs of early maps and globes. Much of his collection was donated to Yale University after his death (click on the title link above for about that), but the present item comes from a large collection of photos, manuscripts, and related material that were part of Stevenson's library, but were not donated to Yale. It is truly an impressive collection and many of the items, though reproductions, have serious antiquarian merit. As Alexander O. Vietor said about Stevenson collection that went to Yale "this is the stuff of which great libraries are made."
The following biography, by Alexander O. Vietor, was included in The Yale Library Gazette's January 1948 announcement of the acquisition of the Stevenson Collection. It provides an excellent summary of what drove Stevenson's own collecting and what he produced with the items he gathered.
Mr. Stevenson was born on a farm in Illinois in 1858. Shortly afterward his parents died and he was taken to Franklin, Indiana, to live with an uncle. Through this association he finally entered Franklin College, graduating in 1881 with the bachelor's degree. In 1888 after obtaining his master's degree at Franklin and spending a year at Johns Hopkins studying history and political economy, Stevenson sailed abroad for three eventful years at the German universities of Jena, Halle, and Heidelberg. From this last university he obtained his doctorate. On his return to the United States he was offered an appointment as Professor of History at Rutgers, where he remained for twenty years, ultimately becoming the head of the department.
These years of teaching were marked by a growing interest in the study of early maps bearing on America. The history professor became determined to reproduce these maps for the students in his classes and therefore began to investigate methods of photographic facsimile.
With the resources of the Huntington-backed Hispanic Society of New York to draw on, publications came thick and fast. The first important facsimile group was one of twelve maps illustrating the discovery and exploration of America from 1502 to 1530. These were reproduced photographically from the original manuscripts in European libraries and archives. The next work was a facsimile of the world map of Jodocus Hondius (161 1), issued under the joint auspices of the American Geographical Society and the Hispanic Society in 1907. The following year saw a reproduction of the marine world chart of Nicolo de Canerio Januensis (ca.1502), from the original in the Marine Museum in Paris. This, like its predecessor, was sponsored by the American Geographical and Hispanic societies. In 1910, through his researches, Stevenson was appointed cartographer to the Hispanic Society, and later was made secretary and acting director. Further publications and facsimiles followed: portolan atlases, Blaeu's world map of 1605 and, in 1921, his definitive work on terrestrial and celestial globes printed by the Yale University Press. Stevenson's work was unique in character and he provided a public service by making rare maps available for students and scholars.
After a long and active life, Mr. Stevenson died at his home in Yonkers, New York, in July, 1944. He had made no provision for the disposal of his manuscripts, papers, books, and precious photographic negatives, and they were packed away in numerous cases. Through the generosity of his son and daughter, Edward Luther Stevenson, Jr., and Katharine Stevenson Bell, this entire collection has been recently given to the Library in memory of their father, and will be known as the Edward Luther Stevenson Collection. The material is indeed extraordinary for the student of cartobibliography. It contains over five hundred glass negatives of rare maps along with the manuscripts of most of the Stevenson publications, including the famous translation of the Geography of Claudius Ptolemy published by the New York Public Library in 1932. There are files of correspondence with regard to maps in all quarters of the globe, manuscripts of lectures and notes used by Stevenson at King's College, London, and documents and memorabilia of his trip to Egypt in 1925 at the invitation of King Fuad, where he gave the opening address at the International Geographical Congress at Cairo and was made Grand Commander of the Order of the Nile. He received additional decorations from the Spanish Crown and Venezuela for his Columbian studies.
The collection is large and it will take time to plumb its depths, but this is the stuff of which great libraries are made. To preserve the researches of a scholar and to make them available to others who wish to follow the same path, certainly is the ultimate justification for the existence of a university library. The other link in the chain is no less important- the one represented by those persons enlightened enough to contribute the collections. Without them, little would be accomplished.