From the Secret Atlas!
Nice example of this extremely rare sea chart of the area around Ningbo, Zhoushan and Mount Putuo (Powto) in the Zheijang Province of China, at the mouth of the Yangtze Delta, just south of Shanghai, from the Dutch East India' Company's Secret Atlas.
The region depicted includes several important commercial trading centers and Mount Putuo, one of the four sacred mountains. There are several detailed annotations based upon the first hand observations of earlier commercial voyages by the VOC. The chart was created from manuscript charts compiled by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which were privately maintained over the course of the VOC's 200 year history. It is the most detailed chart of the region published to date and is extremely rare, having only been issued directly to VOC merchant ships bound for the region and never offered commercially for sale. We are aware of only one other example which has been offered in a dealer catalogue in the past 25 years and no examples offered at auction.
The Dutch East India Company (in Dutch, known as the VOC: Vereenigde Geoctroieerde Oostindische Compagnie), was the dominant trade force in Asia for nearly 200 years. During this time, in aid of its commerce, the VOC created many extremely detailed charts of the trading regions which it reached. From the beginning, the VOC had its own mapmakers and the charts created by these mapmakers were kept in secret, in order to maintain a trade advantage in the regions charted. The mapmaking firms of the Blaeu Family and Van Keulen Family were integrally involved in the maintenance and updating of the VOC's charts, which were maintained only in manuscript form, to minimize the risk of their falling into the hands of others.
However, beginning in 1753, the VOC began to issue a printed atlas, which included charts to navigate the waters from South Africa to Japan. The atlas was produced by Johannes (II) van Keulen, official hydrographer to the VOC, and was officially known as Part VI of the Zee-Fakkel. The VOC was careful to limit the use of its printed maps, so many sets are limited only to the regions which a particular merchant ship would have visited on its journey. Because the maps were working charts and closely guarded by the VOC and never sold commercially, the maps are extremely rare on the market.
The Van Keulens were a family of chartmakers and publishers. The firm, In de Gekroonde Lootsman (In the Crowned Pilot), was founded in 1678 by Johannes van Keulen (1654-1715). Van Keulen originally registered his business as a vendor of books and instruments (specifically cross-staffs). In 1680, however, he gained a privilege from the States of Holland and West Friesland for the publication of pilot guides and sea atlases.
In that year, van Keulen released his Zee-Atlas (Sea Atlas), which secured him a name in the competitive maritime publishing market. In 1681, he published the first volume of Nieuwe Lichtende Zee-Fakkel (New Shining Sea Torch). This would be the first of an eventual five volumes originally published between 1680 and 1684. A sixth volume was added in 1753. The Zee-Fakel won van Keulen lasting fame. The atlas had charts compiled by Claes Jansz Vooght and artwork from Jan Luyken. It proved immensely popular and was reprinted until 1783. There were translations in French, English, Spanish, and Italian.
The late-seventeenth century was an auspicious time to enter the maritime chart business. Previous industry leaders had either closed shop, died, or retired, leaving space for a new competitor. Van Keulen proceeded to buy up the stock and privileges of several maritime publishing firms; the most notable was the stock of Hendrik Doncker, acquired in 1693.
Johannes’ son, Gerard (1678-1726) took over the business upon his father’s death. Gerard was a skilled engraver and mathematician. His talents were noticed, as in 1706 he was named as Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
In turn, Gerard’s son Johannes II (1704-1770) came to run the shop. He was also tied to the VOC, and his role as their chartmaker allowed his charts to be considered as quasi-official government documents. It is with access to formerly clandestine VOC geographic knowledge that Johannes the Younger was able to add a sixth volume to the Zee-Fakkel, which covered the East Indies. Johannes also continued to sell instruments, including the recently-invented Hadley’s Quadrant from 1744.
When Johannes II died in 1770, his widow ran the business in his stead, aided by her two sons, Cornelis Buys (1736-1778) and Gerard Hulst (1733-1801). Now a century old, the family business had extended to include an anchor factory. After Cornelis died in 1778, Gerard took on the management of the firm alone. He oversaw the introduction of sextants to their inventory and published the Dutch Nautical Almanac beginning in 1788. Annual editions appeared until 1885. Gerard also served as an original member of the Dutch Commission for Longitude at Sea from 1787.
Gerard’s widow ran the business for nine years after his death, when their son, Johannes Hulst, started to lead the firm in 1810. After his death in 1844, the firm passed out of family hands and into the control of Jacob Swert, a skilled cartographer who had worked for the business for two decades. He passed the work to his son, another Jacob, in 1866. By the mid-nineteenth century, the conversion from sail to steam had diminished the size of the market for charts. Fewer sailors needed fewer maps, charts, and instruments. In 1885, after 207 years in business, In de Gekroonde Lootsman closed its doors and auctioned its stock.