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Description

Detailed chart of the English Channel, showing the coastlines, soundings and other deails from the Spanish coastline in the south to Kent and Calais.

This finely engraved sea chart was one of the 18th-centuries most important maps to depict the English Channel, one of the busiest commerce corridors of the 18th Century.

Bellin's chart is based on extensive surveys and astronomical readings by mariners, and was considered to be the finest available chart of the region during it time. Symbols noted in the title cartouche locate the specific points, usually at headlands, where mariners took observations. The composition is completed by an elegant cartouche, and the seas are traversed by rumblines.

This chart was produced by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772), France's preeminent maritime cartographer and the Premier Ingénieur of the Depot de la Marine (the French Hydrographical Office), as well as the Official Hydrographer of the King Louis XV. The chart was part of Bellin's greatest work, the monumental sea atlas, Hydrographie française (1753).

The present example is an espeically fine example with the additional rhumblines no present on most examples of the map, further evidence of the intended use of the chart for navigation at sea.

Depot de la Marine Biography

The Dépôt de la Marine, known more formally as the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine, was the central charting institution of France. The centralization of hydrography in France began in earnest when Jean-Baptiste Colbert became First Minister of France in 1661. Under his watch, the first Royal School of Hydrography began operating, as did the first survey of France’s coasts (1670-1689). In 1680, Colbert consolidated various collections of charts and memoirs into a single assemblage, forming the core of sources for what would become the Dépôt.

The Dépôt itself began as the central deposit of charts for the French Navy. In 1720, the Navy consolidated its collection with those government materials covering the colonies, creating a single large repository of navigation. By 1737, the Dépôt was creating its own original charts and, from 1750, they participated in scientific expeditions to determine the accurate calculation of longitude.

In 1773, the Dépôt received a monopoly over the composition, production, and distribution of navigational materials, solidifying their place as the main producer of geographic knowledge in France.  Dépôt-approved charts were distributed to official warehouses in port cities and sold by authorized merchants. The charts were of the highest quality, as many of France’s premier mapmakers worked at the Dépôt in the eighteenth century, including Philippe Bauche, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Rigobert Bonne, Jean Nicolas Buache, and Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré.

The Dépôt continued to operate until 1886, when it became the Naval Hydrographic Service. In 1971, it changed names again, this time to the Naval and Oceanographic Service (SHOM). Although its name has changed, its purpose is largely the same, to provide high quality cartographic and scientific information to the France’s Navy and merchant marine.