The First Map of Russian America by Russia's Most Important Mapmaker of the Period
Rare separately published Russian map of the North Pacific and coastlines of Northwest America and Northeast Asia, synthesizing the best available information from Russian and European explorers between 1726 and 1779.
Alexander Wilbrecht was the most important mapmaker in Russia in the last decades of the 18th Century. The present map is Wilbrecht's first map of the Arctic Regions between Asia and America, and is generally regarded as the most important and detailed mapping of the Russian explorations in the region prior to Cook's arrival. The World Digital Library description of the map states:
This 1787 map shows the voyages of the leading Russian explorers of the North Pacific: Bering, Chirikov, Krenitsyn, Shpanberg, Walton, Shel'ting, and Petushkov. It also shows the 1778-79 voyage of British Captain James Cook. The route of each voyage is depicted in great detail, with ship locations plotted by the day. Other details on the map include administrative borders, population centers, Chukchi dwellings, and impassable ice. The inset map is of Kodiak Island, Alaska, denoted here by its Russian name of Kykhtak.
The map title translates as follows: Map presenting the discoveries of Russian navigators in the Pacific Ocean and those of the English Captain Cook. (translation source: Library of Congress). The annotation and addition along the southern coastline near modern day Puget Sound in red is almost certainly an early effort to draw in the newly explored coastline of Vancouver Island.
The map does not include the explorations of Gerasim Ismailov, who after meeting Cook in 1778, explored the region in the 1780s. The map also pre-dates the explorations of Dimitrii Bocharov and Grigorii Shelikov. The map includes a large inset map of Polozhenie Kykhtaka I okolo lezhashchikh ostrovov (Kodiak Island), which would later be colonized by Shelikov.
Among its more interesting features, the map includes a detailed treatment of the topography of the Russian regions in Northeast Asia and a remarkably detailed group of original Russian place names in Alaska and along the NW Coast of America. The map provides excellent detail in Alaska and along the Northwest Coast of America, reaching as far south as the Northern California, a foreshadowing of the Russian attempts at colonization along the California Coast.
Alexander Wilbrecht (1757-1823) was a mathematician, geographer, cartographer and astronomer. Wilbrecht served as geographer of the Geographic Department of the Cabinet of Her Imperial Majesty. In 1782, he produced the first Russian atlas. He also produced a number of important separately issued maps between 1787 and 1802. Wilbrecht is credited with authorship of several atlases, including Ross'iiskoi Atlas iz soroka chetyrekh kart sostaiashch'ii I na sorok na dva namiestnichestva Imper'iiu razdieliaushch'ii. [The New Atlas or a Collection of all parts of the Globe], St. Petersburg, 1793 (Philips 679).
The map is apparently quite rare. We locate only the copies at the Library of Congress, University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Russian National Library.
We also locate an example at Yale which we sold in 2011 and a copy of the map which sold at Christies in December 2017 (Lot 164), for which the catalog entry noted: "RBH and ABPC record no copy at auction since the Streeter sale in 1969 (lot 3482). "
The present example is likely from an institutional collection in Kiev which was dissolved shortly after the Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution in 1918.