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The Benevento Copy. The Earliest Printed Map of the Northwest Coast of North America To Catalina and Southern California 

Fine old color example of this rare, important map depicting the west coast of North America, published by De Jode in 1593.

The map extends from the mythical arctic regions of the Northwest Passage and Arctic in the north to Southern California and the Channel Islands, with the island west of C. Blanco almost certainly being Catalina Island or San Clemente Island off the coast of San Diego.  Cape Mendocino is shown (inclusive of the small island off its modern coastline), emphasizing the western most part of the California Coastline, with another prominent region marked Anian Reg[io], which corresponds geographically to the area around Cape Nome Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Cartographically, De Jode's map is derived from Plancius's world map of 1592. De Jode's map is one of the earliest regional maps to focus on this stretch of largely unexplored coastline. The map is from the second edition of De Jode's very rare Speculum Orbis Terrae and was issued in only one known edition and state.

The map extends from the mythical Northwest Passage (El Streto de Anian) to the northern part of Baja California. Mountains line the coasts of the landmasses. Cities are marked with small clusters of buildings and are here colored red. Embellished text boxes expand on the images of settlements, people, and goats. They explain the typical animals of the area, the similarity of the indigenous peoples' tents to those of the Tartars, and the geography of the northern polar region.

The decorative elements are stunning, particularly the large ships. The three vessels are remarkably detailed, with one firing a broadside and another in full sail. The third, the southernmost, is patterned on a ship from Southeast Asia. Also in the water are two large sea monsters, one a mermaid unicorn, the other a fearsome fish.

The map is one of the most remarkable bits of sixteenth-century conjectural cartography to appear in print. Burden summarizes:

[the map] depicts the west coast from below the Tropic of Cancer to the North Pole here represented by the top border of the map. Part of the four islands derived from Mercator surround the pole. Below this runs the western end of the North West Passage leading into 'El Streto de Anian'. At this point we find the legend 'Polus Magnetis respectu insulari Capitis Viridis', an early indication of the magnetic pole...The inland details largely reflect the extent of various beliefs and legends that existed at the time; only part of the coastline records first hand knowledge.

From Hypothesis to Myth: the Strait of Anian and Quivira

As Burden noted, the map is full of what we now call myths but which were at the time were viable geographic hypotheses. Perhaps the most recognizable place name on the map is Anian. Anian derives from Ania, a Chinese province on a large gulf mentioned in Marco Polo's travels (ch. 5, book 3). The gulf Polo described was actually the Gulf of Tonkin, but the province's description was transposed from Vietnam to the northwest coast of North America. The first map to do was Giacomo Gastaldi's world map of 1562, followed by Zaltieri and Mercator in 1567. The Strait then became shorthand for a passage to China, i.e. a Northwest Passage. It appeared on maps until the mid-eighteenth century.

Quivira, mentioned in the title of the map, refers to the Seven Cities of Gold sought by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541. In 1539, Coronado wandered over what today is Arizona and New Mexico, eventually heading to what is now Kansas to find the supposedly rich city of Quivira. Although he never found the cities or the gold, the name stuck on maps of southwest North America, wandering from east to west. Here it is used to describe the entire southwest of the North America.

Not all the place names are fanciful. Cape Mendocino is labeled here. It is a point named by another Spanish explorer, Andres de Urdaneta, in 1565. The point was important to the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade, as the westerly winds pushed the galleons toward this part of the coast, from where they would turn south toward Acapulco.

Certain place names are based on first-hand reports, however dubious, but are still difficult to place accurately. For example, the islands Las dos Hermanas, the two sisters, are labeled on this map to the west of the southern coast of North America. These islands, or rocks, were discovered by Bernardo de la Torre, who was attempting to cross the Pacific eastward from the Philippines in 1543. Torre had been part of a flotilla commanded by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos sent to colonize the Philippines. Although the colonization attempt was not immediately successful, Villalobos did give the archipelago its present name, after Philip II of Spain.

The De Jode Atlas

This map appeared in the second edition, or re-issue, Gerard De Jode's atlas, Speculum orbis terrae (first edition Antwerp: 1578) . Gerard De Jode (1509-1591) released his atlas in a golden age of Dutch atlas production: the first atlas was released in 1570, also in Antwerp, the first town atlas in 1572, the first pocket atlas in 1577, the first regional atlas in 1579, the first nautical atlas in 1584, and the first historical atlas in 1595. The first atlas was Ortelius' Theatrum orbis terrarium, and De Jode's was intended as competition for Ortelius'. Mercator was also preparing an atlas at the time, and corresponded with Ortelius, but it would not appear in full until 1595, a year after Mercator's death.

Although the Speculum was ready as early as 1573, it was not published until 1578. This is most likely due to Ortelius' influence and his privilege over atlas publishing, which expired just before De Jode finally published. The atlas was the result of collaboration between De Jode, the geographer Jan van Schille of Antwerp, German physician Daniel Cellarius, and the etchers Joannes and Lucas van Doetecum.

Although never as successful as Ortelius' Theatrum, the Speculum did get republished in a second edition in 1593, two years after De Jode's death, by Arnold Coninx, and included this map. After his death, Gerard's son, Cornelis (1568-1600), and his wife, Paschina, ran the shop. Unfortunately, Cornelis died young in 1600, aged only 32, and the stock and plates were sold to the publisher Joan Baptista Vrients. Vrients had also recently purchased the plates for Theatrum, giving him a monopoly over Antwerp atlas publication. Vrients acquired the De Jode atlas plates only to suppress them in favor of the Ortelius plates, thus the De Jode atlas maps are quite rare on the market today.


The Benevento Collection (Sotheby's London, 6 May 2010, lot 37. 8,750 GBP / 13,185 USD)

Condition Description
Original hand-color. Minor color offsetting.
Burden 82. Wagner, NW Coast, 171. Edward Brooke Hitchings, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (London: Simon & Schuster, 2016), 12-17. Thomas Suarez, Early Mapping of the Pacific (Hong Kong: Periplus, 2004). Lawrence C. Wroth, “The Early Cartography of the Pacific,” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 38, no. 2 (1944): 87-268.