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Third Edition of Munster's Cosmographia with his World Maps, Asia, Africa, and the Famous Map of the Americas

Münster’s influential Cosmographia, which includes his important map of the Americas, was the first German-language description of the world. It is one of the defining books of the Renaissance.

The volume contains 28 woodcut maps and numerous woodcuts interspersed with informative text. The most renowned of these woodcuts is that of a rhino, fashioned after Albrecht Durer’s celebrated image of the animal. The maps are two world maps (Shirley maps 76 and 77), sixteen maps of Europe (not including Germany), four of Germany, three of Asia, a decorative map of the Holy Land (Laor 526), one of Africa, and a map of the Americas (Burden map 12, State 3).

The map of the Americas is especially significant, for it "sealed the fate of 'America’ as the name for the New World", as Burden explains. The map mentions New France and Florida, as well as Brasil, all early toponyms used to describe portions of North and South America. It also includes “Americam” or American, cementing the use of that toponym to describe the continents. This map was one of the first to show the Americas in such recognizable continental form and an early adopter of Mare Pacificum for the Pacific Ocean.

Münster was widely traveled himself, but he also gathered sources for the work from ancient and more modern sources. These included Herodotus, Strabo, and Titius Livius, as well as Marcantonio Sabellico, Beatus Rhenanus, and Aegidius Tschudi. He additionally collected reports from recent travelers, which he integrated into his descriptions. These descriptions included detailed overviews of the customs, dress, and organization of peoples around the world, earning him a prominent place in the histories of geography and anthropology.

First published in 1540, this is a complete copy of the third German edition of the Cosmographia, published in Basel in 1546. The Cosmographia was hugely popular in addition to being influential for contemporary cartographers like Mercator and Ortelius. It was published in at least 35 editions by 1628; these editions included examples in Latin, French, Italian, English, and Czech.


14 pages, 818 pages, 1 page. Eighteenth-century calf, spine labeled and gilt.


The title-page contains a previous ownership inscription of the monastery of Scheyern and their library stamp is on the verso. This is a deaccessioned duplicate from the Bavarian State Library.

Condition Description
Little browning and minor dampmarking to places, minor worming (1-4 holes) throughout, increasing towards the end, very occasional staining, very few old restored marginal tears, leaf Ff2 with restored paper flaw, leaves Bb, Ee3 and map of America and Bavaria with restored torn away corner with only minor loss of border line to the map of Bavaria; the maps with faint browning and little dampmarking at gutter, 12 maps and last leaf of index with tear at gutter.
VD 16, M 6691; Burmeister, 68; Peter H. Meurer, “Cartography in the German Lands, 1450–1650,” in History of Cartography, vol. 3, part 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1172-1245; Zsolt G. Torok, “Renaissance Cartography in East-Central Europe, ca. 1450-1650,” in History of Cartography, vol. 3, part 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1806-1851.
Sebastian Munster Biography

Sebastian Münster (1488-1552) was a cosmographer and professor of Hebrew who taught at Tübingen, Heidelberg, and Basel. He settled in the latter in 1529 and died there, of plague, in 1552. Münster made himself the center of a large network of scholars from whom he obtained geographic descriptions, maps, and directions.

As a young man, Münster joined the Franciscan order, in which he became a priest. He then studied geography at Tübingen, graduating in 1518. He moved to Basel, where he published a Hebrew grammar, one of the first books in Hebrew published in Germany. In 1521 Münster moved again, to Heidelberg, where he continued to publish Hebrew texts and the first German-produced books in Aramaic. After converting to Protestantism in 1529, he took over the chair of Hebrew at Basel, where he published his main Hebrew work, a two-volume Old Testament with a Latin translation.

Münster published his first known map, a map of Germany, in 1525. Three years later, he released a treatise on sundials. In 1540, he published Geographia universalis vetus et nova, an updated edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia. In addition to the Ptolemaic maps, Münster added 21 modern maps. One of Münster’s innovations was to include one map for each continent, a concept that would influence Ortelius and other early atlas makers. The Geographia was reprinted in 1542, 1545, and 1552.  

He is best known for his Cosmographia universalis, first published in 1544 and released in at least 35 editions by 1628. It was the first German-language description of the world and contained 471 woodcuts and 26 maps over six volumes. Many of the maps were taken from the Geographia and modified over time. The Cosmographia was widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The text, woodcuts, and maps all influenced geographical thought for generations.