Fine chart of the World, showing the magnetic variations of the compass, one of the first French World maps to illustrate magnetic variations.
An elegantly designed and precisely drafted sea chart of the oceans sailed by French navigators in the 18th century. Drawn by J. N. Bellin (1703-1772), who during his over fifty years of work in the French Hydrographic Service was appointed the first 'Ingenieur hydrographe de la Marine.' This chart extends from California to Japan and focuses on the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The French sphere of influence in the West Indies, Africa, and India, would have generated this interest in compass and wind variations applied to a Mercator projection covering most of the world.
By 1765, France had lost most of its overseas empire in America following the Seven Years War (French and Indian War in America), so knowledge of the sea routes was important to holding what was left. Besides a wealth of hydrographic information, including little wind heads throughout, this beautiful map features an exquisite title cartouche featuring the French crown surmounting the globe.
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.