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The First Map of North America

Exceedingly rare map of North America first published by Paolo Forlani in 1565. This is an example of the second state of the map, published in 1566. It is the first separately-published map of North America and only the second to include the Strait of Anian and is thus a landmark in the history of cartography.

In the early 1560s, Forlani also published a map of South America and the West Indies, La descrittione de tutto il Peru , the only map of South America ever completed by the Lafreri school. With this North America map, Forlani completed his coverage of the New World. The map stretches from Greenland down the coast of Canada and the Atlantic Seaboard to the West Indies, including a corner of South America, and from the coast of China in the west to the Azores and Cape Verde in the east.

Forlani's scarce and finely engraved map of North America is one of the most significant early maps of America. It is the earliest printed map devoted solely to North America, the first to portray that landmass as a separate continent and the second to show the so-called Strait of Anian separating America from Asia.

The geography of Forlani’s North America

The geographic features Forlani chose to include reveal how much, and little, was known about the continent in the late-sixteenth century. Certain places are familiar to the modern eye. Labrador is included, near Terra de Baccalos, a reference to the cod fisheries that made the area one of the first to see European ships. La Florida covers the entire southeast, with a nascent peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. California is not labeled, but it is readily recognizable.

Another familiar name is Apalchen which, although nearly in the center of the continent, denotes the Appalachian Mountains. This reveals a source for Forlani, for this feature first appeared on maps with the Gutiérrez-Cock map of 1562. Another source is revealed in the use of the city name Ochelaga, or Montreal. It is placed on a river other than the St. Lawrence, which is itself confused with a Gamas River. This misplacement of Montreal appeared in Ramusio’s important travel collection.

Other representations appear strange to the modern reader, such as the placement of a squat Japan in the middle of a horizontally-shrunk Pacific, or Mare del Sur. Two unfamiliar mountain ranges cut east to west, while there are no lakes beyond an un-named body of water in Canada and a large lake in the center of Mexico, most likely meant to be Lake Texcoco.

Canada Pro and La Nova Franza mark the presence of French colonists, a process that began in 1534. In the northeast is Larcadia, a reference to Acadia, which was not permanently settled by the French until early in the seventeenth century. Just to the west is Terra de Norumbega, which first appeared as Oranbega on Giovanni da Verrazzano’s 1529 map. Soon after this map was made, the place would gain a mythic reputation based on the stories of David Ingram, a marooned English sailor. He described silver thrones and vast cities, but his story was doubted by both Richard Hakluyt and Samuel Purchas.

Farther west still is Quivira Pro. Quivira 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 western half of the North America.

Strait of Anian

One of the most important features of the map is the Streto de Anian, which is the name of the thin channel that separates Parte di Asia and North America. This is only the second map to use the place name. Forlani based his map on Giacomo Gastaldi's 1561 and 1546 world maps. Gastaldi had been the first to formulate the concept of the Strait of Anian and included it in his nine-sheet world map of 1561 that survives in only one example, at the British Library.

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. After Gastaldi and Forlani included the feature, it became common as a shorthand for a passage to China, i.e. a Northwest Passage. It appeared on maps until the mid-eighteenth century.

States and Rarity

Until the late-twentieth century, this map was attributed to Venetian publisher Bolognino Zaltieri, whose name and imprint appear on the second state, like this example, and was published in 1566. As David Woodward has demonstrated, however, authorship should be ascribed to Forlani, who sold some copperplates—including, presumably, the one used to print this map—to Zaltieri sometime around late 1565 or early 1566.

The present example is a second state, as evidenced by the publisher’s imprint in the upper left corner. Both states are seldom found in institutional collections and are rare on the market. This rarity, and the importance of the map as the first stand-alone map of the North American continent, mark it as an extremely important document for the history of cartography and for the histories of exploration and of the Americas.

Condition Description
Margins added in the style of Lafreri School maps.l
Edward Brooke Hitchings, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (London: Simon & Schuster, 2016); Imago Mundi #46 (Woodward) pp.29-40; Imago Mundi #3 (Tooley - Italian atlases) #81; Imago Mundi #14 (Beans) pp.112-113; Cohen, P. (West) pp.28-30; Woodward, D. (Forlani) p.25, #37.01; Burden, P.D. #33, state 2.
Paolo Forlani Biography

Paolo Forlani (fl. ca. 1560-1571) was a prolific map engraver based in Venice. All that is known of his life are his surviving maps and prints, of which there are almost 100 (185 with later states included in the total). He also produced a globe and two town books.  It is likely he came from Verona and that he died in Venice in the mid-1570s, possibly of the plague.