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Description

Scare Valk & Schenk edition of Hondius and Jansson’s Map of North America, A Map Central to the Myth of California as an Island

Striking example of the second state of Henricus Hondius’ and Jan Jansson’s map of North America, called by Burden the single most influential map in perpetuating the myth of California as an island to that date. It is also the first atlas map to focus exclusively on North America.

Although California is a prominent feature, it certainly is not the only interesting aspect of this map. A Rio del Norto flows from a large lake in the interior. In South America, another lake, Parime lacus is also shown, a reference to the El Dorado myth. On the eastern seaboard of North America, one can spot Iames Towne, the still small English settlement.

The map is a well-researched amalgam of the best cartographic resources available at the time. It first debuted in 1636; this is a second state with the signature of Joannes Janssonius [Jan Jansson] included in the lower-left cartouche. For the western area, the Hondius house mapmakers drew upon Henry Briggs’ The North Part of AMERICA (1625). For the Gulf of Mexico and Florida, there are many similarities to Hessel Gerrtisz’s ca. 1631 chart. Some of the place names from John Smith’s map of Virginia are included, but the east coast north of Florida seems to be largely an original composition. The Gulf of St. Lawrence follows the work of De Laet and, to the north, the recent work by Thomas James (1633) is borrowed for the west coast of Hudson’s Bay.

In addition to the latest depiction of geographic features, the map features many decorative elements. Animals, including a polar bear, a fox, a boar, bison, and others roam the open North American interior. Ships and sea monsters dot the waters, including north of the island of California—a sly reference to the possible geography of that unmarked coast. The northwest coast is further obscured by a large title cartouche showing indigenous Americans in full battle dress flanking an ornate frame topped with various reptiles. In the lower-left is another cartouche, this one with swimming putti using navigational equipment and staring at a globe. This second cartouche also contains Jansson’s name in this, the second state of the map.

California as an Island

From its first portrayal on a printed map by Diego Gutiérrez, in 1562, California was shown as part of North America by mapmakers, including Gerardus Mercator and Ortelius. In the 1620s, however, it began to appear as an island in several sources.

This was most likely the result of a reading of the travel account of Sebastian Vizcaino, who had been sent north up the shore of California in 1602. A Carmelite friar who accompanied him later described the land as an island, a description first published in Juan Torquemada’s Monarquia Indiana (1613) with the island details curtailed somewhat. The friar, Fray Antonio de la Ascension, also wrote a Relacion breve of his geographic ideas around 1620. The ideas spread about New Spain and, eventually, most likely via Dutch mariners and perhaps thanks to stolen charts, to the rest of Europe. By the 1620s, many mapmakers chose to depict the peninsula as an island.  

No map was as important in the adoption of California as an island as this one. As the first atlas map to focus primarily on North America, it was the most widely distributed California as an island map of its time. California as it is shown here was based on the Briggs map, which was part of Samuel Purchas’ Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). Amsterdam was then the center of the atlas trade, so this map enjoyed the widest circulation possible.

Other prominent practitioners like John Speed and Nicolas Sanson also adopted the new island and the practice became commonplace. Even after Father Eusebio Kino published a map based on his travels refuting the claim (Paris, 1705), the island remained a fixture until the mid-eighteenth century.

States and publication

As previously stated, this is the second state of the map. The first was made in 1636 by Henricus Hondius; it is distinguished from this because the cartouche in the bottom left is blank as opposed to containing the name of Jan Jansson. This second state appeared in 1641. The third state was a reissue by Petrus Schenk; it bears his imprint and has dotted lines demarcating regions. The map was issued as part of the Atlas Novus, Hondius and Jansson’s highly successful atlas. This is an essential map for collectors of North America and California.

  • State 1:  Lower-left cartouche is blank, Henricus Hondius, 1636
  • State 2:  Lower-left cartouche reads "Amstelodami, Excudit Ioannes Ianssonius", 1641 
  • State 3:  Schenk & Valk imprint, circa 1694

California as an island

The popular misconception of California as an island can be found on European maps from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. From its first portrayal on a printed map by Diego Gutiérrez, in 1562, California was shown as part of North America by mapmakers, including Gerardus Mercator and Abraham Ortelius. In the 1620s, however, it began to appear as an island in several sources. While most of these show the equivalent of the modern state of California separated from the continent, others, like a manuscript chart by Joao Teixeira Albernaz I (ca. 1632) now in the collection of the National Library of Brasil shows the entire western half of North Americas as an island. 

The myth of California as an island was most likely the result of the travel account of Sebastian Vizcaino, who had been sent north up the shore of California in 1602. A Carmelite friar, Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, accompanied him. Ascension described the land as an island and around 1620 sketched maps to that effect. Normally, this information would have been reviewed and locked in the Spanish repository, the Casa de la Contratación. However, the manuscript maps were intercepted in the Atlantic by the Dutch, who took them to Amsterdam where they began to circulate. Ascensión also published descriptions of the insular geography in Juan Torquemada’s Monarquia Indiana (1613) (with the island details curtailed somewhat) and in his own Relación breve of ca. 1620.

The first known maps to show California as an island were on the title pages of Antonio de Herrera’s Descripción de las Indias Occidentales (1622) and Jacob le Maire's Spieghel Der Australische Navigatie (1622). Two early examples of larger maps are those by Abraham Goos (1624) and another by Henry Briggs, which was included in Samuel Purchas’ Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625). In addition to Briggs and Goos, prominent practitioners like Jan Jansson and Nicolas Sanson adopted the new island and the practice became commonplace. John Speed’s map (1626-7), based on Briggs’ work, is well known for being one of the first to depict an insular California.

The island of California became a fixture on mid- and late-seventeenth century maps. The island suggested possible links to the Northwest Passage, with rivers in the North American interior supposedly connecting to the sea between California and the mainland. Furthermore, Francis Drake had landed in northern California on his circumnavigation (1577-80) and an insular California suggested that Spanish power in the area could be questioned.

Not everyone was convinced, however. Father Eusebio Kino, after extensive travels in what is now California, Arizona, and northern Mexico concluded that the island was actually a peninsula and published a map refuting the claim (Paris, 1705). Another skeptic was Guillaume De L’Isle. In 1700, De L’Isle discussed “whether California is an Island or a part of the continent” with J. D. Cassini; the letter was published in 1715. After reviewing all the literature available to him in Paris, De L’Isle concluded that the evidence supporting an insular California was not trustworthy. He also cited more recent explorations by the Jesuits (including Kino) that disproved the island theory. Later, in his map of 1722 (Carte d’Amerique dressee pour l’usage du Roy), De L’Isle would abandon the island theory entirely.

Despite Kino’s and De L’Isle’s work, California as an island remained common on maps until the mid-eighteenth century. De L’Isle’s son-in-law, Philippe Buache, for example, remained an adherent of the island depiction for some time. Another believer was Herman Moll, who reported that California was unequivocally an island, for he had had sailors in his offices that claimed to have circumnavigated it. In the face of such skepticism, the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, had to issue a decree in 1747 proclaiming California to be a peninsula connected to North America; the geographic chimera, no matter how appealing, was not to be suffered any longer, although a few final maps were printed with the lingering island.

Condition Description
Old color, recently retouched. Backed with a think layer of archival paper to support old colors and minor cracking.
Reference
McLaughlin with Mayo, The Mapping of California as an Island: An Illustrated Checklist, map 6; Leighly California as an Island: An Illustrated Essay, 32-3; Burden, The Mapping of North America, map 245; Polk, The Island of California: A History of the Myth (Spokane: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1991); Wheat 45, Goss, 30, Tooley 28.
Peter Schenk Biography

Peter Schenk the Elder (1660-1711) moved to Amsterdam in 1675 and began to learn the art of mezzotint. In 1694 he bought some of the copperplate stock of the mapmaker Johannes Janssonius, which allowed him to specialize in the engraving and printing of maps and prints. He split his time between his Amsterdam shop and Leipzig and also sold a considerable volume of materials to London.

Peter Schenk the Elder had three sons. Peter the Younger carried on his father’s business in Leipzig while the other two, Leonard and Jan, worked in Amsterdam. Leonard engraved several maps and also carried on his father’s relationship with engraving plates for the Amsterdam edition of the Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences.  

Gerard Valk Biography

Gerard Valk, or Gerrit Leendertsz Valck (1652-1726) together with his son Leonard, were the only significant publishers of globes in the Netherlands in the eighteenth century, enjoying an almost total monopoly in the first half of the 1700's. Initially an engraver and art dealer, and having worked for map-sellers Christopher Browne and David Loggan in London between 1672 and 1679, Valk established the firm in Amsterdam in 1687. Initially, they published maps and atlases, but in 1700 the company moved the shop to the building previously occupied by map and globe-maker Jodocus Hondius. In 1701, he applied for a charter for making globes and the "Planetolabium", designed by Lotharius Zumbach de Coesfelt (1661-1727), an astronomy lecturer at Leiden University. The Valks produced several editions of 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 and 24-inch diameter terrestrial and celestial globes. The cartography, as stated on the cartouche, is based closely on the celestial atlas Uranographia, published in 1687 by the celebrated Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687).

Around 1711, when he became a member of the bookseller's guild, Leonard Valk (1675-1746) came into partnership and his name started to appear alongside that of his father on the cartouches of the globes, although the earliest of these, both terrestrial and celestial, still bear the date 1700. Leonard naturally took over the business on his father's death in 1726, and following his own death in 1746 the firm was run by Maria Valk, cousin, and wife to Gerard. By then its days of glory had passed. Leonard Valk died in relative poverty: his wife had to take in the washing of their aunt to make ends meet. The late eighteenth century saw a number of successful reissues by publisher Cornelis Covens (1764-1825), who ran the famous cartographical publishing house of Covens & Mortier (1721-1866) in Amsterdam. This firm was the biggest Dutch one for publishing maps in the 18th century. It was located on the Vijgendam (Fig Dam), the southern part of what is now Dam Square, the central hub of the city. They didn't move out of their building, but they did change addresses. At first in 1795 the whole Dam was rebaptized into Revolution Square, then it got the name Napoleon Square, till in 1813 after Napoleon's fall Covens & Mortier were back again at the Vijgendam.