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Manuscript Map of Michoacán by a French Military Map Maker

A very detailed and beautifully executed pen and ink manuscript map of the state of Michoacán in central Mexico. The map, which is very skillfully drawn by a French mapmaker, was made in Leon, Guanajuato in 1865, during the time of the French occupation of that city. The map also shows parts of southern Guanajuato, including the city of Leon itself.

The French occupied the city of Leon from 1863-1866. By late November 1863, the French General Berthier had captured Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán. The present map, which appears to be dated August 1865, undoubtedly came out of the ongoing military campaign of the French intervention in Mexico. 

The map is highly detailed and indicates dozens of towns and villages, rivers, and lakes in this central Mexican region. The major roads, including those linking Leon to Morelia, are clearly shown. Large cities are marked with red dots, while towns are indicated with small red triangles. The capital city of Morelia is prominently noted near the center of the linen sheet. Lakes Patzcuaro, Chapala, and Cuitzeo are hand-colored in blue wash. Relief is indicated with brown wash color.

In his study on French military cartography of Mexico during the intervention, Jean-Yves Puyo has emphasized how France lacked access to decent maps of most of the country at the start of the intervention. With the exception of the Valley of Mexico and the state of Puebla, Mexico was largely virgin territory for France in 1862: 

As Viven de Saint-Martin emphasized at this time, with the exception of the valley of Mexico and the State of Puebla, the rest of the country still lacked mapping of any precise nature in 1862. The south of Mexico, including Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, except for a few small islands of information, remained virgin territory; the same as the temperate lands either side of the central meseta, including Michoacan and Jalisco.

Since the nature of the European intervention in Mexico made possession of quality maps an absolute necessity, the French undertook a major mapping project of Mexico's interior. This cartographic work was undertaken by the French army and the military Corps of Engineers, and the present map is likely a part of that mapping effort.


Such original pen and ink maps relating to the French intervention of Mexico are rare in the market, especially highly detailed maps prepared in a region soon after an active military campaign. OCLC lists only a handful of separate printed maps of Michoacán from the 1860s, and nothing directly comparable to the present unique example.

Condition Description
Pen and ink map on drafting linen. Three or four small pinholes along folds. Touch of soiling, but overall very clean and nice. Signed and dated: "Leon, Aout 1865 / A. de Habroe?"
Puyo, Jean-Yves. "The French Military confronts Mexico's Geography: the Expedition of 1862-67" [in:] Journal of Latin American Geography 9:2 (2010), passim.