America Described As Two Peninsulas
Rare miniature map of America by John Seller and published in his Atlas Minimus in London.
Includes the following text note below the map:
America is divided into two great Peninsula's, the Northermoft is Mexicana and the Southermoft Peruana. The first is divided into severall Provinces the principall of which doth Homage to Great Britains Monarch, this Part was to the Honour of our Nation first discovered by Madoc son to Owen Guined and afterward by Sebastin Cabot at the charge of King Henry the 7th. The Second Peninsula containeth severall Provinces belonging to the Crown of Spaine & Portugal. The whole Continent aboundeth with all things necesary for ye use of man not only for food as fysh flesh & fruits but also for great quantity's of Silver that are found in ye bowels thereof
This miniature map of America, meticulously crafted by the renowned cartographer John Seller and featured in his eminent Atlas Minimus, is a remarkable exemplar of 17th-century cartography. Published in London, this petite yet detailed representation is notable for its idiosyncratic geographical interpretations and illustrative peculiarity.
One of the most striking features of this map is the depiction of California as an island, a common but erroneous belief in early maps. The island of California, separated from the mainland by a narrow sea, represents the culmination of various explorers' and mapmakers' assumptions, transforming this myth into a long-held geographical misunderstanding.
The representation of the Great Lakes, albeit compressed into a singular entity, hints at the expansive freshwater system of North America. Adding to the charm of this quaint map is the inclusion of an unusual landmass to the northwest of the American coastline, a nod towards the then prevailing idea of the existence of a "Northwest Passage" to Asia.
The division of the North American landmass into New Mexico, New Spain, Florida, Virginia, and Canada further exemplifies the colonial interests of the time. Each region is identified with clear demarcations, reflecting the geopolitical landscape of the era as understood by European powers.
The map shows the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South America, a critical navigation route for sailors daring enough to venture into the Pacific. Notably, in the bottom left of the map, there is a large landmass, an enduring fragment of Terra Australis Incognita – the hypothesized unknown southern land. This feature represents the speculative geography of the time, where unexplored regions were filled with assumptions and imagination.
John Seller's miniature map of America is a unique artifact that beautifully encapsulates the era's geographical misconceptions, limited knowledge, and the adventurous spirit of discovery. This charming representation serves as a historical testament to our evolving understanding of the world.
John Seller was one of the most notable map and instrument makers in England in the late-seventeenth century. He was especially known for the sea charts, many of which featured in his influential English Pilot and Atlas Maritimus. Seller was born in London in 1632. His father was a cordwainer and John was apprenticed to Edward Lowe, of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. He was made free of that company in 1654. Later, he also was made a brother of the Clockmakers’ Company, which housed several instrument makers. He started business as a compass maker but expanded his offering to include navigational instruments and charts.
Seller’s career was halted temporarily, and fantastically, when he was tried for high treason in 1662. He was accused of involvement in a plot led by Thomas Tonge. While Seller likely only unwisely repeated rumors, he was convicted. The other conspirators, who did admit some degree of guilt, were executed, but Seller maintained his innocence and, via insistent petitions, he eventually secured his release from Newgate Prison.
This episode did not seem to slow Seller’s rise too much, however. Seller was granted a royal license to publish English-language maritime atlases. This gave him a near-monopoly and led to his being named hydrographer to the King in 1671. Although the point of the project was to produce English charts of Dutch dominance and bias, Seller ended up using many Dutch plates as his base material. The first volume of The English Pilot was published in 1671, followed by more volumes as well as The Coating Pilot (1672) and the Atlas Maritimus (1675). Seller was commercially successful, but some of his projects required further support. The English Pilot was eventually taken over by John Thornton and William Fisher, for example, and his proposed English atlas only produced maps of six counties.
Seller’s sons, John and Jeremiah, followed in their father’s profession. Seller also apprenticed several promising young men, including Charles Price, with whom his sons partnered. Through Price, Seller can be seen as the founding figure of an important group of London mapmakers that included Price, John Senex, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, and Thomas Jefferys.