The Joy of the Chase
Figure 1 (Part of an original wood block used in the production of Philipp Apian's Bayerische Landtaslen, Ingolstatdt, 1568. From Woodward, David, ed. Five Centuries of map printing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975, p. 31.)
Maps were first printed from wood blocks (figure 1) and later from copper plates (figure 2). The paper on which they were printed was hand made and usually water marked. Scholars can identify most maps by their water marks and changes in the printing plate such as cracks or elisions or additions. Maps were often colored by hand and even today you may have an old plain map hand colored.
Maps may be attributed to the surveyor who made the actual measurements of the area depicted by the map, the draftsman of the map itself, the engraver who cut the wood block or copper plate, the publisher or the salesman of the map itself. Maps were sometimes sold singly but most often were put in an atlas for sale. Once a plate was engraved, various issues were struck from the plate while it was yet serviceable. Plates were altered to add information as well as to issue the map under a different name.
Figure 2 (Original copperplate of a map of the province of San Diego, Mexico, by Antonio Ysarti, 1682. From Woodward, David, ed. Five Centuries of map printing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975, p. 54.)
Always bear in mind that there are a finite number of these old Irish maps. In most instances the copper plates from which the maps were struck have disappeared. What remains is essentially a fragile piece of paper. Most single maps in existence today are the products of the breaking up of old atlases. The atlases were safeguarded over the centuries in castles, universities, monasteries and the like where they were watched over and protected by generations of dedicated librarians. That these old maps survived wars, fires, floods, dampness and use over these centuries is a direct reflection of the caring efforts of these unknown and uncredited owners and librarians.
Maps might be copied without any acknowledgement of their true source. John Speed, of whom more later, was probably England's greatest cartographer. Speed once wrote:
"I have often stuck my sickle into other men's corne."
The map makers took great pride in the art work on their maps. Elaborate cartouches surrounded map dedications and scales of distances. Seas were stippled and sailing vessels and sea monsters placed on open seas. We were last here in October, 1991 during the Notre Dame Sesquicentennial which highlighted the work of Jonathan Swift, the one time Dean of St. Patricks in Dublin. Dean Swift satirized the map makers of his day in the following lines:
"So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And, o'er inhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns."
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