Manuscript French Mountains Chart

Photograph of manuscript map of France. Mountains and rivers inset at bottom.

I’ve come across a mystery. I recently acquired a manuscript map of France with a (from what I can discern) mountains comparative panel at the bottom. Unfortunately I do not read French so I have to make some guesses about it.

Photograph of manuscript map of France. Mountains and rivers inset at bottom.
French manuscript map with mountains and rivers inset. c1853. (Photo own work)

It is on very thin paper, possibly onionskin paper, mounted on a secondary thicker page. The lines on the map are fine and well executed. It appears that drainage basins are shaded in pastels (possibly political divisions–perhaps a reader with better knowledge of France can clarify, but because the shaded areas follow mountain ranges, I suspect they are watersheds). The bottom of the map features a comparative panel of mountains similar to an anonymous Portuguese map from 1824, the orological line, along with a hydrological line; the mountains are grouped by range in a valley sort. The cartouche bears “Em Jeanmaire & C 1853”, telling us an approximate production date (approximate because this is more of a “no earlier than” date).

The thin paper suggests that all or part of the map was a tracing of another map. Residual, faint lines are visible in the border, as well as overruns, further indicating this is a manuscript piece.

Photograph showing mountains and rivers inset on French manuscript map.
Mountains and rivers inset of French manuscript map. Orological and hydrological lines present. (Photo own work)

The orological line clearly shows the heights of mountains within the range. The line both takes the shape of peaks and the corresponding heights on in the adjacent data tables are consistent with mountains. The hydrological line is vexing. I suspect it is the heights of rivers, but my attempt at translating “parlage” turned up “chatter”, which, without understanding French, doesn’t make sense to me.

If you understand French, please fill in some of the gaps for me!

Want to learn more about comparative views? Check out my ebook!

© Peter Roehrich, 2016


Mysterious Mountain Charts

A small group of mountains comparatives were made for seemingly industrial/scientific purposes, rather than for education of the general public as most of these unique antiquarian maps were. The distinction between the educational and orological (that is, pertaining to the study of mountains) styles literally being in the shape of the mountains and their target audiences.

The earliest mountains comparative views, between 1810 and the early 1820s, were fictionalized landscapes, followed by the convention adopted where mountains were depicted as fictionalized cones (I term this the educational style), this after the landscape style.

Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds.(Own work)
Hohen der Alten by Bertuch, c1810. Possibly the first comparative view of the early landscape style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)
Five panel lithograph mountains and rivers comparative view.
Five panel educational style comparative chart of mountains and rivers by Johnson. Note the graph like style, where mountains are simple cones, c1864. (Photo: Own work)

A few orological comparative maps emerged, were the cartographer preserved the cross-section of the peak, at about the same time that the simplified cone shape became widespread.

This manuscript, by an unknown cartographer, c1824, shows mountains in Portugal in cross-section. (Photo: Own work).
This orological style manuscript map, by an unknown cartographer, c1824, shows mountains in Portugal in cross-section. Based on the work of von Eschwege. (Photo: Own work).

We can imagine the family tree of mountains comparatives branching in the 1820s with the educational and orological limbs diverging from the landscape trunk. In contemplating this split, in combination with the fact that the landscape style virtually died out, we can infer that simultaneously cartographers of different objectives learned of comparatives and incorporated the concept into pieces that met their distinct needs. The purpose of the educational style being to bring the public at large information about the heights of mountains, they gave dimension to figures previously relegated to tables, where a simple cone would suffice in illustrating the mountains. Conversely, the orological style was to document the physical properties, beyond altitude, of the peaks for use by an audience requiring more detailed information. The orological users may have required these charts for reasons related to mineral mining, among other plausible needs. The manuscript orological piece carrying von Eschwere’s data from his work in Portugal was likely prepared for mining purposes given his work.

Print of mountain ranges arranged by height.
Stieler’s orological style Known Heights Above Sea Level, c1855. Mountain ranges are shown one atop the next. (Photo: Own work).

Alternatively, it is possible that some of these orological charts were prepared for navigational purposes. Journeying across a continent on a scientific exploration, or perhaps laying a railroad, the heights of the mountains, and the locations of passes, would be of utmost importance. Evidence exists that these charts might serve such a purpose exists in their scale. The orological charts are often, if not always, of different scales horizontally versus vertically, meaning that the heights of mountains may be accurately represented, but not their widths. It stands to reason that a chart for use in planning a mine would maintain consistency between horizontal and vertical scales so as to accurately depict the mineral seam. The fact of differing scales may mean that the variation in height across the mountain may have been of utmost importance.

Orological style charts are few and far between–and this is in the context of the already obscure comparative genre. This is too bad. They are a unique application of a beautiful discipline of mapping. Moreover, they stand as testimony to the value of comparative views as more than delightful pictures, but as serious tools for documenting the surface of the for industrial purposes. But why were they drawn?

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

A Striking Schoolgirl Map of France

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I am breaking away from comparatives in this post to examine a striking schoolgirl map. Published sometime in the 1800’s, possibly in the UK, and without doubt drawn by a child’s hand, quite likely a girl, as a study aid. Called ‘map study‘, scrutinizing and reproducing an atlas map afforded young girls the opportunity to learn geography and handwriting at a time when education for girls was limited. I hope that this early exposure to to maps and atlases inspired these girls to pursue geography as consumers of maps and atlases, as educators, and even as cartographers themselves.

Manuscript schoolgirl map of France from the 1800's.
Manuscript schoolgirl map of France from the 1800’s. (Photo: own work).

Where this map is unsigned, undated, and does not name the place it was created, we have to infer from the piece its origin. Although the subject is France, it was not likely authored in France. The markings on the map are in English, the scale in British miles, and the longitude given in degrees from the Greenwich Meridian. The map this was drawn from was likely of British origin; it stands to reason that the Paris Meridian would have been chosen as the Prime Meridian for this map were it French. Further, we can exclude the United States as the home of the underlying map for the same reason; the United States used Meridians through Washington, DC (the Capitol building, the White House, and the Naval Observatory). Provided that the underlying map is of British origin, it also stands to reason that this manuscript map was drawn in the UK.

The year in which this map was drawn is a mystery as well, but we can approximate it, or at least approximate the date the underlying map was produced. The France shown on this map is reminiscent of the post-Congress of Vienna nation. The post Napoleonic war would have no doubt triggered publication of new atlases, and to imagine an exercise in drawing these boundaries is within reason. With these in mind, this map may date to c1820.

That the map bears a trigonometric proof on verso is evidence that it was created in an educational context. From this it’s plausible that a student created it. As mentioned above, many of these manuscript maps were created by girls, and there is no immediate reason to doubt that was the case here.

Trigonometric proof on the verso of a manuscript map. This proof suggests that this map was drawn in an educational environment.
Trigonometric proof on the verso of a manuscript map. This proof suggests that this map was drawn in an educational environment. (Photo: own work.)

The evidence buried in this manuscript map tells me this is the work of a British schoolgirl about 1820. What do you think?

© Peter Roehrich, 2016