An Interview with Dorothy Raphaely, Map Colorist

I am running a periodic series where I interview some of the professions collectors come across. My purpose is to shed light on what they do and how they work, especially for new collectors. For the third post in this series I interviewed Dorothy Raphaely, owner of Antique Map Coloring by Dorothy Raphaely.

Dorothy Raphaely has been in the business of coloring antique maps for twenty some years. Her training is as an artist, and by career a graphic and textile designer. Like many of us in the the world of antiquarian maps, she is motivated by passion, saying that collecting maps “pulled her in”.

Stoopendaal world map in hemispheres before and after coloring.
Stroopendaal, 1680, world map in hemispheres before and after coloring, with insets, by Dorothy Raphaely. (Photo: images: Raphaely; composition: Roehrich)

Dorothy immediately identifies herself as a “reluctant colorist” believing that not all maps should be colored. This is certainly in keeping with conventional thinking within collecting circles that a well colored map is often of higher value than an uncolored one, such is not always the case; further, poor coloring, not in true to the norms of the period, will devalue a map. Her clients are typically dealers, and as such, determining whether and how a piece should be colored is collaborative, however Dorothy says she will push back when she believes a piece should remain uncolored.

With online research on style, paper, and pigment, and considering her client’s preferences, Dorothy plans coloring in keeping with the map’s period. She applies sizing to the paper before coloring; she begins coloring at the neat line. Noting the variety of papers maps were printed on, she “often [doesn’t] know until [she puts] the brush to paper how it will behave.” And it is uncertainty such as this, or “fear” as she calls it, that she likes the least about her work. Dorothy explains that the hardest part of her work is in evenly coloring large areas, where “…blue pigment[s] in large areas like the sea are notoriously difficult to control for even distribution and no bleed through to the verso.”

Decorative maps are her favorite to color as they afford the most opportunity to showcase her skill.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

California Dreaming – All You Need to Know About the Island of California

Have you heard the one about a massive earthquake causing California to break free from the rest of the continent and slipping into the Pacific? Did you know that early explorers and cartographers believed California was an island? The ‘island’ of California is one of the widest cartographic errors in history.

Photo of map of the Americas showing California as an island.
Novveav Continent ou Amerique by Mallet c 1685. Note California is shown as an island. (Photo own work)

The Exploration

It was the Age of Discovery and European powers were sending their ships out to chart the world. Thinking about the geography of the west coast of North America, it’s easy to understand how early explorers might have thought it was dominated by a massive island. A limited survey of the Pacific Northwest would have revealed the Puget Sound, but might not have documented its extent. Further, the Sea of Cortez, at 700 miles in length, may have been partially charted. Taken together, along with a fictional account of an island, early explorers confused Point Olympia and Baja California as the northern and southern ends, respectively, of an enormous barrier island.

Cortez, c1535, determined Baja California to be the southern tip of the island, but this was quickly disputed a matter of mere years later by de Ulloa’s subsequent exploration. Both Mercator and Ortelius correctly depicted Baja California as a peninsula.


Photo of map of the Americas showing California as an island.
Detail of California on Novveav Continent ou Amerique by Mallet c 1685. Note California is shown as an island. (Photo own work)

The legend of the Island of California no doubt had both its genesis and staying power rooted in the belief that an earthly Eden-like paradise existed–California was thought to be it, prompted by an account in a c1510 work of fiction. This seeded the idea that there was such an island in the explorers minds.

The Error

That some maps show California as an island is largely considered a cartographic error. Thinking about this, the question springs to mind: is it truly an error in the making of the maps, or do the maps accurately reflect the world as it was (erroneously) known a the time? In other words, is it a map error or an exploratory error? It turns out it is both: its origin lies in incomplete exploration, but it persisted after explorers confirmed that California was Terra Firme.

So, is was it an error? Here’s the key: if the map was made before California was widely known to be firmly attached to the continent, the map itself was not in error, but if it was made after, it was in error.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

A Map Like You’ve Never Seen Before

If you picked up my blog recently you may not have seen some of my earlier pieces where I defined the rules for a comparative view. Here’s a rundown.

Infographic describing Adam and Charles Black's Physical Geography. (Photo own work)

The Purpose
A comparative map (I use comparative map, comparative view, and simply comparative, interchangeably) is a map designed to show and compare the principal features of the planet, be they mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, or islands. Is a comparative actually a map? Insofar as a map is a reductionist picture of the Earth, absolutely! Generally speaking, comparative views were published in school and home atlases for the general reader, either as stand alone pieces or as a part of another map.

The Arrangement
The way features are arranged on a comparative is important. Rather than being arranged as they appear on the Earth’s surface, they must be arranged by height, length, or whatever characteristic is to be compared. Further, the features must be arranged so as to appear like a single mountain range, etc. Some high level grouping is OK, by continent or hemisphere, but not at the individual feature level.

Sorting is critical as well. It is the quality that imparts the comparative nature of the genre. Without it, the reader sure would have a tough time determining relative sizes. Common sorting styles are simple gradient, pyramid, and trough. Whatever the style, the piece must use an accurate scale!

The Extras
The extras that cartographers include in comparatives are a great treat! Sometimes it’s a balloon, sometimes a bird or mountain climber. Rivers comparatives often show lakes, deltas, and adjacent cities. These help to provide a sense of scale to the piece and embed a little extra information. Most importantly, they provide some delightful 19th century whimsy.

Want to learn more about comparative maps? Download my free ebook!

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Interview with Eliane Dotson of Old World Auctions

I am running a periodic series where I interview some of the people collectors come across. My purpose is to shed light on what they do and how they work, especially for new collectors. For the second post in this series I interviewed Eliane Dotson, owner of Old World Auctions in Glen Allen, Virginia.

Old World Auctions has been in existence since 1978 and Eliane, along with her husband, purchased the online auction house in 2007. She developed her interest in maps from being around her father’s collection. Although not a collector, she is passionate about maps and describes her career as giving her a chance to work with them everyday. Indeed, the best part of her work is the opportunity to research maps daily. Eliane says of 15th and 16th century maps that they “combine art and history” making them among her favorite pieces. A few times per year maps that she hasn’t come across make their way to Old World Auctions, giving her a chance to “bring their stories to life”.

When pieces come in on consignment, Eliane explains that they are thoroughly researched, their authenticity, condition, and other relevant information cataloged, and they are imaged using a rolling scanner over three feet wide. Each auction, conducted virtually, is managed well in advance, as this process underpins each listing in the auction catalog. She further asserts that Old World Auctions researches and describes each piece in far more detail than other auction houses.

When asked about recent trends in the map market, Eliane reports seeing an increased interest in 20th century pictorial and political maps. Maps showing westward expansion of the United States have also been popular.

Eliane describes the community of map dealers and collectors as very tight knit and “really great to work with”.

For new collectors she offers some advice. Collectors should identify their collecting interests, know what the market is like, and know the maximum amount they are willing to spend to acquire a particular map. As an aside on map prices, she mentioned that with the digitization of the map trade, collectors are able to see the inventory of dealers far away; this allows more transparency into availability and has worked to hold prices down. Returning to advice for new collectors, she suggests collectors “buy the best quality you can afford” and maps in the “best condition possible”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a satisfied customer of Old World Auctions.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Loving Lake Michigan

The Great Lakes are North America’s ecological crown jewels. Providing sandy beach and marsh shoreline as well as littoral, pelagic, and benthic habitats, and the largest freshwater lake system on the planet containing 21% of freshwater, the lakes support diverse life both in the water and within the watershed. The St Lawrence River supports still more riverine life. Their distinct shapes are visible from space, and their importance extends further to human populations, commerce, and more. With these substantial roles in mind, I am sure to look at the Great Lakes when inspecting a comparative view, either one of lakes or a rivers piece that includes lakes.

The Great Lakes take several morphologies on comparative maps. I use Lake Michigan as my benchmark and most of this post will focus on Lake Michigan, but it is not unique in its shape evolving. In lakes comparatives (some of rivers, too) dating to around 1850 or later, Lake Michigan takes its characteristic kidney bean shape; it is shown looking more like an eggplant prior to that. Further, on most rivers comparative views, its shape is all over the map (pun intended).

Lakes Comparative Views
Lakes comparative views are less common than their mountains and rivers cousins. That said, with even a few we can evaluate the differences among them. The most apparent difference to an American reader is the shape of Lake Michigan over time. As mentioned above, it goes from eggplant to bean shape over the course of twenty or so years.

Photo of Great Lakes detail of Carey and Lea's 1832 Principal Lakes. In this comparative map, Lake Michigan takes an 'eggplant' shape.
Great Lakes detail of Carey and Lea’s 1832 Principal Lakes. In this piece, Lake Michigan takes an ‘eggplant’ shape. (Photo: own work)

Knowing that the bean shape is true, you may wonder whether the cartographer simply made a mistake. I can dismiss this out of hand as maps contemporary to the said comparative also show the lake as straight. The other possibility is that the cartographer got it right vis-a-vis the information available at the time, and it was a true cartographic error (an inaccuracy in the map due to mistaken information available at the time); this is the most parsimonious explanation.

Photo of Comparative Sizes of Lakes and Islands. On this comparative view, Lake Michigan takes its true curved shape.
Great Lakes detail from Colton’s 1856 Comparative Sizes of Lakes and Islands. On this comparative view, Lake Michigan takes its true curved shape. (Photo: own work)

A review of later maps alongside other sources explains the change. In 1836 Michigan joined the Union and Wisconsin in 1848. These admissions required precise measurements of boundaries and a survey was performed, yielding the modern understanding of the lake. The Michigan Geological Survey, authorized by the state legislature on the day of its formation in 1836, is a candidate (still my hypothesis, I’m researching now to confirm) for the source of these revised maps.

Lakes on Rivers Comparatives
Lakes appearing on rivers comparative maps run the gamut from faithful renderings to examples of great license. Such is the case with depictions of Lake Michigan and there’s a simple reason for this. Rivers comparative maps are concerned with the length, and to some extent other physical characteristics; lakes, especially tangential ones, are of low priority. Considering the Lawrententian system extends from Duluth, through the great lakes, and along the St Lawrence to the Atlantic, Lake Michigan is not on the longest path. Any inclusion of it on a rivers comparative is more contextual than critical. To that end, cartographers can be excused for taking liberties with its orientation, size, or showing it at all.

Great Lakes detail of Mitchell’s 1860 ‘The World in Hemispheres’ (own work).

The reader will “get it” when reading one of these maps as they are coming in with the understanding that they are seeing rivers rather than lakes. This isn’t too say that showing lakes doesn’t add value, it does. The lakes aid the reader in identifying the river system, understanding the watershed, and appreciating the human population the system sports. When a river system’s orientation is changed, say so that it flows to the edge of the page, the lakes, also reoriented, assist the reader in realizing this.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Oh, Hello Tree

Spring is in the air here in the Mid Atlantic, flowers are in full bloom, and trees are getting their leaves. The 1800s have been called the golden age of data visualization and during this time, statistical and thematic maps came into their own. Alexander von Humboldt’s Geography of Plants, documenting his exploration of Mount Chimborazo, gave rise to various depictions of plants and climatic data on maps. Meyer’s Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie, translating to something like Survey of Plant Geography, is just one of those thematic maps showing a tremendous amount of data on the distribution of plants.

Photo of Meyer's Plant Geography, c1850. Map showing the distribution of plant life across the planet along with distribution across altitudes of various mountains.
Meyer’s Plant Geography, c1850. Map showing the distribution of plant life across the planet along with distribution across altitudes of various mountains. (Photo: own work)

About 1850 Meyer set out to publish his hand atlas containing a cache of physical and thematic maps. Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie appears to be a copy of a piece from another atlas rather than an original work. OK at the time, many cartographers duplicated the works of others, often buying plates. In this case, Umrisse der Pflanzengeographie was first published by Berghaus sometime about 1840.

Mercator Projection
The Mercator projection in the lower center of the map is color coded according to the climate. This follows the isothermal line style map which Humboldt developed, where lines are drawn to show bands of common temperature (or more generally climate). This map shows an idea that’s a precursor to the modern concept of biomes. Biomes are areas of similar types of life and climate, but are not as specific as the groupings in this map.

That this map shows proto biomes is significant. The mid 1800s were the early days of modern biology. Darwin was making his observations of finches which would underpin On the Origin of Species and Gregor Mendel was studying genetics in pea plants. So it fits that this map describes the beginnings of ecology.


The mountain figures at the top show the distribution of plants on mountain faces across both altitude and latitude. They show latitude, altitude (in toisen, an obsolete unit of measure akin to a fathom), prominent cities, and plant distribution. The tallest mountain shown is Dhaulagiri (Everest would not be surveyed until 1856) at 4390 toisen, the highest peak above sea level. Mount Chimborazo also makes a claim as the highest peak when measured from the center of the earth. As the map shows, Chimborazo is clearly equatorial; since Earth is slightly squished at the poles, bulging at the equator, it gets the little boost it needs to edge out Dhaulagiri.

This set of figures bears a resemblance to a comparative view but is not one because the mountains are neither shown in height order nor are they on a continuous landscape.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

It’s a Mountain, It’s a Graph!

Look at news on the stock market or a weather forecast and chances are good that you’ll see a column graph. We take graphs for granted; they’re ubiquitous. But such was not always the case–in the late 18th century and early 19th they were revolutionary, on the cutting edge of data communication, William Playfair having just developed them.

The heights of a column graph’s bars correspond to the values plotted. When it comes to showing heights of various objects, column graphs are ideally suited as the bars physically (schematically, at least) mimic the phenomenon depicted with bar height representing object height. Of course, this is a map blog, not a graph blog; I’m interested in the graph style comparative view, where mountain or river glyphs replace the columns of a graph, with the size of each corresponding to actual height or length.

The earliest comparative view of either the graph or vista style dates from approximately 1800.

The Moon from Bertuch's Bilderbuch. Note the comparative features at the bottom, showing mountains of Earth, the Moon, and Venus. (Photo: own work)

Bertuch’s Moon from his Bilderbuch, a children’s encyclopedia, with its graph style comparative at the bottom, is an enigma. No doubt influenced by Playfair’s graphs, he reports the heights of mountains (with some inaccuracies) in graphs where the “bars” are actually tiny mountain figures. In a later edition, probably about 10 years subsequent, he published a vista style comparative. Vista style comparatives, while gorgeous, are less effective in that their design doesn’t automatically instruct the reader to make comparisons.

Hohen der Alten by Bertuch, c1810. Possibly the first comparative view of the early style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)

Why the switch? We can chalk this up to Goethe’s influence, which was in turn inspired by Humboldt. Goethe saw Humboldt’s proto comparative Geography of Plants and mimicked the format in his vista style comparative of old and new world mountains. Bertuch, Goethe’s associate, liked the idea and ran with it in his Hohen der Alten. It was this piece that gave rise to the period of vista style comparatives.

What style of comparative do you favor?

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016