John Tallis’ Comparative Views

My favorite comparative view? Actually a pair: John Tallis’ Comparative View of the Principal Waterfalls, Islands, Lakes, Mountains and Rivers of the Eastern [and] Western Hemispheres.

Infographic on John Tallis' 1851 comparative views of the eastern and western hemispheres.
Infographic on John Tallis’ 1851 comparative views of the eastern and western hemispheres. (Own work).

Published in 1851/by Tallis and engraved by Rapkin these comparatives were part of the Illustrated Atlas. This volume was produced for sale to attendees of the Great Exhibition in London. These lovely pieces are unique in that they are the only ones to show all 5 commonly compared geographic features on the same page. They are further unique in that they allow both the early style of comparative view at top, where the waterfalls are seen as a fictionalized landscape, and the later graph style with the mountains and rivers in a compound panel.

Take a look at the infographic above for a few more facts. As an aside, I’m experimenting with graphic design in Canva; let me know what you think of my first product.

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

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

What’s that Croc Doing There?

Take a look at Bertuch’s comparative view Hohen der Alten; see that little surprise in the lower right corner?

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 style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)

He tucked a tiny crocodile at the waterline, reminiscent of the sea monsters seen on earlier maps. Is this a modern sea monster? Probably not. To evaluate this, first I’d like to review the role sea monsters played on maps.

Sea Monsters

Sea monsters were a frequent feature of 16th and 17th century maps. They played several roles: aesthetic, cautionary, and even scientific.

Photo of sea monster from 1616 Bertius map of Bay of Cadiz. Monster is colored green and red.
Sea monster from Bertius 1616 Bay of Cadiz map. Note the green body and red mouth. (Photo own work)

Where engraving was a labor intensive process it was expensive. To this end, a map with a sea monster on it would be more expensive that one without. As sailors would know where dangers were, unadorned maps would suffice for their purposes. From this we can conclude that these maps were made for aristocracy.

Hinted at above, sea monsters often signified the unknown and the dangerous. Appearing on the periphery of a map may indicate the edge of charted, known territory. Moreover, they are larger than life hostile creatures which symbolize danger, real or perceived. Often overlooked, they further represent a scientific approach to understanding the unknown. Reflecting the Age of Enlightenment, they are an attempt to characterize the never before seen sea creatures in a logical, reason informed fashion rather than chalking then up as demons. Silly as they may appear now, the study of the oceans was in its infancy and much marine life was unknown.

There are some great resources on sea monster maps, including a radio interview and an excellent article.

The Croc
So, why did Bertuch place a crocodile on his comparative? Bearing in mind that this was in a children’s book, it probably served two purposes. The first being too educate children about the animals inhabiting the earth, especially one not found in Germany. And the second reason being too amuse the children.

Check out my free ebook to learn more about comparative views.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Do Your Homework with These Tools

Have you come across a map that you love, but know nothing about? Do you want to find more works by your favorite cartographer? Libraries with map collections, and of course librarians, are a great research resource, but there are some great online tools at your fingertips.

These tools split nicely into two categories, with a little bit of overlap: collections and references.

High quality digital imaging and the internet bring many library and private collections to virtually anyone with a connected device.

One of the best is that of David Rumsey. A prolific map and atlas collector, Rumsey has imaged his collection and uploaded those images to his website along with metadata and background on the pieces. Further, his database has a tool that associates antiquarian maps with current digital maps allowing analysis of the changes over time. While I have not found every map in my collection in his database, he does have many of them.

Many national libraries and archives have fantastic map collections available online. Both the Library of Congress and the British Library have wide collections. Many official land surveys and other maps drawn for government purposes are in these collections. My favorite, held by the Library of Congress, is an official survey of the Mason Dixon line. Some of these libraries will answer questions via email.

Map dealers often have extensive research on their current holdings and sold pieces. Their online catalogs and descriptions are very valuable tools.

Reference Resources
Beyond digitized collections, the web brings a wealth of reference materials. Some of the collections above can also serve as references; the materials below are strictly reference.

The History of Cartography series published out of the University of Chicago is a phenomenal, comprehensive set of volumes. Several of the volumes are made available free of charge.

Google Books offers digitized books from the 19th century, many are searchable in some manner. These provide tremendous context in affording the ability to look up antiquated measurements, find contemporary accounts of expeditions, research land surveys, etc. Unfortunately, many do not print or download.

Wikipedia is not an authoritative source as anyone can edit its pages and there is no telling how competent those editors are. However, an article with abundant citations is a great starting point. Using the references at the bottom of the page, you can track down the original sources and evaluate them for yourself.

Interested in learning more about comparative views? Check out my ebook!

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

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

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? What does it mean for a map to be titled a comparative? It’s been a while since I discussed the fundamentals of comparatives; this post reviews those but is by no means exhaustive.

I have developed a few criteria for comparative views. Comparative views must be: continuous depictions of geographic features, arranged by size (with a few exceptions), to show variation in size with an accurate scale, and usually have a human scale benchmark.

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 style, showing mountains of the old and new worlds. (Own work)

A Brief History
Comparative views were inspired by Humboldt’s 1805 chart. Although it wasn’t a comparative, it planted the seed for visual display of altitude related data visually. Bertuch was the first to widely publish a comparative, c1810, in the form of a fictionalized landscape. This style gave way to the stylized graph format seen in most comparatives, often found in atlases. By the late 19th century comparative views had fallen out of favor.

Principal Mountains by Carey and Lea, 1832. This miniature map of mountains shows pyramids as a human scale benchmark.
Principal Mountains by Carey and Lea, 1832. This miniature map of mountains shows pyramids as a human scale benchmark. (Photo: own work)

Comparatives must give the illusion of looking at a scene or “view” of geographic features. The first comparatives did this by taking the form of a landscape. Later comparatives, those of the graph style, achieved this through abstract means where the peripheral attributes of one feature blended into another; mountains slightly overlapped to form a range and rivers drained into a common body of water. Without this unity among the features, the comparison would hardly exist as it would be district images, not inviting the reader to compare them.

Five panel lithograph mountains and rivers comparative view.
Five panel comparative chart of mountains and rivers by Johnson. Note the graph like style, where mountains are simple cones. c1855. (Photo: Own work)

Arrangement and Scale 
A comparative view is a device to highlight the large (usually, although as always, there are exceptions) mountains, rivers, etc., of the world. As such, they must be laid out so that the reader can readily identify the largest of the objects. Employing (usually) a sorting methodology achieves this. Sorting so as to create a gradient, largest to smallest or vice versa, is common. Pyramid sorting is common with mountains, placing the largest mountain in the middle and the smaller ones to the sides, alternating. Scaling objects on a similar basis is essential to allow readers to evaluate their relative sizes.

The Great Pyramids and Paris as shown on Thomson & Lizars' A Comparative View.
The Great Pyramids and Paris as shown on Thomson & Lizars’ A Comparative View. The Great Pyramids serve as a human scale benchmark. (Photo: own work)

Human Scale Benchmark
Heights of very large objects like mountains are hardly meaningful without something of a translation. That translation is achieved through a benchmark that is an intermediary. Many comparatives use the Great Pyramids of Giza as such an intermediary; albeit large, pyramids are still on the human scale to the extent that they were built by hand, people can easily walk around them, and they can be scaled. Despite being on a familiar scale, their size is substantial enough to be compared to mountains.

Check out some of the great resources from David Rumsey, Geographicus, and Hautdidier.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

The Long River

Most rivers comparatives look like stylized column graphs, where the rivers are scaled down and function as columns indicating length. Column graphs certainly lend themselves nicely to comparing lengths of rivers and at the time comparative views were popular, column graphs were still new, having been developed a few decades earlier by William Playfair. While just about any rivers comparative view resembles a column graph, the well executed among them are faithful, albeit smaller and straightened, facsimiles of the the rivers, providing more than just length, but also falls, lakes, deltas, tributaries, and adjacent cities.

Image of Carey and Lea's 1832 Chief Rivers.
Chief Rivers by Carey and Lea, 1832. This miniature map of ‘chief’ rivers clearly shows tributaries, lakes, deltas, and cities. (Photo: own work)

Carey and Lea’s 1832 Chief Rivers does an excellent job of showing both rivers, but also the figurative and literal landscape through which they flow.

Photograph of comparative map by Carey and Lea showing Amazon and Mississippi Rivers
Amazon and Mississippi River detail from Chief Rivers by Carey and Lea, 1832, clearly showing tributaries, lakes, mountains, and cities. (Photo: own work)

They show the Amazon (watch out for piranhas!) stretching from the Atlantic Ocean across the continent of South America, through the Andes, tracing the Beni River and showing Lake Titicica (the highest navigable body of water, by the way, at over 12,000 feet of elevation), and passing no fewer than five cities. From this image, we can tell that it supports a lot of people, with the cities serving as a proxy for population. Further, we can tell from the many tributaries that it drains a large basin, and from the mountains approximately 2/3 of the way inland from the ocean that it has alpine headwaters. Looking at the Mississippi, its delta and New Orleans–the Crescent City–are clear as day. The map shows two forts on the Mississippi, each indicated by a small cross, including Ft Mandan, where Louis and Clark spent the winter of 1804-1805. The presence of these forts and the several towns shown, with their histories in mind, tell us that this river was important in the European settlement of North America.

The detail Carey and Lea provided in the cases of the Mississippi and Amazon, as well as in the other rivers shown, makes clear that they are chief rivers in addition to simply being long rivers. Certainly being a long river is a compelling argument for it being important, however Carey and Lea show several very small rivers. The Thames and Forth rivers are tiny in the shadow of the Nile, Amazon, and Mississippi, but Carey and Lea provide context; showing London and Edinburgh provides the detail to understand that these are important rivers as they support capital cities despite being relatively short. After looking at the Mississippi and Amazon rivers, it is clear that their importance is not just in their length but also because of their ecology, the populations they support, and the commerce they facilitate. All of this insight would be lost if they were mere lines on a chart.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016.

Put it on Paper

Look at an old map, from around 1800 or older, and notice the paper it’s printed on. It’s think and hefty, not thin and flimsy like the paper modern road maps are printed on. The paper has a slightly toothy texture rather than perfectly smooth. Hold it to the light and look for crisscrossing lines and watermarks. These are the signature traits of old paper.

Paper is made of cellulose, plant fiber, in a slurry, that’s dried in thin sheets. Before the mid 1800s, the source of the cellulose was linen and cotton, pulverized with water to make pulp. The pulp was spread on wire mesh, pressed and dried. Later on, wood pulp paper became the norm.

Cellulose is a material made by plants for use in their structures, consisting of individual glucose molecules bound together with special chemical bonds making them very strong. Short by our scale, far too small to be seen by the eye, but large on the molecular scale, these strings weave together in the pulp to form a mat. Rag and wood pulp papers differ in that the cellulose strings in rag pulp are between three and ten times the length of those in wood pulp paper; rag papers’ fibers are far more interlaced than those of wood pulp papers, making a stronger and more flexible sheet. But that’s not the only difference: the cellulose in wood comes packaged with other materials, occluding lignins and sulfur based compounds, contributing to the faster breakdown of the paper.

The wire mesh used in laid paper manufacture left a telltale crisscross pattern. Termed chain lines and laid lines, these are the fingerprint of the deckle, or frame, on which the paper was laid. Sometimes a wire design was stitched into the deckle to yield a watermark, where the raised wire would result in a thinner area, appearing lighter on the finished product. Machine made paper may have watermarks as well, and the crisscross pattern, while not an inherent artifact of the process, may be mimicked.

Photograph of watermark on Alturas map, circa 1824.
Watermark on Alturas map, c1824. The mark is in the form of a trumpet within a crest above the letter M. Chain lines run top to bottom, laid lines right to left. (Photo: own work)

Map collectors, myself included, usually devote our attention to subject of the subjects of maps without noticing the paper they are printed on. This is too bad. These old papers are marvelous works of art and science in their own right.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016.