MapCarte 59/365: Physical Geography by Adam & Charles Black, Sidney Hall & William Hughes, 1854

MapCarte59_physicalgeographyAn atlas map measuring 27cm by 38cm, the depiction of the world’s major mountains and rivers in this way has become a common representation since its publication in the mid 1800s. The map is more of an illustration, being hand drawn and applying a heavy dose of abstraction in order to portray nearly 30 rivers and over 250 mountains.

Rivers are straightened and mountains given a relatively uniform appearance but the clarity that comes from being able to compare on a single page is the key to the success of this map. Immediately we can see the relative height of mountains or length of rivers. We can measure against a scale on the right margin and the map also presents features grouped by continent.

There are some very nice touches such as the spewing volcanoes, the location of some towns and cities and even a small elevation of famous buildings in London for scale across the foot of the page. Here, perhaps is the forerunner of the modern information graphic (infographic) yet at its core it remains a map since it clearly maps out the geography of these physical features.

A zoomable hi resolution version can be viewed on the David Rumsey map collection site here.

MapCarte 29/365: Our U.S.A. A Gay Geography by Frank Taylor & Ruth Taylor, 1935


A charming pictorial atlas. Ruth Taylor’s maps present a hugely entertaining picture of the United States in cartoon form. Each state and outlying territories gets its own page and original drawing which provides a snapshot of the social and geographical setting of the area of the time. The landscape is populated by people going about their daily lives; the major sights and scenery are illustrated as well as crops and indigenous flora and fauna. Each map shows the main topographical features and geography of the area in a way that no reference or thematic map can achieve. Here, the map itself has character as well as allowing you to glean a basic understanding of what is where.

As with most cartoon-style atlases and maps, the images are stereotypical and sometimes jarring in a modern context. The map of Tennessee, for instance, shows a Ku Klux Klan member complete with robe, hood and pistol. However, such maps often reveal what was culturally or socially of note at the time of their creation and illustrations were often included precisely to be provocative or even satirical in style.

Pictorial maps genuinely combine cartography with art and are often sought after and collectible. Consequently, many are disassembled as individually the maps can command a higher value than the complete book.

MapCarte 19/365: Atlas of Switzerland 1961-1978 by Eduard Imhof, 1978


Eduard Imhof, Swiss cartographer, was asked to produce an “Atlas of Switzerland” in 1961. The atlas illustrated the country with its variety of nature, population, culture and economy in maps that exhibited the full expression of Imhof’s abilities. Supported by numerous Swiss scientists the first edition was finished in 1978 and published by the Federal Office of Topography. The maps are authoritative precisely because of this fundamental scientific basis and consultation but they are brought to life by the artistry of Imhof.

Imhof himself was an expert cartographer and artist. That combination is fundamental to understanding his work since the artistic dimension to his many works creates maps that are beautiful on the eye. Here, even a complex statistical map showing daily commuter patterns in 1960 mixes clear geometric point symbology with perfectly curved distributive flowlines. Text is kept to a minimum and the hillshaded backdrop provides a subtle ground to the thematic figural elements. This map is simply one example from an atlas that as a collection is clinically designed and represents the very best of atlas production.

This will not be the only Imhof in the MapCarte series.

MapCarte 13/365: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States by Charles Paullin and John Wright, 1932


Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright’s Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932, is an award winning work of art. A magnificent historical atlas published ahead of its time and including innovative thematic representations. Each one of the nearly 700 maps makes it a truly fantastic cartographic work.  The attention to detail is exquisite and builds to a rich set of maps that detail just about every facet of America and the social, political and economic fabric of the country at that time.

The purpose of an atlas is to create a collection of works that relate to the area in question and this is one of the best of the early 20th century. Its contents are curated and written by authoritive figures. The maps are combined with temporal and statistical detail and context is provided through textual explanations. This is a true compendium that expertly mixes a range of approaches to capture the history and geography of the U.S.

A new digital version has brought the atlas to a new audience and while it doesn’t necessarily portray the work as well as the original the huge benefit of being made available online is it can be seen by a much wider audience now than ever before. You can see the online version here.