Catalog Archive
Auction 152, Lot 755

Complete Edition of Mercator's Ptolemaic Atlas

"Orbis Antiqui Tabulae Geographicae Secundum Cl. Ptolemaeum, cum Indice Philologico Absolutissimo...", Ptolemy/Mercator

Subject: Atlases

Period: 1730 (published)


Color: Black & White

11.9 x 19 inches
30.2 x 48.3 cm
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Claudius Ptolemy was a mathematician, astronomer and geographer who worked in Alexandria, then a part of the Roman Empire, in the 2nd century AD. One of the most learned and influential men of his time, his theories dominated both astronomy and geography for nearly 1500 years. His writings were kept alive by Arabic scholars during the Middle Ages and reemerged in Europe during the Renaissance. The birth of printing led to wide dissemination of his great works on astronomy and geography. There were a number of editions of his Geographia beginning in 1477. These early editions contained maps based on his original writings, known as Ptolemaic maps. As geographic knowledge increased with the explorations of Columbus, Magellan, Cabot and others, maps of the New World were added, and maps of the Old World were revised. Ptolemy's Geographia continued to be revised and published by some of the most important cartographers including Martin Waldseemuller, Sebastian Munster, Giacomo Gastaldi, Jodocus Hondius, and Gerard Mercator (whose last edition was published in 1730).

This is the final edition of Mercator's Ptolemaic atlas, published over 130 years after his death. This very fine folio atlas contains three title pages, one in simple black and white text, a beautifully engraved allegorical title page, and the main page printed in red and black with an intaglio illustration below the title featuring putti and two Sphinx. The 28 maps collate with the list of maps page, including one ancient world map, five maps of Africa, twelve maps of Asia, and ten maps of Europe.

Universalis Tabula Iuxta Ptolemaeum is the revised second state of Mercator's 1578 Ptolemaic world map. The border was re-engraved, surrounded by allegorical figures representing the four elements of Fire (Zeus), Air (Hera), Water (Neptune), and Earth (Gaia), rather than the strapwork and wind head border of the earlier edition. There is a very large Taprobana (modern day Sri Lanka) in the Indian Ocean and the Indian subcontinent is severely truncated, though the Ganges is noted. Only the northern part of Africa is shown with the Nile originating in the twin lakes south of the Equator in the Lunae montes (Mountains of the Moon).

Although Mercator is most renowned today for the projection he popularized and for first using the term Atlas for a collection of maps, he devoted much of his life to his Ptolemaic maps. The maps were beautifully engraved as nearly as possible to their original form and embellished with fine cartouches; they are often considered among his finest work.

Published in Amsterdam by R. & J. Wetstein & William Smith. Two title pages (one printed in red and black), frontispiece, introduction, preface, list of maps, 28 maps (blank versos), and index. Original full vellum binding with embossing on covers and raised bands and title on spine.

References: Mickwitz & Miekkavaara #235; Van der Krogt (Vol. I) 1:531.

Condition: A

Condition code is for the maps, which all have dark, crisp impressions and wide margins with very minor toning in blank margins on a few maps. Several maps have a damp stain along centerfold in top blank margin, Tab. VII Asiae has a centerfold separation confined to bottom blank margin, and Tab. III Europae has two extraneous creases. There is a damp stain along top edge of frontispiece, both title pages, the first few pages of text, and several pages of the index. Edges of text are darkened by fire. The spine and edges of covers are also darkened by fire but still quite intact, with the exception of a few chips to the vellum and the backstrip which is partially detached. The vellum served as excellent protection for the interior contents.

Estimate: $5,500 - $6,500

Sold for: $3,750

Closed on 2/18/2015