Monday, August 11, 2008

Antique Maps: Who’s the Author?

John Melish
Engraved by J.J. Vallance & H.S. Tanner

Published by John Melish Philadelphia

During the 16th through 19th centuries map-making involved many diverse tasks, and most often the tasks were completed by several different laborers. Map-makers of this time such as Abraham Ortelius, Nicolas Visscher and John Melish did not create their maps and atlases solely by themselves, but as their names are usually the most prominent on the maps, they can appear as the exclusive producer of the map. Maps were conceptualized by the map-maker, Ortelius, Visscher and Melish, and constructed by the surveyor, the draftsman, the engraver, the colorist, and the publisher. At times the cartographer would take responsibility for all tasks in producing a map, but not usually; the cartographer employed a hydrographer to survey and measure the land, a draftsman to draw up a manuscript map by hand, an engraver to create the copperplate and printing, a colorist to paint the printed maps, and a publisher to issue and distribute the maps and atlases.

Generally, the cartographer was the mind behind the creation of the maps and atlases and oversaw his productions. He was someone who often came from a family of map-makers or publishers, seemingly falling into the business but undoubtedly having a great passion for his trade. Others realized the demand for geographical information and sought a profession in map-making.
Abraham Ortelius, for example, started his career as a map engraver. It was through this profession that he became interested in compiling atlases, and so began his career as a map-maker. Later he would go on to become the geographer to Kind Philip II of Spain. In this task he would travel with the King on his expeditions where he would survey land and use his geographical knowledge to navigate and educate the King on his territories and those of other states.

On the other side of the spectrum, Scotsman John Melish began his career as a publisher. After visiting the United States on business and traveling through the territory extensively, he used his travel accounts to produce maps of early 18th century America. Because he was wealthy, Melish was able to employ the very best engravers for his projects and distribute his maps under his own name. After the publishing of his first set of maps and travel accounts, Melish made his business in Philadelphia in commercial cartography and geography.

Ultimately, the map-maker is known as the author, and his name is the name we remember. But there were many tasks necessary in creating atlases full of beautifully printed, colored and, at the time, accurate maps, and for each of these tasks there were specialists waiting to play their parts in making a map.

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