WWW-Virtual Library: History
Map History / History of Cartography: THE Gateway to the Subject

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Map History

Map Collections

Libraries, archives and other repositories in general

For a general overview about online access see Joel Kovarsky's 'Searching for Early Maps: Use of Online Library Catalogs'.

Increasingly, libraries are providing web access to their map catalogues and to selected images of the maps in their keeping. Over 4,300 institutions worldwide are listed in the Repositories of Primary Sources. See also ARCHON's list of overseas repositories , the Library of Congress's Portals to the World ('Links to Electronic Resources from Around the World selected by Library of Congress Subject Experts' - see 'Libraries, Archives' for each country).

Archivenet is 'useful for locating online information on various national archives worldwide', with special reference to The Netherlands and Flanders (Historical Centre Overijssel). For European collections the steadily growing E-Corpus is useful. This is a collective digital library coordinated by the Centre de Conservation du Livre, listing material from 241 organisations, and providing links to images in some cases. A search for 'map and plan' produced about 1000 hits (2012).

For the US, see the US National Archives and Records Administration's Archival Research Catalog (replacing the NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL)) and the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC).

For the UK, the growing < http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/ > Access to Archives (A2A)collection of catalogues of UK archives contained '7.1 million catalogue entries from 357 record offices' in September 2004. Part of that will be the 'London Archives on the Wider World', led by the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office and the Historical Manuscripts Commission) and the British Library. The Archives Hub provides ‘a national gateway to descriptions of archives in UK universities and colleges’ (a general search for maps produced 728 hits and for maps as subjects, 101 - November 2004). For record respositories around the UK see the Find an archive in the UK and beyond.

See also Library Spot (a general listing of libraries), with its link to the Berkeley Digital Library's Library Servers via WWW ("over 8000 pages from libraries in over 146 countries" [at October 2005]). Another useful source is ’Places with maps in Belgium and outside of Belgium’ (over 40 map repositories in Belgium (Brussels Map Circle [BIMCC]).   Archives and some museums also hold map collections.

Alternatively, consult the Library of Congress's Electronic Research Tools, with its links to over 300 library catalogues round the world, via a Z39.50 gateway. These are book catalogues but they will include some cartographic material.  Indeed, some map collections are wholly included in their library's general book catalogue.

If you want details about celebrated American collectors, some of whom gathered maps, see the Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America, and for two notable US collections, ’Something on the Origins of the Two Largest Map Collections in the USA and the Practice of Map History’ (the collections are in Harvard College and the P. Lee Phillips map collection in the Library of Congress - Matthew Edney in his Mapping as Process blog, 3 December 2022).

For information about networks of archives, libraries and museums, and other organisational matters, see here.

Theft of maps from libraries is a perennial problem. For a discussion of the issues involved, and a list of links, see Map Thefts

(see, for information about individual institutions, the Libraries section below and Web articles (Libraries))

Librarianship and Curatorship   |  Conservation

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Union catalogues

The Quick Query Library Search interrogates a large number of databases, both the union listings mentioned below and specific catalogues - viaLibri.

Copac (a union catalogue, providing free access to the merged online catalogues of 24 of the largest university research libraries in the UK and Ireland plus the British Library and the National Library of Scotland - see Map Search Guide).

IKAR - Database of old maps, listing about 225,000 pre-1850 printed maps in a group of German libraries. To search, click on 'Datenbank'. [Also here

IDS Basel/Bern catalogue - maps of Switzerland and neighbouring countries, including those in the Ryhiner Project.

Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue KVK - not a union catalogue, as such, but providing access to "75 millions books and serials in library and book trade catalogs worldwide", including the 'most important' German library catalogues, as well as those of the Library of Congress, British Library and Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Many maps are listed in the online utility OCLC's WorldCat. This normally needs to be accessed via a subscribing library, using the FirstSearch service. The other main utility, also US-based, is RLIN.

The 754 printed volumes of The National Union Catalogue [London: Mansell, 1968-81] are valuable for pre-1956 imprints.

For pre-1600 imprints, across Europe, consult the Universal Short Title Catalogue. Hosted by the University of St Andrews, this allows searching for digital copies of such works.

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World Directory of Map Collections, 4th Edition, compiled and edited by Olivier Loiseaux on behalf of the Section of Geography and Map Libraries, of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (Munich: De Gruyter Saur, 2012).

For a new venture see 'Libraries Portal', an intended 'International Directory of map libraries', which it suggests 'could take over from the IFLA directory' (the site is currently in development). This is available in English, French and Spanish from CartoMundi.

Additions since 1998:-

Directory of Canadian Map Collections = Répertoire des collections canadiennes de cartes, 7th edition. By Melissa S.A. Leitch. Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives = Association des cartothèques et archives cartographiques du Canada. 1999. ISSN 0070-5217.

 For an inventory of map collections in France see: 'Répertoire des Cartothèques de France', 4th Edition, in: Intergeo Bulletin, 133 (1999). ISSN 0396-5880.
See the online notes on the The most important Dutch map collections (Koninklijke Bibliotheek).
For notes on collections in Russia see 'List of archives and libraries where cadastral maps and documents are stored' (by Alexei Karimov)
PARES. In 2006, Spain’s Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte (Ministry of Culture and Sport) established the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES). "Now (July 2021) PARES provides public access to more than five million descriptions of sources and over thirty- five million total images of digitized documents, photographs, art, and maps that are located in twelve archives throughout Spain". For a users' guide see 'Navigating the Portal de Archivos Españoles by William Cohoon'.
See also Directorio de cartotecas y de colecciones cartográficas en instituciones españolas (by Carmen Líter Mayayo, October 2012)
For information about Swiss collections see Kartensammlungen und Bibliothekskataloge.
United Kingdom
UK Map Collections Archive (UKMCA)
United States
Christopher J.J. Thiry (ed), Guide to U.S. Map Resources, Third Edition (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005). Produced for the Map and Geography Round Table (MAGERT) of the American Library Association. This lists U.S. libraries holding "over 1,000 maps, or with collections of significant research, or historic value".

The Online Guide to U.S. Map Collections (a directory of map collections, big and small, across the United State) [accessed April 2021]

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Information on selected institutions

(see, for articles about individual institutions, the Libraries page of the Web Articles section)
Berlin, Geheime Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
The map department’s online catalogue lists over 100,000 maps. To search, for maps relating to Germany, select 'Bestände, Nachlässe & Sammlungen', then 'Geographische Suche'.

Bibliothèque nationale de France
You can search the BnF's Catalogue Général. For information about online map images on the BnF site see the composite entry on 'Images of early maps on the web' (Large general sites). Or, to access the 75,363 maps on Gallica (as at January 2019), by author, date, language etc, see the index page.

For an illustrated overview by Franck Olivar (30 September 2019), see 'Le département des Cartes et plans de la BnF, plus fort que Google Maps!', giving access to several short videos by Eve Netchine about notable individuals in the Library's history.

Bodleian Library
Online version of the Map Room card catalogue (Beta version, July 2014). A broader search is possible across a range of Bodleian and Oxford University college libraries, via SOLO, where a search can be made for just 'maps'. For further details see the Map Room site. See also Debbie Hall (ed.), Treasures from the Map Room: a Journey through the Bodleian Collections (Bodleian Library, 2016). In 2022, a design package, Storymaps, was added 'which allows us to highlight key parts of the Bodleian map collection'.

British Library
Before searching for cartographic materials in the British Library's main catalogue, Explore the British Library, it is sensible to consult the note on Maps Catalogues. Also take a look at the British Library Maps & Prints blog for April 2020, for 'A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps' and 'Another big list...'

The Map Catalogue has been mounted on COPAC, where new entries are being added. There is a Map Search option. It is possible to select just BL map records. The European Library offers specific access to the 'British Library online catalogue of cartography'. To trace printed maps that were published in atlases or books (and therefore, for the most part, omitted from the map catalogue), see Rodney W. Shirley Maps in the Atlases of the British Library: a Descriptive Catalogue c.850-1800 (London: British Library, 2004), 2 volumes and CD with indexes [ISBN: 0712347992]. This describes the contents of 3,300 pre-1800 'atlases'.

For information about ‘King George III Topographical and Maritime Collections’ (K. Top. and K. Mar.) see ’Collection Guides’(2020). See also 'George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons' (July 2021).

For later manuscript accessions, and for manuscript texts of cartographic relevance, an unpublished database, 'Indexes to material of cartographic interest in the Department of Manuscripts and to manuscript cartographic items elsewhere in the British Library' (1992) - arranged in geographical, nominal, chronological and thematic sequences - is available in the Map Library. Short extracts can be sent on request - contact: maps@bl.uk. You can also now (January 2013) consult the British Library's combined online catalogue, select 'Archives and manuscript collections'. As its title indicates, this includes what had formerly been in the separate catalogue of Manuscripts.

In 2014 the British Library added a new facility, 'Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts' ('the online catalogue of the Library’s collections of unique and largely unpublished literary, musical and religious works, family and personal papers, and official records'). Use this for the India Office map catalogue, and most maps from the Manuscript department. Also useful is 'How to Make the Most of Digitised Manuscripts' (British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog, 26 September 2015); see for example 'How do I find a manuscript?'

For a general impression of the Map Library by an outsider see "Simply Superb" by Liz Sagues in Mercator's World, March/April 2000.

Library of Congress
The Geography and Map Division has mounted an Illustrated Guide. Make a point of looking at the excellent "Map Collections: 1544-[current year]" - a mixture of text and images forming part of the LC's American Memory project. The 'Library of Congress Authorities' gives access to records for over 12 million books, etc, via 5.3 million name authority records and 265,000 subject authority records. For information about online map images on the LC site see the composite entry on 'Images of early maps on the web' (Large general sites).

The National Archives [UK] (formerly Public Record Office) (UK)
See the Maps homepage for overviews of the major types and series of maps held by The National Archives. There are links to more detailed information in the online research guides [which is easier than using than the A-Z index]. There are sections on maps for family and local history, military and overseas maps (including sea charts), and architectural drawings.

Consult the online Catalogue (formerly known as PROCAT), which describes many thousands of maps and plans as well as files, reports, correspondence, photographs, treaties and other records. There are more than 500 record series consisting entirely of maps and plans.

The Catalogue is now the most up-to-date finding aid to records in The National Archives and is gradually superseding traditional means of reference such as the published map catalogues - Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office: Volume 1 British Isles c. 1410-1860; Volume 2 America; Volume 3 Africa; Volume 4 Europe (London, 1967-98). A major retrospective conversion project is currently under way to add descriptions of maps from the printed catalogues and card catalogues to the Catalogue but the printed catalogues (which describe about 25,000 manuscript and printed maps) may need to be consulted for some time yet.

The Collections on a map tool was introduced in 2012. 'This provides access to catalogue descriptions, and in some cases digitised images, of selected sets of records via a clickable map interface', including the tithe maps and apportionments.

National Library of Australia
About half of the rare map collection of the National Library of Australia have catalogue entries now accessible via the web. When you click on 'Catalogue' you can select "Maps" in the "Limit to" box. Entries showing a thumbnail will be illustrated.
National Maritime Museum
There are various online aids. The following publications are still useful: Catalogue of the library, especially: 3. Atlases and cartography, 2 volumes (London: HMSO, 1971); Handlist of Manuscript Sea Charts and Pilot Books executed before 1700 (London, HMSO, 1973) and Guide to the manuscripts in the National Maritime Museum, 2 volumes (London: Mansell,1979-80).
Newberry Library (Chicago)
For an overview of their activities see Center for the History of Cartography Programs and also Maps, Travel, and Exploration. The Newberry Library Cartographic Catalog includes 85,000 descriptions of maps, atlases and secondary sources on specialised topics in the history of cartography. Closed and last revised 2015, but available for download as an Adobe Acrobat PDF document (17,400 pages in 136kb); contact the Newberry Library Reference Department. See also the introductory overview: Cartography - Special Map Collections and Strengths.

The private collection of Newberry Library Trustee, Roger Baskes, is described in several short-title lists. [Use Internet Explorer for best results.] This includes over 12,000 works containing five or more maps (atlases, travel guides, other books with maps, and reference works), and is gradually being donated to the Newberry Library. Most Baskes titles are also described in the Newberry Library Cartographic Catalog (described above).

New York Public Library
See the article by Susan Ludmer-Gliebe in Mercator's World (September-October 2002), entitled, 'New York Public Library. 'Room Service! The Map Division at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue serves New York's throngs'.
Public Record Office
see under National Archives above
Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
The collection catalogues went online in 2004. Follow 'Our Work' and 'Collections' to reach 'Catalogues'. 'Maps' is one of the collection categories included in the single online catalogue. Note that the catalogue conversion project included cartographic material up to c. 1940 only.

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See under Exhibitions for listings of present and past exhibits, and for links to online exhibitions.
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See Gregory C. McIntosh, Antique Map Reproductions: a directory of publishers & distributors of antique map, atlas & globe facsimiles & reproductions (Lakewood, CA; Plus Ultra Publishing Company, l998). This provides contact information on almost 200 companies, institutions and agencies worldwide, and details of over 3000 antique map reproductions available from them.

Various commercial sites selling facsimile maps include an image gallery, although the scans are unlikely to be at high resolution. Blue Monocle Maps, Historic Urban Plans, Inc., Maps of the Past, Discus Media, and The Old Map Company, all sell facsimile maps online. The U.S. Historical Archive offers CD-ROMs of city panoramas, railroad and Civil War maps, etc., and shows selected images in low resolution; while Maps of the Past offers medium resolution images of 'restored historical maps' of the USA, in various categories.

Many printed facsimiles of early Dutch maps are being produced, as part of a continuing project at Utrecht University - see the Explokart Research Project page. For details of commercially produced facsimiles of Dutch maps, see the 'Nieuwe Literatur en facsimile-uitgaven' section at the end of each issue of Caert-Thresoor [not online]. Jan Smits has produced an extended essay, much of it discussing facsimiles of Dutch maps (see chapters 3-6).

For an overview see 'Facsimile maps and atlases and their function in the map collection of the University Library of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam' (by Lida Ruitinga in the LIBER Quarterly (1992)).

Facsimiles of Swiss maps produced by Cartographica Helvetica are listed on their website.

For a listing of facsimiles of almost 400 early town plans and views, contact Historic Urban Plans, Inc., Box 276, Ithaca, N.Y. 14851, U.S.A. The Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives offers 150 facsimiles of Canadian maps and city plans. See Pomengrate.com for map reproductions in calendars, address books, postcards, etc.

On the intricacies and terminology relating to digital facsimiles see 'New terminology of differentiating digital facsimiles' (illustrated article by Gábor Gercsák & Mátyás Márton, in: e-Perimetron, 5:2 (2010), pp. 97-102).

See also Web Images. For a warning about facsimiles that might appear to be originals (forgeries) see Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles likely to deceive

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