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Maps, charts, atlases, and globes are an important part of the scholarly collections of the Boston Athenæum. The map collection contains thousands of sheet maps, plans, charts, and more than 600 bound atlases, ranging from the fifteenth to the twenty-first centuries in date. After more than 200 years of growth, the map collection juxtaposes common maps with items of great rarity.
One of the earliest maps in the collection is the imaginative chart of the world published in the 1493 Latin edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle. The rarest is possibly the 1814 manuscript Map of Part of the Continent of North America…as Corrected by the Celestial Observations of Messrs. Lewis & Clark During their Tour of Discoveries.
The atlas collection is particularly strong in nineteenth and twentieth century material, but also includes Ptolemy’s Geographica (1584), three editions of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1579 and 1603) by Abraham Ortelius, and the world atlas of Mercator/Hondius, which gradually superseded the Ortelius Theatrum.
Among widely used chart books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the English Pilot (1689-1794), of which the Athenæum owns several copies, including a unique copy of the 1707 edition, and the Atlantic Neptune by J. F. W. Des Barres. There are also atlases by Visscher, de Ram, Allard, Blaeu, and de Bry here, as well as extensive holdings in nineteenth- and early twentieth- century city and county atlases concentrating on the Boston area.