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July 23, 2001

Library of Congress Acquires Only Known Copy of 1507 World Map Compiled by Martin Waldseemüller

First map to use the name "America"
First map to depict a separate Western Hemisphere
First map to depict the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water

The Library of Congress has reached an agreement with Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg to purchase the only known copy of the map that has been called "America's birth certificate," which was compiled by cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 (below). The map has been housed for more than 350 years in the 16th century castle belonging to the Prince's family at Wolfegg in southern Germany. The map, in pristine condition, originally belonged to Johann Schöner (1477-1557), a Nuremberg astronomer-geographer. Long thought lost, the 1507 treasure generated great excitement when it was rediscovered in Waldburg-Wolfegg's castle in 1901.

Waldseemuller Map

The government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German state of Baden-Württemberg granted an export license for the map, which is registered in the German comprehensive list of valuable national cultural property, so that it could be acquired by the Library of Congress. Under the agreement between Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg and the Library of Congress, the Library has made an initial down payment for the map. In its report making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2001, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed the Library's efforts to acquire the Waldseemüller map (House Report 107-102, June 20, 2001).

Also, under the terms of the agreement, the map will be on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

"This map, giving our hemisphere its name for the first time, will be the crown jewel of the Library's already unparalleled collection of maps and atlases," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. "The purchase marks the culmination of an effort that has extended over many decades to bring this unique historical document to America where it can be on display in the nation's library for all to see. The Library of Congress is grateful to Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg and to the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Baden-Württemberg, which have made this acquisition possible."

This 1507 map grew out of a massive project in St. Dié, France, in the early years of the 16th century to update geographic knowledge flowing out of the new discoveries of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Martin Waldseemüller's large world map was the most exciting product of that research effort. He included on the map data gathered by Amerigo Vespucci during Vespucci's voyages of 1501-1502 to the New World. Waldseemüller named the new lands "America" on his 1507 map in the mistaken belief that it was Vespucci and not Christopher Columbus who had discovered them. An edition of 1,000 copies of the large wood-cut print was reportedly printed and sold. Thus the name "America" given to the new lands by Waldsemüller endured, and his 1507 world map has come to be known as "America's birth certificate."

Waldseemüller's map supported Amerigo Vespucci's revolutionary concept of the New World as a separate continent, which, until then, was unknown to the Europeans. It was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict the lands of a separate Western Hemisphere and with the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map reflected a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American land mass and forever changing mankind's understanding and perception of the world itself.

The map is the earliest multi-sheet printed wall map, made up of 12 sheets, each measuring 16-1/2 inches by 23-1/4 inches, resulting in an overall map that measures 4-1/2 feet by 8 feet, or a total of 36 square feet. The map is in mint condition and is an exceptionally fine example of printing technology at the onset of the Renaissance.

The Library of Congress has the largest and most comprehensive collection of maps and atlases in the world, some 4.8 million cartographic items that date from the 14th century to the present time. The Library's map collections contain coverage for every country and subject and include the works of all the famous map makers throughout history -- Ptolemy, Waldseemüller, Mercator, Ortelius and Blaeu. With its unparalleled collection related to the mapping of America, its strong holdings on the history of early printed cartography, and its strength for the period of European discovery and exploration, the Library of Congress is the logical repository for preserving, studying and displaying this unique 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller. The map will also be scanned and mounted on the Library's prize-winning Web site at www.loc.gov.

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PR 01-093
07/23/01
ISSN 0731-3527

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