intaglio printing

French nautical charts at the AGSL

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by Sam Balistreri-Daum

I have been working as an intern here at the American Geographical Society Library for the past few months, and my work is focused on indexing and cataloging 19th and 20th Century nautical charts. These charts originate in various countries consisting of hydrographic surveys from around the globe.  This has been an amazing project to be involved with and I would like to share my progress on the French nautical charts created by the Service hydrographique de la Marine and its predecessor, the Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine.

The Service hydrographique de la Marine (today the Service hydrographique et océanographique de la Marine or SHOM) is an office of the French Ministry of Defense, established in 1720.  While there are obvious military and strategic implications for the creation of detailed nautical charts, the Service Hydrographique also provided a public service by making accurate charts available to navigators sailing for business and recreation. (Wikipedia)  The collection of French nautical charts at the AGSL features charts from around the world including South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Polar Regions, the Pacific Islands and Europe as well as world maps and various tidal and atmospheric charts.

 

The charts themselves are remarkable not only in their accuracy but in the standards employed in their presentation.  The charts are printed using a method called intaglio printing, where the detail of the map itself is etched on a hard surface, such as copper, inked, and then pressed to paper.  The AGSL collections also features a guide to the design and creation of these charts entitled Dispositions Générales Relatives aux Cartes et Plans (1914).

french-book-cover

Dispositions Générales Relatives aux Cartes et Plans (1914).

This guide was helpful in understanding the structure and format of nautical charts from the presentation of scale, terminology and printing methods.  Here are a few formatting examples from among the many that are included in this great resource.

 

 

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