Nautical charts

Cartographic Craftsmanship

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by Sam Balistreri-Daum

 

One aspect of the 19th and 20th Century nautical charts that continues to amaze me is the craftsmanship.  I am currently working on the AGS Library’s set of Argentinian charts.  Working with charts in a variety of languages means learning the various nuances of how the language is used in cartography, especially abbreviations. One abbreviation that had us scratching our heads for a little while was “dib.”, which we would see in the bottom right margin of the sheet accompanied by a name.  I later found that this stood for dubujado or drawn and was again impressed by the level of craftsmanship and precision that is involved in cartography, especially in the days before computers.

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While cataloging the Argentinian charts I came across a chart containing keys for abbreviations, signals and topographic and hydrographic symbols used in the drawing of the charts in the series.  This is a reference guide for those who would use the charts.  Note the variety of styles that were done by hand before maps were engraved and then printed (click the image for an enlarged view).

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…And now for something different but related. How did a cartographer learn the skills necessary to draw maps?  For an example of this we turn to the Practischer Entwurf eines neu zuerrichtenden Urbariums (1792).  The book contains practical illustrations of (fictional) maps meant as a “how to” guide for cartographic drawing.  This volume contains beautiful colored examples of cartography, but perhaps the most fun are the fictional places depicted on the maps.  One map features such locations as Schmaltz Aecker (lard lands), Hader Aecker (discord lands) and a section labeled Anger that despite translating to “green” is actually colored in yellow.

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French nautical charts at the AGSL

Posted on Updated on

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).

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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.