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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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