Early Printed Atlas of America

A Master Map & Thirteen Regional Maps Portraying the Spanish Empire in America

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177. HERRERA Y TORDESILLAS, Antonio de. HERRERA [Y TORDESILLAS], Antonio de. Descripción de las Indias Ocidentales de Antonio de Herrera Coronista Mayor de Su Magd. de las Indias y Su Coronista de Castilla Al Rey Nro. Señor. [below title] En Mad[rid]: en la emplenta. [sic] Real 1601 [colophon at bottom of p. 96] En Madrid, Por Iuan Flamenco Año MDCI [1601].[2, engraved pictorial title], [2, license], 1-96 pp., text printed in double columns, copper-engraved pictorial title (globe of Western Hemisphere and sea gods at top; center with Spanish coat of arms; surrounded by images including miniature portrait medallion of author, representations of Mexican deities, first king of Mexico (Acamapichtli), Templo mayor, glyphs, etc.); plus 14 copper-engraved folded maps of America (see map list below), engraved title and maps with old color wash (tarnished green, pale rose, and rusty brown, applied in a loose, primitive style). Folio (27.8 x 19.5 cm), modern full green morocco, gilt ruling on covers with fleur-de-lis designs at corners, spine with raised bands and gilt lettering, inner gilt dentelles, a.e.g. Spine a bit faded and joints a little chafed. Wormed throughout with some loss to maps and text (some leaves extensively). All leaves silked and mounted on stubs. Very rare.


1. [Below upper border] Descripcion de las Yndias Ocidentalis 1. [cartouche at lower center] Entre los dos meridianos señala dos secontiene la navegacion y descubrimeinto [sic] que compete a los Castellanos. Plate mark: 22.8 x 32.1 cm. Precedes p. [3]. North and South America, with parts of Asia, the Philippines, Europe (Portugal and Canary Islands), etc. Clearly set out is the Line of Demarcation, dividing the lands between the Spanish and Portuguese as established in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), but the map is configured to give the disputed territory to Spain.Few topographical details are shown, and the northwest part of North America is almost blank. California is named and shown attached to North America. This map and others in this work were expanded by Herrera from the manuscript maps of Juan López de Velasco (d. 1596) ordered by Phillip II (John Carter Brown owns López de Velasco's original manuscript map, ca. 1575-1580; see Plate 3.15 on p. 76 in Reinhartz & Saxon, The Mapping of the Entradas into the Greater Southwest, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998). The challenge that faced López de Velasco was to make a map of the New World without ever seeing it and while an ocean away in Spain. To him and other sixteenth-century Europeans, the New World was the missing part of their cosmos, or world order. “López de Velasco's attempts to make the New World knowable through maps rank among the high cosmographic achievements of the sixteenth century” (Barbara E. Mundy, pp. 11-12, 17-27, 213-215 in The Mapping of New Spain, University of Chicago Press, 2000). Antochiw, Historia Cartographica de la Peninsula de Yucatán, p. 16. Burden, The Mapping of North America 140 (includes list of subsequent editions): “One of the very few Spanish printed maps of America.... The map has no text on the reverse, and the copperplate was not used again. It is scarce.” Hayes, Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean, p. 1107. Tooley, Landmarks of Mapmaking, p. 16. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 63-64. Wagner, The Cartography of the Northwest Coast, pp. 66-67, 93 & No. 226. Martin & Martin, p. 77: “The dearth of information on [his maps of America] reflects not only the official Spanish position concerning the information it wished disseminated, but also Spanish priorities in exploration and the consequent lack of interior investigations. Interestingly, for the period in which the maps were drawn, the general outlines were essentially correct.”

2. Descripcion de las Yndias del Norte 2. Plate mark: 21.1 x 27.9 cm. Follows p. 6. Map of North America, including Central America, the northernmost part of South America, and the Caribbean. Among the few locations are Florida (in quite a different conformation than in preceding map), Yucatan, audiencias of New Galicia, New Spain, Guatemala, and Española. Antochiw, Historia Cartográfica de la Península de Yucatán, p. 137. Burden, The Mapping of North America 141 (as in Map 1, no text on verso, plate not used again, derived from the manuscript charts of Juan López de Velasco, this one also at JCB). Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 65-66. Martin & Martin, p. 18: “The only printed Spanish map of this period [appeared in] Herrera's...official history of the Indies [and it] is typical of the official Spanish secrecy concerning their domains; it reveals almost no information on the interior”; p. 77: “For the period in which the maps were drawn, the general outlines were essentially correct.... Although adding little to the composite of the Gulf region, Herrera's maps remain as documentation for the claims and attitudes of one of the great New World powers”; & Plate 7.

3. Descripcion del destricto del audiencia de la Española. 3. Plate mark: 21 x 21.6 cm. Faces p. 7. Map of the Caribbean, southern North America to present Port Royal (South Carolina), Florida, and the northern part of South America. Burden, The Mapping of North America 142: “Of interest to us on this map is the distinctive narrow Florida peninsula. Unlike the previous item [Burden 141] some internal detail and nomenclature is given. It contains a relatively accurate delineation of the R. de S. Matheo, St. Johns River, with a large upstream lake. Along with the appearance of Santagustin [San Augustine], it illustrates the presence of the Spanish in Florida since 1565. This is one of the more detailed of Herrera's maps.” Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 67-68. Burden notes that as with Maps 1 and 2 above, the plate was not used again and that the map is scarce.

4. Descripçion del destricto del audiençia de Nueva España. 4. Plate mark: 16.9 x 28.4 cm. Faces p. 23. Map of Central America, including the Yucatan peninsula, present-day Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. Rivers and settlements are located. Antochiw, Historia Cartográfica de la Península de Yucatán, p. 136. Reinhartz, Mapping and Empire, Illustration 3.1 & p. 58: “The well-known maps of Herrera, such as Descripçion del destricto del audiençia de Nueva España, were an extreme expression of the Spanish geographic-cartographic paranoia during this period. They show only relatively accurate outlines of landmasses, with little interior detail. As a result, Spanish claims especially to frontier areas like the northern borderlands were never securely made public.” Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 69-70.

5. Descripcion del destricto del audiencia de la Nueva Galicia. 5. Plate mark: 20.5 x 28.3 cm. Faces p. 29. Map of part of Central America, including present-day Mexican states of Aguascalientes, Colima, and Jalisco, and parts of Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Zacatecas. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 71-72. The establishment and delimitation of the political jurisdiction of Nueva Galicia began with the founding of Colima by Cortés' agents in 1525.

6. Descripcion del audiencia de Guatimala 6. Plate mark: 20.3 x 28.1 cm. Faces p. 32. Map of part of Central America, including present-day Chiapas, southern Yucatan, Guatemala, Nicaragua, south to Costa Rica and Panama. Bornholdt, Cuatro Siglos de Expresiones Geográficas del Istmo Centroamericano Plate 27 (p. 75). Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 73-74.

7. Descripcion de las Yndias de Mediodia. 7. Plate mark: 21.7 x 23.3 cm. Faces p. 38. Map of South America showing the papal line of demarcation, Amazon River, Rio de la Plata, and the Strait of Magellan. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 75-76.

8. Descripcion del audiencia de Panama. 8. Plate mark: 17.8 x 22.7 cm.Faces p. 39. Map of the audiencia of Panama, showing rivers and settlements. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 77-78.

9. Descripcion del audiencia del Nuevo Reino 9. Plate mark: 20.8 x 21.4 cm. Faces p. 41. Map of the audiencia of the New Kingdom of Granada, present-day Colombia and Venezuela, locating rivers and settlements. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 79-80.

10. Descripcion del audiencia del Quito 10. Plate mark: 20.7 x 24.3 cm. Faces p. 47. Map of the audiencia of Quito, present-day Ecuador with parts of Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, showing rivers and settlements. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 81-82.

11. Descripcion del destricto del audiencia de Lima. 11. Plate mark: 20.8 x 24.6 cm. Faces p. 54. Map of the audiencia of Lima, present-day Ecuador, parts of Peru, Colombia, and Brazil, including rivers, Lake Titicaca, and settlements. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 83-84.

12. Descripcion del audiencia de los Charcas. 12. Plate mark: 21.1 x 23 cm. Faces p. 61. Map of the audiencia of Charcas, present-day Bolivia, with some rivers and settlements. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 85-86.

13. Descripcion de la provincia de Chile. 13. Plate mark: 12.6 x 28.2 cm. Faces p. 64. Map of the audiencia of Chile with some topographical details, rivers, settlements. Oriented with east at top. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 87-88.

14. Descripcion de las indias del Poniente. 14. Plate mark: 20.6 x 28.2 cm. Faces p. 72. Map of the East Indies from Bengal to the Solomon Islands and north to Japan, which is shown as one main island. Although the contours of the mainland and islands (especially the Philippines and New Guinea) are somewhat sketchy, the many place names are accurately positioned. Includes a numbered key to three major island groups: the Moluccas, the Philippines, and the Ladrones. Herrera's original map was based on the manuscript map of López de Velasco, the earliest map to name all of the major Philippine islands (ca. 1575). Hayes, Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean, p. 18 (Plate 16). Suarez, Early Mapping of Southeast Asia, pp. 172-173. Vindel, Mapas de America en los Libros Españoles, Plate 89-90.

     First edition of the third printed atlas of America, preceded only by the 1597 Wytfliet atlas (see herein) and the 1598 German Acosta, Geographische und historische Beschreibung...Landschafft America (maps attributed to Johannes Matalius Metellus; Jean Matal in his native French). It has been conjectured that the maps drawn by Metellus (who died in 1597) may actually have been drawn earlier and used by Wytfliet (see Burden 115-122 and Arkway catalogue XV, 1980, item no. 13, also noted in Imago Mundi, 33, 1981, p. 113). The present work is the atlas that accompanied Herrera's Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Océano (9 parts usually bound in 4 vols., Madrid, 1601-15. For second Spanish edition of the Descripción and the Historia General, see herein).

     Baez y González, Apuntes biográficos de escritores segovianos, p. 152. Borba de Moraes I, pp. 399-400: “Herrera had access to the official Spanish archives, which accounts for the great importance of his work. It became a classical study very early. The first edition is rare and much sought after.” Burden, The Mapping of North America 140-142: “Considering the dearth of Spanish publications on the New World, particularly cartographic, it is noteworthy that this book had official backing. It details the early exploration of the New World by the Spanish and assembles many documents lost to us today.” European Americana 1601/41. Hough, Lesser Antilles 11. Lowery 105n. Martin & Martin, p. 77. Huth Catalogue II, p. 683. Medina, Hispano-Americana 455. Palau 114286. Pérez Pastor, Bibliografía Madrileña de los siglos XVI y XVII 784. Phillips, Atlases 1141. Sabin 31539. Shirley, Courtiers and Cannibals, Angels and Amazons: The Art of the Decorative Cartographic Titlepage 25. Streit II:1332. Trómel, Bibliothèque américaine. Catalogue raisonné d'une collection de livres précieux sur l'Amérique, parus depuis sa découverte jusqu'à l'an 1700 55: “Parmi les historiens de l'Amerique, Antonio Herrera, tient incontestablemente l'un des premier rangs.” Wagner, Cartography of the Northwest Coast 226 & pp. 66-77, 93. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 12: “The maps and engraved title are said to have been engraved by Juan Peyron.”

     In the last year of his reign, Philip II appointed Spanish historian Herrera (1559-1625) grand historiographer of America and Castile. Herrera filled the office from the latter years of the reign of Phillip II through the beginning of the reign of Philip IV. Herrera’s history, his most famous work, was divided into eight periods of ten years each, comprising all the years from 1472 to 1554. Herrera made use of official Spanish archives, having access to restricted documents and maps of every nature. A good deal of the history consisted of a transcript of Bartolomé de las Casas’ manuscript history of the Indies (though expurgated of content casting the Spanish conquistadors and settlers in an unfavorable light). Herrera also consulted sources not yet published, such as Bernal Díaz and the valuable Geografía y Descripción Universal de las Indias by cosmographer Juan López de Velasco. Other primary documents, many now lost, are known only because of Herrera’s inclusion of them in this work. For more on Herrera, see Manuel Ballesteros Gaibrois' biography and bibliography of Herrera in Handbook of Middle American Indians, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, Vol. 13, Part 2, pp. 240-249 (University of Texas Press, 1973).

     From the moment of its first publication, Herrera’s chronicle was considered a cornerstone work for the history of the conquest, colonization, and progress of America, constituting the most complete single source for the period. The maps of America found in the present volume are early, important, and unusual-particularly in light of Spain’s strict official policy of jealously guarding its geographical knowledge of the New World from other countries. With this publication Spain broke its long silence on its cartographical discoveries in the New World. To create the maps for this work, Herrera incorporated the most significant collection of sources up to that date, including many important unpublished primary sources, most notably the maps. As noted under Map 1 above, the maps in this volume were based primarily on the unpublished manuscript maps dated ca. 1575-1580 drawn by Juan López de Velasco upon orders by Phillip II. Although these maps subsequently appeared in other forms (beginning in 1622), they are exceedingly rare in this first printing. The copperplates used to create the maps in this first edition of the Descripción were never used again.

     The maps in this and the second Spanish edition of Herrera have been criticized as sparse in the geography and place names. But this is an assessment that does not consider the integrity of Herrera's text and the maps together and why they were created. (This is one more example of how contextual history can be lost by separating printed maps from the atlases or books in which they appeared.) Herrera's work, in word and image, was as much a political statement as an atlas of the Americas and a history of Spain in America. The publication enhanced the prestige and power of the Crown. The text was intended to reinforce to the rest of the world the territorial claims of Spain in the Americas based on its history of conquest and colonization. The Herrera-López de Velasco maps are more about the state of Spanish imperialistic visions than geography (such imperialism imperatives were by no means unique to Spain). The Herrera-López de Velasco maps show advanced knowledge of coastlines and a paucity of interior detail, as frequently noted. Would anyone really expect Spanish xenophobia to allow revelation of detailed road maps to its mines, cities, and other desirable features of its rich, jealously guarded empire? Philip II (r. 1557-1598) and Philip III (r. 1598-1621) established a policy of secrecy and strict access to archives in order to protect the empire from attacks by foreigners. López de Velasco's original manuscript maps used by Herrera were created for La Casa de Contratación (The House of Trade, founded by Isabella I in 1503), a government agency under the Spanish Empire that attempted to control all Spanish exploration and colonization in America. The modus operandi of their work was authoritarian secrecy (not unlike modern secret services). Thus, these clean Spanish maps with their blank spaces were more concerned with rationalizing Spain's imperial imagination into a coherent image, and including as much territory as possible within the line of demarcation negotiated by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). (See Marís M. Portuondo, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World, Chicago & London, University of Chicago Press, 2009.) In contrast, many other European mapmakers frequently filled their blank spaces with many place names (sometimes imaginary), decorative details (such as ships, putti, fanciful classical gods, Natives, etc.), and intricate borders and pictorial cartouches.


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