“An extraordinary map that depicts California as an island”—Howell

“Exerted a European-wide effect on the cartography of the area”—Burrus

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293. [MAP]. FER, Nicolas de. La Californie ou Nouvelle Caroline. Teatro de los trabajos, apostolicos de la Compa. de Jesus en la America, Septe. Dressée sur celle que le Viceroy de la Nouvelle Espagne envoya il ya peu d’années a Mrs. de l’Academie des Sciences. Par N. de Fer Geographe de sa Majesté Catholique;[36-line engraved text giving names and dates of European landings in California, followed by] A Paris dans l’Isle du Palais a La Sphere Royale, 1720;[at top center descending to right within scrolls are pictorial vignettes of Native Americans engaged in various activities, such as making manioc, dancing, and planting]; [at lower left is a scale within cartouche decorated with birds, armadillo, sloth, and cactus]. Paris, 1720. Copper-engraved map on two joined sheets of laid paper with watermark of Strasburg lily within sunburst and name of papermaker, original outline color of land masses in blue, pink, and yellow. Neat line to neat line: 45.2 x 66 cm; overall sheet size: 50.4 x 79.4 cm. Other than a few light waterstains to blank margins and short nick at upper corner, very fine.

     First printing of one of the largest and most handsome maps of California as an island, which was published in Fer’s Atlas ou recüeil de cartes géographiques [1709-1728]. It is an enlarged and revised version of Fer’s 1700 map of California and New Mexico. Howell, Anniversary Catalogue #42: “An extraordinary map that depicts California as an island... A number of changes were made in this issue, which is almost twice the size of the 1700 map, the most prominent being the addition of place names to the New Mexico portion, which on the earlier map had been indicated by a key and numbers. There were also several orthographic changes, including the substitution of ‘P.o d S.’ for the previously used ‘P. de S. Francis Draco,’ and the use of Indian place names along the Gila River.”

Leighly146 (Plate XXI). Library of Congress, California Centennial (exhibit catalogue) #10: “A vivid example of contemporary cartography.” McLaughlin, California as an Island 196. Rumsey 8572. Tooley, America 83, pp. 130-131. Wagner, Cartography of the Northwest Coast 517. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #102 & Vol. I, pp. 45-47, 69 & 77: “An important and carefully drawn map.” Based on Father Kino’s map of 1696, “This fine rare map is a reissue of Fer’s map of 1705 but on a larger scale and with some notable additions” (Tooley, California as an Island 83). The evolution of this grand map is distinguished. Wheat speculates that the prototype for Fer’s 1705 map came from Mexican savant Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, who had access to Jesuit missionary-explorer-geographer Eusebio Kino’s early notes.

     Burrus, Kino and the Cartography of Northwestern New Spain, Plate XIV & pp. 65-66 (discussing Fer’s “borrowing” of Kino’s map):

Nicolas de Fer published in Paris in 1720 a third edition of Kino’s 1695-1696 map. It is not only a far more artistic production than the first two, but it is also far closer to the original by copying its title “California or New Carolina, Theater of the Apostolic Efforts of the Society of Jesus in North America,” reproducing Kino’s summaries of the expeditions to California (translated from French) and restoring the names of the mainland settlements to the map proper. Nicolas [De] Fer, now geographer to his Catholic Majesty, reminds his readers that the map he is publishing is delineated according to the one which the Viceroy of New Spain sent to the Duque de Escalona, who in turn forwarded it several years ago to the Academy of Sciences. The chart is printed in Paris, on the island of the palace, at the royal sphere.... In order to make the map more ornate he adds one degree to the southern portion of the map without depicting any additional territory.... Fer’s productions are the only ones influenced directly by Kino. They in turn exerted a European-wide effect on the cartography of the area.

     Howell (Anniversary Catalogue #42) presents a good overview of the “California as an Island” topic:

The question of whether California was an island persisted through the first half of the eighteenth century. Most cartographers depicted it as an island in the 1680s and 1690s, although Delisle blurred the issue by showing undefined boundaries in his map of 1700, and in 1705 Father Kino’s famous “Passage par terre a la Californie” map appeared in the French edition of the Jesuit Lettres Edificantes [see herein]. Fer, however, continued to retain the island configuration—an excellent example of how old ideas persisted, particularly among European geographers, in spite of new discoveries and explorations. He could hardly have been unaware of Father Kino’s later travels, and must have seen the 1705 map in one form or another before this issue of “La Californie” was engraved. Regardless, it was not until the publication of Samuel Engel’s Mémoires et Observations Géographiques et Critiques in 1765 that the question was finally resolved, and California was returned to its proper position as a part of the mainland.

     For more on California as an Island, see W. Michael Mathes, “The Mythological Geography of California: Origins, Development, Confirmation and Disappearance” in The Americas, Vol. 45, No. 3, January, 1989, pp. 314-341.

     Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers (revised edition) (Vol. II, pp. 59-60) has a long article on the Fer family, noting that Nicolas de Fer of Paris (1646-1720) was “Geographe ordinaire de Sa Majeste” and took over the family firm in 1687 from his mother, building it into a flourishing map publishing business.


Sold. Hammer: $5,500.00; Price Realized: $6,737.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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