America’s Birth Certificate A history lesson in a wooden world map box

World map box with the Americas fromm 1507daPolonia has quite a few map boxes in it’s collection.It is well known that inanimate object often time tell stories. Our box bearing the image of Walseemuller’s map gore can be described as a history lesson in a box. The highly ornate wooden box shows Martin Waldseemuller’s map gores to the right and the assembled globe to the left. The gores have the image of the Old World, and the assembled globe of the New World. The gores and the globe are overlaid on an intricately branded dark base. Above and below the globe image are small images of gores, as if to show the pieces that make the whole. This map and it’s sister huge wall map both dating to 1507, are called America’s Birth Certificate. And this is the story behind the bos:

As everybody knows, Cristobal Colon, better known as Christopher Columbus, discovered America by accident. Attempting to shorten the route to the Far East, he sailed west, and came upon an unknown land. The discovery of the New World, have brought with it the winds of change. One of the affected fields was Cartography – the science of drawing maps. Up until 1492, most world maps were based on maps drawn by the 1st c. Alexandrian geographer, mathematician, & astronomer, Ptolemy. The maps he drew, have been copied continuously, with some minor modifications, pursuant to Marco Polo’s travels in the 13th C. But now, Columbus discovery and Amerigo Vespucci’s travels to these new territories, mandated a revision of the map, the world has changed. One of the people who answered the call was a German cartographer – Martin Waldseemuller who has created a world map in 1507. Walseemuller’s map had a very long title, as was the custom at that time:

The Universal Cosmography according to the Tradition ofPtolemy and the Discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci and others.


Actually Waldseemuller published a wall map, a globe map cut in pieces called map gores, and an accompanying book, written in collaboration with Mathias Ringman . The book had a very long title

Introduction to Cosmography With Certain Necessary Principles of Geometry and Astronomy To which are added The Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci A Representation of the Entire World, both in the Solid and Projected on the Plane, Including also lands which were Unknown to Ptolemy, and have been Recently Discovered.

The book purpose was to explain the basis for changes instituted in the map based on the recent discovery of the New World. 1000 copies of the wall map were originally published, but today only one copy survives intact. This copy was originally in the library of Prince von Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee in the Castle of Wolfegg in Wurttemberg Germany. It was purchased in 2001 by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. for 10 million dollars. The map now has a place of honor in the Treasures Gallery of the Library of Congress.


What make the map so unique is that it was the first time, the newly discovered land was named America, after Amerigo Vespucci. History forever will debate why Waldseemuller chose to honor Amerigo Vespucci and not Christopher Columbus. It will also wonder why he chose his first name and not his last name. But this was his choice, and the new continent was so named and as they say the rest is history..The map has been dubbed: America’s Birth Certificate.

Simultaneously, Waldseemuller also created a new kind of map, the precursor of the folding map. It is called map gores.What Waldseemuller did is, cut the map that was the same one as the wall map, into elliptical pieces ending with a point, when put together on a sphere they will create a globe. They can be carried in pieces, and then assembled. These pieces are termed gores: meaning a three dimensional space created from a two dimensional material. The gores Waldseemuller created also bear the name America on the newly discovered continent, and also share the honor of being America’s Birth Certificate. Maybe because they can be put together in a smaller amount of space than the wall map that measures 54 x 96”. more copies survived.

Today five copies of Waldseemuller’s map gores are known to exist, and for strange reason they all seem to have survived in the vicinity or in Munich Germany. The first to be rediscovered in 1871, is housed in the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis MN. A second copy was found inside a Ptolemy atlas in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, someone must have thought they belong together, and it makes sense. A third copy was found in a public library in Offenburg Germany, bound into an edition of Aristotle . A forth copy was in private hands, and was sold to  Charles Fordsham & Co., an English company specializing in antique timepieces, prints, and maps . This month, a fifth copy came to light unexpectedly, making the news all over the world. It was found at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich . The newly discovered map gores, probably a later edition of the map were folded and inserted between the pages of two geometry books that have been bound together in the 19th c.

Mia Kaplan

Owner / Artisan at Da Polonia

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