II. What Is a Treasure

This exhibition is about cartographic “treasures,” which is to say maps and geography books which possess value. For most old items, that value is determined by beauty (1), rarity (2), or historical significance (3). Historians also value those works which give us that elusive quality, a glimpse into the cultural and social conditions of the past. They are the archaeological remains of literate societies. For example, two rather plain school geography books display the world views within which less prosperous or marginalized groups were educated in the early nineteenth century (4, 5). As it happens, both of these later books are themselves rare artifacts. Yet there are many more such works — “undiscovered treasures” — which are not beautiful, intellectually sophisticated, or even rare, but which provide wonderful resources for the historian. This exhibition accordingly presents a sampling of materials, all treasures, mostly old, but not all beautiful and rare.

The Nuremberg Chronicle

This first edition of the Liber Cronicarum, commonly called the Nuremberg Chronicle, is one of the landmarks of early printing. It is a history of the world from Creation to the time of its publication in 1493; its mixture of fact, dogma, legend, myth, and superstition reflects the world view of late fifteenth-century Europe. It is richly illustrated by 1809 woodcuts of Biblical and historical scenes, monarchs, popes, saints, monsters, genealogical charts, cities, and two maps. The numerous town views constitute one of the most important features of the book, since many of them are the first authentic images of important cities of the world. The woodcuts were executed in the workshop of Michael Wohlgemut while Albrecht Dürer was an apprentice and he may have participated in their production. The Nuremberg Chronicle is often described as the most celebrated illustrated book and, after the Gutenberg Bible, the most important printed book of the fifteenth century. Also reproduced here are images from the Liber Cronicarum representing King Solomon and Jerusalem, the city of Nuremberg, and the dance of the dead.


Hartmann D. Schedel
German, 1440-1514
Venecie [Venice]
Woodcut, 19.5 x 52cm
In: Registrum huius operis libri cronicarum cum figuris et ijmagibus ab inicio mundi ["The Nuremberg Chronicle"] (Nuremberg, 1493)
Osher Collection

The Columbus Letter

This is the "Columbus Letter," a printed version of the letter Columbus wrote to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella immediately after returning from his first voyage in March 1493, announcing the success of his "enterprise" to the "Islands of the India Sea." The electrifying news was quickly disseminated by means of copies of the letter printed in Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Antwerp, and Basel, with no less than eleven editions produced by the end of 1493. The Basel printing, of which this is the second edition, contains illustrations in the form of stylized, highly imaginative small woodcut images. These portray "artist's conceptions" of the Columbus landing, naked natives, and "newly discovered" islands, bearing no resemblance to their actual appearance. They are, nevertheless, the first printed images of the New World. **Note: clicking this text, takes you to OML's Columbus Letter web site.**


Christopher Columbus
Italian, 1451-1506
Insula Hyspana
Woodcut, 11 x 7.5cm
In: De Insulis in mari Indico nuper inuentis (Basel: Bergmann de Olpe, 1494)
Osher Collection

Elements of Geography

This early American geography book was published by Jedidiah Morse, a clergyman and school teacher who was dissatisfied with the available English texts. Its small size and simple binding (see image) made it affordable to people of ordinary means. These same features have caused it to be less appreciated than more elaborate productions, and many copies have been discarded over the years. Now quite rare, this work provides valuable insight into the geographical concepts held by citizens of the young republic.


Jedidiah Morse
American, 1761-1826
Elements of Geography. 3d edition
Boston: I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, 1798
Osher Collection

The Journeys of the Israelites Before They Passed The Jordan

This is the first atlas in the Hebrew language and a landmark of Judaica. Created by a teacher to help students understand Old Testament texts, this fragile paper-bound pamphlet contains five maps. These depict: (a) the sons of Noah dispersed among the three continents; (b) the route of the Exodus [open during the exhibition]; (c) the encampment of the tribes in the desert; (d) the land of Israel as divided among the tribes on both sides of the Jordan; and, (e) a schematic view of The Land of Israel in the Future. This last map has been interpreted as an expression of a yearning to return to ancestral lands, a possible precursor to the Zionist movement. Produced in only limited numbers, this work is now very rare. Two copies of this first edition have been located in Israel, but no other copy is known in this country.


Jakob Auspitz
Hungarian, fl. ca. 1817
[The Journeys of the Israelites Before They Passed The Jordan]
Copper engraving, hand-colored, 16 x 20.5cm
In: [Be'er Haluchot] (Explanation of the Plates) (Ofen, 1817)
Osher Collection