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Rodney W. Shirley:

A map of the British Isles, 1513 – an early example of colour map printing

Cartographica Helvetica 20 (1999) 13–17


In 1996 the Map Library of the British Library acquired a colour printed map of the British Isles from the Ptolemy edition of 1513, a very unusual technique at that time. Although some of the very first printed books may have included colour prints, colour printed maps were generally not found before the early 19th century. One such example is the celebrated map Lotharingia (Lorraine) which was printed in three colours for the Ptolemy editions of 1513 and 1520. However, many of the remaining copies of this map exemplify the insurmountable problem in primitive color printing: that of accurate register marks for printing each successive colour on the original black outline.

The map of the British Isles seems to be a rare survivor of an experimental, hitherto unknown form of colour printing, and was bound, probably accidentally, into an atlas. The map has three significant characteristics:

  1. the sea is colour printed in a rather muddy brown ink,
  2. except for the title, there is no lettering in the margins,
  3. some of the inscriptions placed inside the boundaries of the sea are incomplete.

It is considered fairly certain that this map is an early proof and that the strip lettering had not been properly proof-read. It would be very interesting to know if other colour printed examples from the Ptolemy editions of 1513 and 1520 have been discovered or perhaps are lying somewhere, unrecognized up to now, in atlases at libraries and other institutions.

Bibliographic note

  • Article translated from English by Hans-Uli Feldmann.

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