Blaeu’s 1634 Insulae Americanae – extracted from his West Indische Paskaert

[Willem Blaeu], INSULAE AMERICANAE in Oceano Septentrionali, cum terris adjacentibus. [Amsterdam, 1634].
Engraving on laid paper, 16 ½”h x 22”w at neat line plus good margins, later outline color and color to cartouche. Title printed on slip pasted over cartouche at upper left. Letterpress text in German on verso.

An important, rare and very unusual map of North America and the Caribbean, extracted by Blaeu from his landmark West Indische Paskaert to meet a publishing deadline.

The Insulae Americanae depicts eastern North America, much of Central America, part of Latin America, and the islands of the Caribbean. The brightly-painted arms of the Netherlands, England and Spain broadly indicate territories claimed by those nations. The treatment is generally similar to that on Blaeu’s Passkaart van Guinea, Brasilien en Westindien (ca. 1621), though in North America he has given Manhattan an odd triangular shape (likely copied from a de Laet map of 1630), omitted Delaware Bay, and substantially altered the shape of Florida.

The map was published only in the 1634-35 German-language edition of Willem Blaeu’s Novus Atlas, which accounts for its rarity today. Based in Amsterdam, Blaeu (1571-1638) was among other things the official hydrographer of the Dutch West India Company. In this capacity he had privileged access to important primary source material, giving him an unrivaled advantage over his competitors. Known for the accuracy and beauty of its maps and charts and the quality of its materials, Blaeu and his heirs dominated European map publication for much of the first half of the 17th century.

Even a cursory inspection of this map reveals a number of peculiarities, including the rhumb lines, the truncated cartouche at upper left, and the sawed-off head of a native at the lower edge. These are explained by the fact that, under deadline pressure, Blaeu created the map by extracting it from his second West Indische Paskaert (ca. 1630), a large format sea chart produced only for internal use by the West India Company. Burden describes the Paskaert as being “of landmark importance, being the first sea chart relating to North America to use Gerard Mercator’s projection.” (Mapping of North America, p. 288)

“Blaeu had advertised that the German edition of his planned Atlas Novus would be available at Easter. However, his promise was too great to keep and the atlas appeared using a number of shortcuts. Many of the maps were issued in unfinished states, but for the map of the West Indies he had another solution. He masked off a large area of the West Indische Paskaert and printed an atlas sized portion of the North American and West Indian section. Although cleverly disguising the fact by choosing the same left margin, providing a plate mark on one side only, and the Equator as his lower margin, he decapitates a native Indian depiction and slices the cartouche at the top. Here he confusingly places a pasted label with the same title as the map that was intended.” (Burden, p. 288-89)

Burden locates only seven impressions of this jury-rigged map, though a few more have surfaced since the publication of his Mapping of North America. Its rarity is due to its very short life span, for it appeared only in 1634-35 German-language editions of the Atlas Novus. Thereafter it was replaced by an entirely new map rather confusingly (for us) bearing the same name.

Richard Arkway, Catalog 62, #2. Burden, Mapping of North America, #I:233, state 1a. Tony Campbell, “One Map Two Purposes,” The Map Collector vol. 30 (March 1985), pp. 36-38.


Minor soiling and discoloration to margins, but about excellent.