Rare set of 19th-century tactile maps by educator L. R. Klemm

L[ouis] R[ichard] Klemm, [Set of 11 “Relief Practice Maps” of Africa, Asia, Orient/Holy Land, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, and four regions of the United States.] New York: William Beverly Harison, 1894-1895.
Eleven maps in raised relief on heavy stock, each ca. 11”h x 9 ½”w at sheet edge. All with some toning and minor soiling, several with minor-moderate edge tears and chipping, the Orient/Holy Land map quite worn. Several with crude hand coloring, and several bearing ink inscription of “W. Waterman” on verso.

An extremely rare set of tactile maps printed in relief, designed by education innovator Louis Richard Klemm for use by sighted as well as visually-impaired students.

Though relief maps have been used for millennia, the printing thereof poses particular technical challenges. As a result until relatively recently such maps were entirely bespoke, produced for example by carving forms in wood or plaster, or by gluing to a matrix bits of wood or metal intended to represent terrain features. It was only in the 1830s that German innovators such as Friedrich Bauerkeller and George Ravenstein managed to produce commercially-viable maps printed in relief (Examples of their work can be seen here and here.) Almost simultaneously, Samuel Gridley Howe and Stephen Preston Ruggles at the Boston-based New England Institution for the Education of the Blind developed a press and techniques for printing relief maps expressly for use by the blind.

Two generations later American educator Louis Richard Klemm (1845-1925) offered his own spin on the genre. After working as a school superintendent in Ohio, Klemm had joined the United States Bureau of Education, apparently focusing on foreign education. It seems that while in that capacity a fact-finding tour of European school systems inspired him to develop a line of “Relief Practice Maps”, a set of which is offered here.

“Klemm, a former superintendent of schools who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Education wrote in an 1890 book called European Schools: Or What I Saw in the Schools of Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland that the Continental teachers he observed used simple maps to great advantage. “Geographic knowledge has for ages been wrested from overstocked maps,” he wrote. “The child had to search painfully among a bewildering mass of data and facts for those which were to be learned.” A map like this one [referring to a large Klemm map of the Roman Empire], which kept information to one variable, was much preferable to “the maps such as we use in America, which blur the children’s mental picture by their multiplicity of detail.” (Onion)

Produced by pressing a carved mold against a sheet of specially-prepared card stock, Klemm’s maps featured elevations in raised relief and incised bodies of water, with titles but otherwise little or no text labeling (By contrast, all earlier printed tactile maps had extensive labeling in traditional print, Braille, or raised-relief lettering.) Students were to engage with the maps visually and kinesthetically, labeling terrain features, cities and other locations as a means of committing them to memory. Though Klemm appears to have intended the maps for use by sighted students, they were apparently also suitable for geographic education of the visually impaired; several are held, for example, in the Tactile Maps Collection at the Perkins School for the Blind.

Klemm received a patent for his technique in 1888, though the maps were not published until 1894-95. Ultimately, he produced six maps of the continents; maps of the United States and four regions therein; and maps of Great Britain, the Roman Empire and the Orient/Holy Land. At least some of the maps, including those of North America, South America, Asia, and the Orient/Holy Land, were issued in both small and large formats.

Offered here is a set of eleven of Klemm’s small-format maps, including:

  1. Africa
  2. Asia
  3. Orient/Holy Land
  4. Australia
  5. Europe
  6. North America
  7. South America
  8. New England States
  9. Middle Atlantic States
  10. North Central States, eastern section
  11. South Atlantic States

With two exceptions all bear a date of 1894; Australia and Orient/Holy Land are dated 1895. All are extremely rare, with OCLC listing examples of all but the Australia and Orient/Holy Land maps at the State Library of Ohio, though the extent of the Perkins School’s holdings is not clear. I find no record of any small-format maps by Klemm other than these eleven, and this may well be the only complete set in existence.

Rebecca Onion, “A 19th-Century Relief Map That Let Students Explore the Roman Empire by Touch,” Slate, Feb. 10, 2016, accessed Dec. 28, 2020, https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/02/a-19th-century-relief-map-that-let-students-explore-the-roman-empire-by-touch.html. “Printed Tactile Maps,” Nineteenth-Century Disability: Cultures & Contexts, accessed December 24, 2020, http://www.nineteenthcenturydisability.org/items/show/62.