Posted on , Last updated

A[ugust] F[riedrich] W[ilhelm] Crome / F.A. Pingeling Sculpsit Hamburg, NEUE CARTE VON EUROPA welch die merkwürdigsten Producte und vernehmsten Handelsplätze dem Flächen-Inhalt aller Europäischen Länder…. Dessau, 1782.“Thematic map” and “thematic cartography” are phrases that get tossed around a bit casually. To put things drily, though, a thematic map uses design elements to depict the distribution of one or more phenomena across a geographic area.  Despite the dry definition, though, thematic maps are one of the most interesting emerging areas of map collecting.

Thematic mapping dates back at least to the late 18th century, as with this early economic map of Europe. Arguably it goes back even further, to the earliest sea charts that showed phenomena such as depth soundings.  But the field really took off in the 19th century, when the mutually-reinforcing requirements of growing government bureaucracies and science–including the social sciences–stimulated both demand for data and the development of means for gathering, collating and depicting it.

Pretty much anything can be the subject of a thematic map: Here at Boston Rare Maps, for example, we have handled thematic maps of weather in the Indian Ocean, the spread of cholera, the Antebellum cotton trade, and camps of the Soviet Gulag. Despite the obvious differences, what all have in common is that they depict some phenomenon that can be both located and counted.

Moving from the relatively straightforward depiction of place names, topographical features, roads and so on to the presentation of thematic data can present the mapmaker with all sorts of graphic design challenges.  The best thematic maps combine intellectual clarity, visual efficiency and aesthetic appeal to create compelling, even unforgettable images such as this map using simple geometric figures to encodes data for the color, range, frequency and sweep of dozens of British lighthouses.



82 results, ordered by Publication Date

Items Available for purchase

Color printing. [Jacques-Fabien] Gautier [D’Agoty] / Gautier fils (engraver), CARTE ABR[E]GEE du CANADA levee sur les lieux par M.*** resident a Quebec année 1754. Paris: [Gautier], 1755.

18th-century cartographic color printing, by Gautier D’Agoty

A rare and fascinating thematic map of northeastern North America by a French artist, printer, anatomist and crackpot geologist, remarkable also as an early example of color printing. A former pupil of Jacob Christoph Le Blon, and a pioneer in color-printing, Jacques Fabien Gautier D’Agoty (1717-1785) improved on the methods of his teacher by developing […]

$3,500
View Details
Second map in Valentine Seaman article on yellow fever in 3rd edition of volume I of Medical Repository

The Medical Repository, with groundbreaking yellow fever maps by Valentine Seaman

A scarce volume of early American medical history. With an important article by Valentine Seaman featuring two all-but unknown thematic maps of yellow fever outbreaks in Manhattan, generally accepted as the earliest published epidemiological maps and preceding Snow’s work on cholera by half a century. The Medical Repository was the first American medical journal, founded […]

$5,000
View Details
[ Bathymetric chart ] Made Available by A. B. Rechnitzer and R. D. Terry Deep Submergence Systems / Staff Artist, Ken Hodges, BATHYMETRY OF THE PACIFIC BASIN. Anaheim, CA: North American Aviation/Autonetics, 1965.

Spectacular bathymetric chart of the Pacific Basin

Put simply, a bathymetric chart is a form of thematic map depicting submerged topography, just as topographic maps depict terrestrial topography. This is usually accomplished by means of contour lines, often augmented by differential shading or coloring to highlight variations in depth. The earliest bathymetric charts were based on compilations of hundreds or thousands of […]

$2,500
View Details
A[ugust] F[riedrich] W[ilhelm] Crome / F.A. Pingeling Sculpsit Hamburg, NEUE CARTE VON EUROPA welch die merkwürdigsten Producte und vernehmsten Handelsplätze dem Flächen-Inhalt aller Europäischen Länder…. Dessau, 1782.

The first attempt at economic mapping

A detailed thematic map illustrating European agricultural, extractive and manufacturing activity at the end of the 18th century. Thought to be the earliest example of economic mapping. Crome’s map illustrates the distribution across Europe of the production of 56 commodities and other products, including gold, copper, wine, fruit, salt, hemp, silk, horses, and so on. The symbols for each […]

$1,500
View Details
Frederic M. Thrasher, CHICAGO’S GANGLAND PREPARED BY FREDERIC M. THRASHER 1923-26. [Chicago, 1927 or later.]

Mapping Chicago’s Gangland during the Roaring Twenties

A remarkable thematic map documenting the distribution of gang activity in Chicago, compiled by groundbreaking sociologist Frederic Thrasher. Chicago’s Gangland was originally issued to illustrate Frederic Thrasher’s seminal 1926 study The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago. Thrasher’s concern was not primarily with “The Mob” of Al Capone, but rather second-generation immigrant children who evolved from “play […]

$1,250
View Details
Jules Marcou, GEOLOGICAL MAP OF THE UNITED STATES and the British Provinces of North America. Boston: Gould & Lincoln, 1853.

Ambitious geological map of the United States by Jules Marcou

The 1853 first edition of an impressive but controversial geological map of the United States by the well-traveled Jules Marcou. Jules Marcou (1824-1898) trained first as a mathematician but in his early twenties transferred his interest and talents to geology. His natural talents came to the attention of Louis Agassiz and others, and in 1845—at […]

$3,500
View Details

Items No longer available

Map of New York City from Henry William Blair's Henry William Blair, THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT: OR, THE CONFLICT BETWEEN MAN AND ALCOHOL. Boston: William E. Smythe Company, 1888.

A nation adrift “in the maelstrom of alcohol”

A jeremiad against the evils of alcohol, with an interesting thematic map demonstrating its prevalence in New York City. Born on a New Hampshire farm and orphaned at 12, Henry William Blair (1834-1920) never attended college but rose to become a lawyer, state representative, and U.S. congressman, then represented his home state in the Senate […]

Out of Stock
View Details