Friday, December 28, 2012

Beautiful Old Maps

Occasionally I'll check out a store on Etsy that has loads of old map prints and I'll become simultaneously inspired and depressed.  Why inspired?  Because these people were creating amazingly beautiful and useful visualizations over a hundred years ago with far fewer resources.  Why depressed? Because these people were creating amazingly beautiful and useful visualizations over a hundred years ago with far fewer resources.

Here are some cool ones I spotted today that I'll share in order to simultaneously inspire and depress you, too.  Feast your eyes!

I play with elevation data, but these dudes dominated it...

A tremendous relief map of Southern Scotland, made in the UK in 1922.

A German 1895 elevation map of a Swiss Glacier.

A Scottish 1862 comparison of mountain heights.

It can be refreshing to see a rendering of the Earth that is not Mercator.  Because of the utility and efficiency of tiling up maps into slippy slappy viewers, Mercator is just overwhelmingly convenient.  And so it is becoming the de-facto Earth portrait in our collective mind's eye.

An 1885 polar projection map by Encyclopedia Britannica.

A 1940 Spanish illustration of various means of map projection.  And the solar system, for some reason.

Partner Components
You know that the people who made these would have killed to have wired up some cross-interaction between the various visual dimensions in these images.

A Rand McNally map of the Panama Canal from 1937.

The good old Encyclopedia Britannica commissioned this map of ocean temperature and density for it's 1885 edition.

Data Maps
Glomming data on top of a geographic framework isn't new.  Ironically, though, when I used to tell people what I did (and earlier, what I was studying), they'd always say some junk like, "Haven't they already mapped everything?" then chuckle coyly, pretty proud of themselves.  But there is always going to be new or old stuff to see and new or old ways to see it.

A German map of Atlantic steamship routes from 1895.

An 1883 map of global ocean currents, made in Chicago.

A German 1895 small-multiple time series.

A better 1878 German map of warm and cold ocean currents.

A minimalist map of ocean salinity from 1887, maybe made in Prague (but printed in English?).


  1. For old maps, you should also check out (if you haven't already) the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. I subscribe to their RSS to get updates on recently digitized maps. Great stuff here.

  2. I meant to include the link:

    1. Thanks, I love it! I wish they were more immediately visible, though.

  3. Oh so that's what maps are called when they feature Antartica (or the artic) polar projection map. I love those types of maps and now that I know the name of them, the whole world of google images opens up many more maps of this view. Thank you!