Follow us on

facebook link

Altea Gallery on Twitter


Spring 2017

Pending publication of Altea Catalogue 4

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

To coincide with the London International Antiquarian Book Fair (Olympia. 1st, 2nd & 3rd June) and the London Map Fair (Royal Geographical Society, 17th & 18th June), we will be issuing a new printed catalogue: 'Cartouches, Creatures and Caricature', a selection of rare and interesting items illustrating the mapmaker's art.

Catalogue 4 will be available at the fairs

Further details of the Fairs

November 2016

Publication of 'The Phantom Atlas'

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

To celebrate the publication of The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps by Edward Brook-Hitching, we have compiled a selection of items illustrating some of the weird and wonderful anomalies that appear on maps.

View the List

September 2016

350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, 2nd - 5th September 1666

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1


London During the Fire


Altea Gallery Catalogue 1



Serio-Comic Maps of Europe

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

We have just prepared a short e-catalogue of serio-comic maps of Europe in times of crisis, pertinent as 'Brexit' approaches!

A PDF version can be viewed here



Our third printed catalogue

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

Our Catalogue 3 is now available at our gallery

A PDF version can be viewed here




The important Visscher map of New England and two derivatives

Viisscher's Novi Belgii The first map of New England to include a prospect of New Amsterdam
Viisscher's Novi Belgii The Dutch acceptance of New York
Viisscher's Novi Belgii

With the 'Restitutio' view of the enlarged New York


Our second printed catalogue

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

Our Catalogue 2 is currently going to print

A PDF version can be viewed here

A price list is available on request

September 2014

The Longitude Act, 1714: was it possible to determine longitude at sea?

Plan of Gdansk in the 1760s
Doubt in mapping longitude
John Senex world map c.1720.
Item 13719

Three hundred years ago the Longitude Act was passed, offering prize money for anyone who could develop a practical method of determining a ship's longitude (east-west position) at sea, thus preventing events like the loss of the British fleet off the Scilly Islands in 1714.

The publicity surrounding the act led John Senex to publish a world map with shadow outlines for alternative estimations of where coastlines actually were, particularly noticeable in South America and, as shown here, Australia.

The Board of Longitude examined many suggestions, some more crackpot than others, before three methods emerged as the most viable: measuring the position of the Moon; measuring the position of Jupiter's moons; and being able to tell what time it was in Greenwich.

Space is too short here for a full explantion of these techniques, but fortunately (for those living close enough to visit Greenwich) the National Maritime Museum has a suberb exhibition on: Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude. Not only do interactive displays explain some of the complex theories but also some of the original artifacts are on show, including John Harrison's prototypes of the marine chronometer, which eventually won him the prize. An accompanying guide is also available.

For more information on the exhibition please see the National Maritime Museum Website.

July 2014

Evidence of the Scottish Diaspora in 18th century Poland

Plan of Gdansk in the 1760s
Gdansk in the 1760s
Item 14867

On a plan of Gdansk dated 1759 there are two oddly-named areas on the outskirts of the city, 'Scotland' and 'New Scotland'.

A Protestant country, Poland traded extensively with England and Scotland, particularly with wood. A major export was spruce: even the English name for the wood comes from the Polish 'Z Prus' ('from Prussia'). A major import were Scottish mercenaries, who have been recorded as fighting for Gdansk against the king of Poland in the 1570s. After 1603, James I & VI actively encouraged the kings of Poland and Scandinavia to recruit in the more peaceful Borders, and it is estimated that by 1640 there were 1,000 Scottish officers and as many as 10,000 footsoldiers in the Polish army, keeping the Russians and Turks at bay on the eastern frontiers. So many Scots settled in Gdansk that these two districts grew up and still exist today as Stare and Nowe Szkoty.

April 2014

A pirate's lair in the Indian Ocean

Pirates in the Indian Ocean
Pirates in Madagascar
Item 14518

When we think of pirates we tend to think of them sailing around the Caribbean attacking Spanish treasure ships. However many of those pirates also operated in the Indian Ocean, preying on the East India trade and Mughal treasure ships.

Only a few years after the French East India Company had tried and failed to found a colony on Madagascar (preferring Réunion and Mauritius), pirates had made lairs in Antongil Bay and Nosy Boraha (Île Sainte-Marie) on the north east of the island. It was on Nosy Boraha that the pirate utopia of Libertalia was founded by Captain Misson, at least according to A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, a 1724 book written by Captain Charles Johnson (possibly a pseudonym of Daniel Defoe's).

Whether Libertailia existed or not, it is known that some of the most famous names from the golden age of piracy, for example William Kidd, Henry Every, John Bowen & Thomas Tew, operated from Madagascar.

Update: May 2015: Pirate Captain Kidd's 'treasure' found in Madagascar BBC Website

March 2014

A British WWI propaganda poster for Italian readers

British propaganda map
An 'Octopus' map of Europe updated for WWI
Item 14447

As the preparations begin to commemorate the First World War we are offering a very scarce propaganda map.

This is an updated version of the 'Octopus' map by Frederick W. Rose, with the Russian cephalopod replaced with the twin octopi of Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire spreading their tentacles across central Europe.

It was printed in London for dissemination in Italy: although Italy had joined the Entente powers against Germany and Austria in May 1915, public opinion was still divided. Not only did the Socialist parties oppose the war, but also the Italian government itself had existing diplomatic grievances with both Britain and France.

The text box top right quotes German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, 'We do not threaten small nations', while the map demarks the areas annexed by Prussia and Austria from the Partitions of Poland (1772-1795) & Schleswig-Holstein (1864) to Belgium (1914) and Serbia & Montenegro (1915).

According to the Imperial War Museum the map was also published in Swedish (with no effect on Sweden's policy of neutrality) and English. Hopefully the proof-readers of the other versions were more careful: 'Calamaro' is Italian for squid, not octopus.

As we sourced this map from Italy it seems that this example was actually circulated at the time.

December 2013

James Rennell and the infamous 'Mountains of Kong'

James Rennell: The Mountains of Kong
Mountains of Kong: 1799
Item 14252

James Rennell: The Mountains of Kong
Mountains of Kong: 1830
Item 8293

Major James Rennell (1742-1830) has been described as the father of both Indian Geography, for his work as surveyor-general of the East India Company's dominions in Bengal, and Oceanography for his later work mapping the currents of the Atlantic. However his reputation has been tarnished with his invention of a mountain range that scarred maps of Africa for close to a century.

In 1776, while working in Bhutan, Rennell was received a wound that forced him to retire from active service, so he returned to London and devoted the rest of his life to geograpgical research. As such a distinguished geographer he was was the obvious choice to compile the maps to accompany the account of Mungo Park's expedition to the River Niger in west Africa, 1795-7.

Mungo Park (1771-1806), a Scottish surgeon, was sent by the African Association to try to explain the enigma of the Niger, a river with a source 150 miles from the Atlantic but which flowed away from the sea into the Sahara desert. After adventures that included imprisonment & escape with only a horse and a compass, prolonged illness and local hospitality, he returned to Scotland so delayed that he was believed dead.

Park set about writing the story of his trip, and Rennell was given the task of compiling maps and writing the appendix, 'Geographical Illustrations of Mr Park's Journey', in which he tried to account for the strange eastern flow of the Niger. Rennell extrapolated a couple of peaks seen by Park into a mountain range running east-west, an unbroken chain stopping the river turning south to the Gulf of Guinea and forcing it east until it just evaporated in the desert. Rennell named the chain the 'Mountains of Kong', after a kingdom described by Park.

Being on a map by such a well-known cartographer gave the 'Mountains of Kong' instant acceptance, so they appeared on a number of maps, often joined to the 'Mountains of the Moon', the legendary source of the Nile. It wasn't until 1899 that the French explorer Louis Binger exposed them as a complete fabrication.

The Mountains of Kong

November 2013 - UPDATE

George Stubbs's Kangaroo, the illustration that introduced the animal to the British public

The first engraved illustration of a Kangaroo, after George Stubbs

The first British illustration of a kangaroo was published in Hawkesworth's 'An Account of the Voyages... For making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere', which contained the official account of Captain Cook's visit to Australia and New Zealand on his first circumnavigation.

However the original oil painting was not drawn in Australia but in London, by Britain's foremost animal painter, George Stubbs (1724-1806). It is believed that Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the naturalist on Cook's expedition whose diary entry of 12 July 1770 first noted the 'kanguru', commissioned paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo. As no live specimen of the kangaroo had been brought to England, Stubbs worked from a preserved skin, which he inflated to get an idea of its body shape. The two paintings were exhibited at the Royal Society in early 1773, but only the kangaroo was engraved for Hawkesworth.

At the time of writing the Stubbs oils of both the kangaroo and dingo are subject to a temporary export bar, while money is raised to keep these important works of 'Cultural Interest' in Britain. Surely paintings by Britain's greatest animal painter, recording the travels of our greatest explorer and commissioned by such an important botanist and philanthropist should be saved for the nation.

Update November 2013: Saved for the Nation!

The National Maritime Museum, backed by Sir David Attenborough, has managed to raise the necessary funds to purchase the Kangeroo and Dingo paintings, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a generous donation of £1.5 million from the Eyal Ofer Family Foundation and numerous others.

Visit the National Maritime Museum to see the paintings, which are currently still on display in the Sammy Ofer Wing.

For details see the NMM site

November 2014: We have acquired another example: 15164

October 2013

"No body knows what"

The first engraved illustration of a Kangaroo, after George Stubbs

This chart of Resolution Harbour and Dusky Sound, on the south west of the South Island, New Zealand, was drawn by Lieut. Henry Roberts (1756-96), who served with Cook on his Second and Third Voyages. Cook named Dusky Bay on his first voyage (1768-71), and returned there on his second (1772-5), spending two months exploring the fiord, planning its use as a harbour. Many of the names are still used, including Resolution Island and the unimaginative First, Second and Third Coves in Breakwater Sound. However there was a limit to their knowledge: below Third Sound is an 'Apparent Island' and, beneath that, a bay marked 'No body knows what'.

In 1791 George Vancouver, who had started his naval career as a midshipman on Cook's Second Voyage alongside Roberts, returned to Dusky Sound for re-provisioning en route to the American North West. Exploring the Sound further he reached the end of the southern bay: he could not resist adding to his map 'Somebody knows what', a joke that carried over to the published account of his voyage.

Item 13331

August 2013

A civilised way to solve boundary disputes

Allegorical map on a fan by Woodthorpe

Michael Drayton's poem 'Poly-Olbion' was a celebration of rustic beauty. The maps that accompanied the two volumes of verse (published 1612 & 1622) didn't show county lines and parish borders but rivers, hills and forests of England and Wales, populated by allegorical figures

The most elaborate of these fantastical maps is the one of the Severn Estuary. On the English and Welsh shores are orchestras, competing for their country for control of the island Lundy, with Neptune judging their efforts. Among the instruments are harps, flutes, horns, violins, a cello, bagpipes and even an organ.

For more illustrations click here

Other maps by Drayton are listed here

JUNE 2013

Monsters on Maps

Chet Van Duzer: Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps

The British Library has just published a book on sea monsters on maps

Mythological creatures as cartographic art have always been popular, and at last there is a guide to the origins of some of the concepts.

Rughesi Sea Monster, item
Click here to see some of our favourite monsters

MAY 2013

The 80th Anniversary of the iconic map of the London Underground

Beck's map of the London Underground

The first version of the diagrammatic map of London's tube network, which, despite being eighty years old, would be instantly recognisable to any commuter today.

Beck's revolutionary new 'electrical circuit' design dispensed with scale, bearing and surface landmarks other than the Thames, making the stations equidistant and straightening the curves. Beck submitted two proposals to the Publicity manager before his idea was accepted, and was paid only 10 guineas (today 380) for the artwork of this card, and 5 guineas more for the poster.

The Publicity Manager knew he was talking a chance with public opinion: the cover text continues "We should welcome your comments', but his gamble paid off and Beck's innovation has been in use ever since. Although there are new lines and different colours the only significant design change on the map is the use of rings rather than diamonds for interchanges.

MARCH 2013

The 500th Anniversary of Wäldseemüller's Geographia

Waldseemuller's map of Arabia

2013 sees the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Wäldseemüller's edition of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographia, important for the addition of 20 new maps described as 'more proper for our time'. As such it was a step away from maps in books being merely illustrations of classical texts and closer to the modern concept of an atlas.

A second edition was published in 1520, the year Wäldseemüller died. He has been writing a new 'Chronica mundi' (history of the world) and new woodblock maps has already been cut when the project was shelved. Instead the blocks were used for a smaller-sized edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, published in 1522, 1525, 1535 & 1541.

For a list of our maps by Wäldseemüller click here


Our first-ever printed catalogue

Altea Gallery Catalogue 1

During the summer we issued Catalogue 1 to celebrate Altea Gallery's Twenty Years in the antiquarian map trade.

A PDF version can be downloaded here