Leen Helmink Antique Maps & Atlases


Münster - Die erste General. Die Erste Landtafel begreifft in sich der ganzen Erdkugel umkreiß

Certificate of Authentication

This is to certify that the item illustrated and described below is a genuine and
original antique map or print that was published on or near the given date.

Dr Leendert Helmink, Ph.D.

Antique map of the World by Münster

Sebastian Münster

First Published

Basle, 1588

This edition

1592 German


30.8 x 36.0 cms



Stock number





In 1588, this woodcut map replaced the earlier outdated 1550 map of the world that had been in use in Munster's Cosmographia.

This new map is modeled after Abraham Ortelius' 1570 landmark map of the world, which was designed and engraved by Frans Hogenberg. The geography was an improved model of Gerard Mercator's 1569 wall map of the world, as well as Gastaldi's 1561 map of the world.

It is of particular interest because the map is "engraved in woodblock in the copperplate manner", a new technique that was developed to improve the quality of woodcut maps, while at the same time keeping the costs lower by avoiding the need for expensive copper plates. Technically speaking, this means that the woodblock is used for intaglio printing instead of the traditional relief printing.

Munster's updated and modernized maps of 1588 are of high significance because they were much more widespread than the original Ortelius copperplate maps upon which they are based.

Munster's Cosmographia sold in huge quantities all over Europe, because it was far more affordable than the folio atlases by Ortelius. More than 42 editions of the Cosmographia were published between 1550 and 1628, in five languages.

Another reason for its success was the fact that the Cosmographia was not just an atlas, it was more like an encyclopedia with vast amounts of knowledge about the history of the world, about religion, about all imaginable sciences (mining, medical, masonry, chemistry, distillation), and about European and overseas cultures and etnography. As well as about voyages of discovery and the geography of the world.

With a great depiction of the enormous and unknown Southland (TERRA AVSTRALIS NONDUM COGNITA)


Early imprint, from the 1592 German edition. Attractive woodcut on verso with the Allmighty ruling the earth, flanked by one of the archangels, and between two scenes of human miseries. Upper margin short. Lower margin with a very old extension, most likely a contemporary strengthening. In original colour, which is unobtainable for Munster woodcuts, the kind of item that is lacking in every collection. A very desirable collector's item.

Sebastian Münster (1489-1552)

Following the various editions of Waldseemüller's maps, the names of three cartographers dominate the sixteenth century: Mercator, Ortelius and Münster, and of these three Münster probably had the widest influence in spreading geographical knowledge throughout Europe in the middle years of the century.

His Cosmographia, issued in 1544, contained not only the latest maps and views of many well-known cities, but included an encyclopaedic amount of detail about the known - and unknown - world and undoubtedly must have been one of the most widely read books of its time, going through nearly forty editions in six languages.

An eminent German mathematician and linguist, Münster became Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle, where he settled in 1529. In 1528, following his first mapping of Germany, he appealed to German scholars to send him "descriptions, so that all Germany with its villages, towns, trades, etc. may be seen as in a mirror", even going so far as to give instructions on how they should "map" their own localities. The response was far greater than expected and such information was sent by foreigners as well as Germans so that, eventually, he was able to include many up-to-date, if not very accurate, maps in his atlases.

He was the first to provide a separate map of each of the four known Continents and the first separately printed map of England. His maps, printed from woodblocks, are now greatly valued by collectors. His two major works, the Geographia and the Cosmographia were published in Basle by his step-son, Henri Petri, who continued to issue many editions after Münster's death of the plague in 1552.

(Moreland & Bannister).

The remaining modern maps, [...], are all drawn on a plane projection, undergraduated, without scales, and variously oriented with north, south, east or west at the top, "without the excuse of topographical necessity", as Nordenskjöld severely remarks. In spite of these and other cartographic defects, they constitute an important corpus of geographical knowledge and interpretation; Münster was the first atlas-maker to furnish separate maps of the four continents then known; and for England, Scandinavia and southern Germany, eastern Europe and America he brought recent and significant representations into general currency.


The Cosmographia of Sebastian Münster must rank as the greatest geographical compendium of the period - an immensely detailed work illustrated with woodcut portraits, scenes, town plans and panoramas, and maps. Born in 1488, Münster was a Fransiscan who became Professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle, where he taught Hebrew and, amongst other works, published the first German translation of the Bible from Hebrew. In 1540 his edition of Ptolemy's Geographia was published, followed in 1544 by the Cosmographia Universalis. Together these ran to over 35 editions published mostly in Basle in Latin, German, French and Italian versions. Münster's particular cartographic importance lies in the number of 'new' maps he introduced and, above all, in the innovative, separate mapping of each of the four continents. The map of the Americas is not only the first map to show the Western Hemisphere separately, but is also the first to show North and South America joined together.

(Potter p38).

Sebastian Münster was raised as a Franciscan monk, converted to Lutheranism, taught Hebrew at Heidelberg and Basle, and was proficient in Greek and some Asian tongues. He died of the plague in 1552. First published in 1540, his atlas was the first to contain separate maps of each of the four continents.


In 1540 Sebastian Münster, who was to become one of the most influential cartographers in the sixteenth century, published his edition of Ptolemy's Geographia with a further section of modern, more up-to-date maps. He included for the first time a set of continental maps, the America was the earliest of any note. Münster studied Hebrew at Heidelberg and was a scholar of geography, writing amongst other works the Polyhistor.

He was one of the first to create space in the woodblock for the insertion of place-names in metal type. The map's inclusion in Münster's Cosmography, first published in 1544, sealed the fate of "America" as the name for the New World. The book proved to be very popular, there being nearly forty editions during the following 100 years.