Leen Helmink Antique Maps & Atlases


van Keulen
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Certificate of Authentication

This is to certify that the item illustrated and described below is a genuine antique
map, print or book that was first produced and published in 1753, today 271 years ago.
July 15, 2024

Dr Leendert Helmink, Ph.D.

van Keulen

First Published

Amsterdam, 1753

This edition

1753 first and only edition


50.1 x 57.0 cms


Copper engraving

Stock number




Antique map of Northern China by van Keulen
Antique map of Northern China by van Keulen


Exceptionally rare navigation chart that appears in the unobtainable Part VI of the Zee-Fakkel, a sea atlas that was produced exclusively for the Dutch East India Company use on board of their East Indiamen.

The chart covers the VOC navigation route from the Taiwan Strait to Nagasaki, the most faraway VOC settlement of all. The chart includes the coasts of eastern China, from Fuzhou to the estuary of the Yangtze, including Hangzhou Bay and the area of modern-day Shanghai.

The chart is centered on the East China Sea, with the long string of islands and shoals from Taiwan to Japan, including Okinawa. It was the most detailed and accurate chart at the time, based on 150 years of VOC charting that had been secret and that had only been available for internal VOC use.

The chart is full of depth soundings, shoals, safe anchorages, fresh water locations, as well as text legends with practical advise on coastal regions. Because China did not allow foreign shipping and trading on their coasts (except in Canton where it was regulated), some stretches of the coast are marked as unknown or uncertain.

Curiously, no scale bar is given.


Strong double layered paper, intended for use at sea. Dark and even imprint of the copperplate. Ample margins all around. No restorations or imperfections. A pristine copy of a seminal sea chart that is lacking in nearly all collections.

Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica

The development [ of the van Keulen atlases ] culminated in the publication of Part VI: the famous pilot-guide for the East Indies.

The sixth part of the 'Zee-Fakkel' holds an exceptional position among the atlases published by the House Van Keulen. It contains the desciptions and the charts pertaining to the navigation in East Asian waters, a region where the Dutch held a prominant and envied position; this required a certain secrecy in matters of charts and sailing instructions for the pilots. In the sixt part of the 'Zee-Fakkel', published in 1753, these instructions and charts were given in print for the first time.

Long before 1753, detailed information on the coasts and waters in Asia and the Maleisian Archipelago was only distributed in manuscript form to the pilots of the merchant vessels which sailed from Amsterdam. This information was embodied in the so-called 'Secret atlas of the V.O.C.' (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie = United East India Company). The charts were kept in the East India Housein Amsterdam under custody of the Hydrographer of the VOC.

Several of the charts in the sixth part of the 'Zee-Fakkel' were engraved after the Ms. master-models in the archives of the VOC.

During the period 1726-1755, when Johannes van Keulen II was in office as Hydrographer of the V.O.C., the first charts for the navigation to the East Indies and in the Malasian Archipelago were engraved. [...] They mark the beginning of what was to become the pilot guide for the East Indies. Gradually, when a policy of secrecy was no longer of use because English and French charts of Asian waters has already appeared in print, more Dutch charts were published. Finally, in 1753, Johannes van Keulen II issued the entire set, provided with a text by Jan de Marre. The splendor displayed in Part VI marks this volume as the most beautiful pilot guide ever published in Amsterdam.

Immediately after 1753, Johannes van Keulen started revision of the work. He added new charts and a final edition with register and numbered plates appeared after his death, ca. 1757. But no edition is known with a date other than 1753 on the title page.


Johannes van Keulen (1654-1711)
Gerard van Keulen (son) (1678-c.1727)
Johannes van Keulen II (grandson) (active 1726-1755)

The Dutch produced a remarkable number of enterprising and prolific map and chart makers but not even the Blaeu and Jansson establishments could rival the vigour of the van Keulen family whose business was founded in 1680 and continued under their name until 1823 and in other names until 1885 when it was from wound up and the stock dispersed at auction.

Throughout the history of the family, the widows several of the van Keulens played a major part, after their husbands' deaths, in maintaining the continuity of the business. The firm was founded by Johannes van Keulen who was registered as a bookseller in Amsterdam in 1678. In 1680 he published the first part of his 'Zee Atlas' which, over the years, was expanded to 5 volumes and continued in one form or another until 1734. More ambitious and with a far longer and more complicated life was his book of sea charts, the 'Zee-Fakkel', first published in 1681–82, which was still being printed round the year 1800. A major influence in the development of the firm was the acquisition in 1693 of the stock of a rival map publisher, Hendrik Doncker.

Although the firm was founded by Johannes van Keulen, he was primarily a publisher; it was his son, Gerard, a talented engraver, mathematician, Hydrographer to the East India Company, who became mainspring of the business which not only published charts but also books on every aspect of geograpy, navigation and nautical matters,

(Moreland and Bannister)

It was grandson Johannes van Keulen (II) who in 1753 produced Volume VI of the Zee-Fakkel for the VOC East Indiamen, containing printed charts for the navigation covering the waters from the Cape of Good Hope to Nagasaki . The atlas was not commercially sold and only for use on board of VOC ships, therefore it is also refered to as the 'secret atlas' odf the VOC. The engraving quality and craftmanship surpasses that of all earlier printed sea charts.

Sea charts from the secret atlas are among the rarest and most desirable sea charts for collectors.