“If there were a single book that personified the coming of the age of Elizabethan England, it was Richard Hakluyt ’s monumental study of The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation.”
According to the late US map and book dealer Kenneth Nebenzahl in Maps from the Age of Discovery (1990), Hakluyt’s 1.5m words amounted to the most thorough collection of British land and sea voyages.
The first edition issued in 1589 contained a folding world map after Ortelius.
However, with the second edition of 1599-1600 came (at first anonymously) a now exceptionally rare world map by Edward Wright (1561-1615).
Copies in which it is missing or has long ago been removed as a rarity have made as much as $22,000 at auction, but on those few occasions where it has remained in place, it gets very expensive.
In the December 7-8 sale at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (21% buyer’s premium) of Exeter one such copy, valued at just £3000-5000, made £365,000.
State of the art
Wright’s cartography was state of the art. The author of a treatise called Certaine Errors in Navigation (and drawing on a recently issued globe by Emery Molyneux), he produced a map projected on a Mercator grid of straight latitude and longitude lines. Hakluyt and his friend, the explorer John Davis, made cer tain that Wr ight ’s geographical information was up to date.
The recent discoveries of Drake, Cavendish and others noted in Hakluyt’s text are here. At the foot of South America, for instance, there appears the designation ‘Queen’s Island’, a reference to the name ‘Elizabeth’ that Drake had given to Cape Horn.
As the cartouche sited below Af r ica explains, only discovered coasts are shown. The unknown region north of Cape Medocino (modern-day California) is left blank for that reason but elsewhere in the North American continent new detail appears. For example, there is no over-sized representation of Antarctica on this new map and while previous versions had shown Greenland and Labrador as contiguous, in this map Davis Strait, which divides them, is correctly shown and named.
Famous in its own day, wrote Nebenzahl, this is also the “new map” to which Shakepeare referred in Twelfth Night, writing: “He does not smile his face into more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies.”
The map in the Exeter copy, which came from a Devon family library, was in torn and otherwise poor condition but it was complete – a key factor behind so many phone lines being booked for the occasion.
It all resulted in a bid that has only once been bettered at auction: by a copy in the Brook- Hitching library that made £380,000 at Sotheby’s in 2014.