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June 18, 2003

Library of Congress Completes Purchase of Waldseemüller Map

The 1507 map will be displayed in the Library's Lewis & Clark exhibition in July.

The Library of Congress has completed the $10 million purchase of the only known copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller from Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg, thanks to the generosity of the Congress of the United States, Discovery Channel, Gerald Lenfest, David Koch and a number of other donors. The map has been in the custody of the Library of Congress since late June 2001, when the Library made an initial down payment toward its purchase.

"On behalf of the Library of Congress, and on behalf of the American people, I want to express my special appreciation to Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg and to the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Baden-Württemberg. The map, giving our hemisphere its name for the first time, will be the keystone of the Library's unparalleled collection of maps and atlases," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, in announcing the final purchase of the map.

"The purchase marks the culmination of an effort that has extended over many decades to bring this unique historical document to America where it can be on display in the nation's library for all to see. I am grateful to the Congress of the United States and the generous private donors who have helped to bring this about."

The Waldseemüller map was housed for more than 350 years in the 16th-century castle belonging to the family of Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg at Wolfegg in southern Germany. The map, in pristine condition, originally belonged to Johann Schöner (1477-1557), a Nuremberg astronomer, geographer and cartographer. Long thought lost, the 1507 treasure generated great excitement when it was rediscovered in the Waldburg-Wolfegg castle in 1901.

The government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German state of Baden-Württemberg granted an export license for the map, which is registered in the German comprehensive list of valuable national cultural property, so that it could be acquired by the Library of Congress. In its report making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2001, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed the Library's efforts to acquire the Waldseemüller map (House Report 107-102, June 20, 2001).

Under the terms of the agreement, the map will be on display in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. A formal ceremony, attended by high-ranking representatives of the governments of both Germany and the United States will be arranged in 2004 to mark the handing-over of the map, as soon as the gallery devoted to its presentation is prepared. The Waldseemüller map will be previewed in the exhibition "Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America," which opens to the public on July 24.

The map grew out of an ambitious project in St. Dié, France, in the early years of the 16th century, to update geographic knowledge flowing out of the new discoveries of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Martin Waldseemüller's large world map was the most exciting product of that research effort. He included on the map data gathered by Amerigo Vespucci during Vespucci's voyages of 1501-1502 to the New World. Waldseemüller named the new lands "America" on his 1507 map in the recognition of Vespucci's understanding that a new continent had been uncovered following Columbus' and subsequent voyages in the late 15th century. An edition of 1,000 copies of the large wood-cut print was reportedly printed and sold, but no other copy is known to have survived.

Waldseemüller's map supported Amerigo Vespucci's revolutionary concept of the New World as a separate continent, which, until then, was unknown to the Europeans. It was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict clearly a separate Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific as a separate ocean. The map reflected a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American landmass and forever changing mankind's understanding and perception of the world itself.

The Library of Congress has the largest and most comprehensive collection of maps and atlases in the world, some 4.8 million cartographic items that date from the 14th century to the present time. The Library's map collections contain coverage for every country and subject and include the works of all the famous map makers throughout history—Ptolemy, Waldseemüller, Mercator, Ortelius and Blaeu. With its comprehensive collection related to the mapping of America, its strong holdings on the history of early printed cartography and its extensive materials for the period of European discovery and exploration, the Library is the logical repository for preserving, studying, and displaying the unique 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller.

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PR 03-110
06/18/03
ISSN 0731-3527

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