U.S. Buys Oldest Map Marked "America"

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In recognition of Vespucci's discovery, Waldseemüller named the new continent "America," after Vespucci's first name. Waldseemüller said of the great new continent in his Cosmographic Introduction that, "it is indeed a fourth part of the world," Europe, Asia, and Africa being the other three.

One thousand copies of the map were believed to have been made from a woodcut five years after Vespucci's voyage to the western continent in 1501 to 1502. In addition to the place-name "America," Waldseemüller depicted, and named, various other locations from Río De La Plata northward, including modern-day Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.

Of the original thousand prints, the Library of Congress now possesses the only known surviving copy—separated into 12 pages, which are arranged like a puzzle to depict the Earth in its entirety.

Hebert says that the map is in "excellent condition," since it has rarely been on display since the map's printing. It was maintained in a portfolio, which kept out the sun and other potentially harmful elements. Unlike most modern-day wood-paper maps, the Waldseemüller map was comprised of mostly cloth paper, contributing to the preservation.

The Fate of Waldseemüller's Map

Waldseemüller's Map will be displayed in the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. A special preview of the complete map will be shown with the exhibition, "Rivers, Edens, Empires: Lewis & Clark and the Revealing of America," opening to the public on July 24.

In addition to public display, the map will likely be studied by a number of historical experts in various fields.

"We think we know the past, but when something like this comes forward we have an opportunity to study and begin to get information on the map. How did it get here? Why is it here? How did it come to us?" said Hebert.

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