The oldest map of New York City was recently placed on the market for $10 million, making it the most expensive map ever sold publicly. (The Library of Congress’ Waldseemüller map – the first to name the American continent – sold privately for the same price in 2003.) Created by Genoese cartographer Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, the map is painted on vellum, made from the skin of six goats, and measures 6.7-feet wide and 3-feet tall. It was offered for sale at New York’s TEFAF art fair, which opened to the public on Oct. 22.
According to rare book and map dealer, Daniel Crouch, it’s one of the oldest navigational charts to depict Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage . More accurately described as a “Portolan planisphere” for its depiction of the known world, it features one of the first depictions of America’s eastern seaboard, and the first depiction ever of New York harbor.
Before it was placed on the market, the map sat in a castle in Switzerland for centuries. In 1983, however, it was sold to an English collector, who had bought the piece from an aristocratic Swiss family. The Library of Congress reportedly tried to claim it, but was outbid in the process. Check out the video below, via Bloomberg Pursuits, which sheds more light on its history:
Given its age, the ancient navigational chart is exceptionally well preserved. Quite curiously, it depicts imagined kingdoms in India, a channel separating South and Central America, and four kings in Africa—King Solomon, Prester John, and two other unnamed individuals wearing crowns, none of whom actually existed (at least, that we know of). Fantastical creatures, from dragons to unicorns, also decorate the piece, and the writing is positioned in two directions to allow people to read it from both sides.
Its decorative nature almost distracts viewers from realizing that the map is actually highly inaccurate. According to Crouch, it might have been commissioned as a political tool, serving as a proposal that delineated land to quell tensions between France and Spain.
We’re always curious about old maps of NYC. Check out more fun maps here.