Mr. Vignaud's Maps: Unraveling a Cartographic Mystery from the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography

Curated by Erin Platte & Tim Utter


Mr. Henry Vignaud (1830-1922), an American diplomat who lived in Paris during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, amassed a large personal library, including books, atlases, maps, and other publications. In 1923 the University of Michigan acquired his library, dividing his map collection between the William L. Clements Library and what is now the Stephen S. Clark Library.

Part of Vignaud’s extensive cartographic collection includes maps from the Golden Age of Dutch mapmaking, specifically the 17th century Hondius, Janssonius, and Blaeu publishing houses. Over the years staff noticed various shared physical characteristics among these maps, so Erin Platte and Tim Utter, staff of the Clark Library, sought to organize the Hondius and Janssonius maps using these similarities, with the goal of reconstructing the original atlases. The Blaeu atlases are more easily identifiable, and therefore they were not part of this study. The reassembled atlases in the Vignaud Map Collection offer a rare glimpse into how maps were printed, compiled, bound into atlases, and sold within the growing markets of 17th century Amsterdam. Equally important, they provide clues as to their history - how they were used, stored, and collected. The Hondius and Janssonius maps used in this research project create a particular set of challenges for accurate bibliographical description.

These maps present two main challenges: they were all extracted from broken atlases, and they lack text on the back, or verso. Generally, after the maps were printed, text pertaining to the region covered by the map would be printed on the reverse side. However, there were varying reasons for a blank verso. Sometimes map stock would sit blank, or be bound into a temporary binding, until updated or translated texts could be added at a later date. Even with these identifying features, it is still incredibly difficult to trace the provenance of these Hondius and Janssonius maps.

Unfortunately, the process of assembling an atlas in the 17th century rarely made for a prototypical copy and therefore complicates the process for 21st century bibliographers (van der Krogt, 1996). One of these complications is the amount of variation that can be found even between copies of the same titles of Hondius and Janssonius's Appendices and Theatri. These variations may be due to multiple factors, including that during the printing process the map pile could become out of order with new maps placed on the top instead of at the bottom (van der Krogt, 1996). Sometimes when a particular map ran out, a different map covering the same area would be substituted. A firm grasp of the atlas publication process proved critical throughout this project and helped us to better understand our assembled atlases.

The goal of our project was to group together sheets with similar characteristics based upon an analysis of the paper. Our process involved studying artifacts left behind from nearly 400 years of human and environmental effects, such as water and rodent damage, aging, watermarks, manuscript writing and drawing, and sprinkles. Our assumption was that these maps were at one time bound together and that bibliographic analysis would help us to confirm each group as a published atlas, with a title, publisher, and date of publication. This exhibit provides a look at the historical context of 16th-17th century map printing and publishing in the Low Countries, especially in Amsterdam, followed by an in depth examination of our research process, and results.

Mr. Vignaud's Maps: Unraveling a Cartographic Mystery from the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography is based on a physical exhibit of the same title, which was on display at the University of Michigan Library (Stephen S. Clark Library). This exhibit features only a portion of the Vignaud Map Collection at the Clark Library.  Additional Vignaud maps can also be found at the William L. Clements Library.