Photo: Maps from the Glen McLaughlin Map Collection courtesy Stanford University Libraries
The maps of California as an island come from a new collection of 800 maps recently added to the Stanford Libraries. They were collected by Glen McLaughlin, one of the nation’s top map collectors.”To my knowledge, it is the largest collection featuring California as an island in private hands in the world,” said McLaughlin in a press release by the university. “The collection was built over a 40-year time period, from 1971 to last year.”
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“California and the Northwest coast of America was one of the unexplored places on Earth, along with Antarctica and Australia,” McLaughlin said in a press release from Stanford University.
Here’s how it started, from the Stanford release:
The earliest Spanish maps from the 16th century show a continuous coastline, but a Carmelite friar, Antonio de la Ascensíon, accompanied Sebastian Vizcaíno on his West Coast expedition of 1602-03 and apparently drew a map depicting California as an island around 1620.
Plunder was commonplace, and Spanish maps were a hot commodity. They were also a state secret. It’s generally accepted that the Dutch captured a ship en route, and the charts were waylaid to Amsterdam. What we know for sure is that the maps were widely copied.
Perhaps it’s just what the Spanish wanted, suggested [says Stanford Library fellow Rebecca] Solnit. “I’ve been told that Spain knew it wasn’t an island, but it was politically expedient for others to think it was. They weren’t going to share what they knew with everybody else.”
Enough was enough in 1747, when King Ferdinand VI of Spain issued a royal decree proclaiming, “California is not an island.”
The representation of California as an island was present on a few Asian maps even into the 1860s, McLaughlin said. Here are several of the beautiful historic maps that show California as an Island. Glen McLaughlin picked these maps out as iconic examples of the collection.
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