Archive for the ‘Cartominutiae’ Category


Cover of Estelle H. Ries’ opuscule on a miscellany of “lesser arts.”

Estelle H. Ries. The Lovely Lesser Arts: Leather Making, Screens, Map Making, Silhouettes, and What To Do About Nudes (1948). Girard KS: Haldeman-Julius Publications (B-686).


Ms. Ries here situates makers of maps among other lesser artists – leather toolers, silhouette cutters, screen decorators, and carvers of ivory. Ries concludes her work with a few comments on the dreaded nude:

What to do about nudes, if anything, is always more or less of a ticklish problem. No matter how 20th-century we are or wish to be, some of us have inherited enough from the Mauve Decade, or have been surrounded by the traditions of Victorianism to such an extent, that the very word, Nude, is often veiled in whispers even if the object itself is veiled in nothing more than the atmosphere.

As for maps and their makers, Ries has many thoughts:

The first matters to be charted were direction and distance and these are still essential to every map. If you hear of that better place you can keep going until you get there if you but travel in the right direction. (p. 12)

Having north at the top of the map, we are used to the shapes of countries in this position. It would be the same world if we turned it upside down and had the south at the top, but try it once and you will see how unfamiliar and confusing it looks so. Yet the world is so upside down in most particulars right now, that perhaps it would be more true to print the maps that way after all. (p. 12)

In the jungles of Bengal they have a custom of breaking a branch from the wayside, and when it wilts it is considered that a krosh has been traveled. They do not realize that this varies with the season the type of tree from which the branch is taken, the speed of the walker or his idea of wilting! (p. 13)

One long-established concern publishing maps is in touch with all foreign governments through a branch office in Washington which contacts all the embassies. They consider a man in their cartography department an apprentice for the first three or four years of service which will give you a clue to the difficulty and importance of this type of work. (p. 15).


The full text of section III, “The Human Side of Map Making,” from The Lovely Lesser Arts is below. A PDF (13.3 mb) of the entire 30 page booklet is here.



Once upon a time the nations of the world knew little or nothing of one another: The hazards of travel in an uncharted world prevented people from going far afield. What lay beyond the horizon? Who dwelt there? These questions were answered by silence or by mythical imaginings. But necessity and curiosity joined hands and impelled discovery of these unknown places. Which way to a better land? How far to more fertile ground? These questions were answered by a map.

The first matters to be charted were direction and distance and these are still essential to every map. If you hear of that better place you can keep going until you get there if you but travel in the right direction.

To get this sense of direction you must start from somewhere. Today maps have the true north at the top. This was not always so. The religious movements of the Middle Ages developed special reverence for the East. Paradise itself was represented on the maps and was supposed to be in the Garden of Eden, in the East. But Paradise was Heaven, and Heaven was above, so the East was at the top of the map and there it remained until the compass came along and displaced Paradise by pointing north itself.

Having north at the top of the map, we are used to the shapes of countries in this position. It would be the same world if we turned it upside down and had the south at the top, but try it once and you will see how unfamiliar and confusing it looks so. Yet the world is so upside down in most particulars right now, that perhaps it would be more true to print the maps that way after all.

A map is not earth size, of course, so that distances must be represented to a scale. Otherwise your map is too vague to have much use. It is harder to do this than to get direction because a knowledge of mathematics is needed both to measure distance on the ground and still more to show it on a map. In some parts of India a unit of measurement, the krosh, is given as “two statutory miles, more or less.” In the jungles of Bengal they have a custom of breaking a branch from the wayside, and when it wilts it is considered that a krosh has been traveled. They do not realize that this varies with the season the type of tree from which the branch is taken, the speed of the walker or his idea of wilting! Obviously mapmaking could not advance far until some facts of mathematics and astronomy could be applied. The best early maps came from Egypt, Babylon, China and Greece where these abilities first flourished.

The absence of such knowledge in most of Europe during the middle ages led the monks who made the maps never to leave any blank space on a map. To do so was an open confession of ignorance. They filled up all vacant areas with elaborate decorations-sometimes of fantastic creatures, or of legendary tales. Through the 18th century maps were decorative rather than practical, truly works of art, and are even now collectors’ items of rich beauty. Perhaps as an alibi to conceal their lack of accurate data, the idea was allowed to get around that accurate observations would be of value to trade rivals or enemies.

Of course, there were always some serious geographers who tried to promote accuracy in maps. Ptolemy, a famous Egyptian astronomer of the 2nd century, was first to draw the equator upon a globe and measure off the lines of latitude and longitude. Such lines, he explained, would locate any place on the map better than any amount of description. He also pointed out that a flat sheet of papyrus or paper would not fit around a sphere and that flat maps would involve too much distortion to be accurate. For a long time he pondered, “How can I show a map of the globe on a flat surface without too much distortion?” And then he had an idea. He took a cone and fitted a piece of papyrus around it tightly. It went on without any bulges, and when he took it off, it could be flattened out. He placed the cone, which was hollow, over the globe as far as the equator and drew his lines upon it. Then he took another cone going from the South Pole to the equator, and so invented the conical projection for flat maps. Ptolemy’s contributions to map-making were of great importance, but during the centuries new discoveries were made which were not on his maps. Moreover they had some inaccuracies of their own due to the unreliability of his sources, although his scientific methods were correct.

Mercator, a Flemish mathematician in the 16th century recognized the troubles with the earlier maps and decided to make something that would combine their advantages and remove their faults. Where Ptolemy used a conical projection, Mercator devised one based on a cylinder, and this solved the problems he had set himself.

The difficulties of making a map increase when we try to show on a flat surface the variations in height such as hills or mountains, yet their importance is too great to overlook. Mountains are not only a distinguishing physical characteristic of a region, but they affect rainfall and climate; they are the sources of rivers; they influence the amount of timber or the agricultural conditions; they serve as political boundaries and in many other ways. At first glance it would seem that the best way to show these would be on an actual model. However, models are costly to produce and cumbersome to handle, as they cannot be rolled, bound, folded or otherwise carried around conveniently. Most important, however, there has to be a different scale used for horizontal and vertical distances, else a relief model of the globe without such a difference would show little more in the way of relief inequalities than the skin of an orange. For example, Mount Everest is only 1/2000 of the earth’s diameter. On an 18-inch globe, it is estimated, it would be represented by less than 1/100 of an inch. Thus the highest mountain in the world wouldn’t even show!

A map combines the qualities of a picture and a book. Elevations of mountains or depths in water are depicted by forms of shading. A town is indicated by a dot, a road or river by a line. Codes of color can be employed, and other conventions are customary. The mapmaker must exercise some choice in the matter of naming places. He has to decide whether to use an American form of a foreign town or its native name, or one recently changed as an expression of national self-determination. Koln or Cologne; Dublin or Baile Atha Cliath? Praha or Prague; Munchen or Munich? This grows even more complex if the alphabet used by the natives is not related to a European one. There seems to be quite an assortment of spellings for the names of places in Persia (itself called Iran), China, India and other oriental lands. Maps should, of course, be clear and uncrowded, and the mapmaker should decide at the outset which kinds of things he must emphasize.

Of course, since Mercator’s Atlas appeared in 1585, mapmaking has grown continuously more scientific and accurate. The modern era of discovery and exploration does not consist in the vague adventuring by land and by sea which in a large measure constituted discovery up to the time of Captain Cook-and in some parts of the world long after that time. Today’s cartographers have precision instruments and theoretical knowledge far beyond any then in use. Mapping by airplane, for instance, is one of the newest and most popular methods giving access to hitherto inaccessible places. Telegraph, cable, radio, weather bureau and countless similar services have simplified the work of mapmakers and at the same time have given them far greater responsibilities. There is so much less excuse for them to be other than strictly reliable.

The modern mapmaker is an expert and his results go to experts whereas the early seafarer was more of a rough and ready adventurer who took a long chance hoping for gain, and did not care too much if he lost. By the old methods and equipment much of the world was discovered by accident. Desire for trade and wealth, missionary zeal, piracy, or sheer adventurousness were the usual reasons for exploration. In those times an explorer would ask for a little money to find a land that one could see and profit by. Today explorers like Roy Chapman Andrews require a quarter of a million dollars to explore a portion of the Gobi desert for knowledge of a world buried millions of years ago; not for financial profit in any way but for study of rocks and skeletons to reveal the beginnings of life on earth. It has been pointed out that while Columbus spent only about $2,000 to discover America, Byrd needed over $1,000,000 to enter the Antarctic. He spent nearly $200,000 merely to make a 17-hour trip over the North Polar Sea by air. Few modern explorers are able to take a large scientific staff into the field under a cost of $100,000.

When explorers have mapped the surface of the earth, will the job of mapmaker be finished? By no means. The whole idea has expanded and will continue to do so, for map making means many things to many people. Alexander von Humboldt, for instance, was puzzled by the fact that London was farther north than New York and yet was warmer in winter, while other places in the same latitudes varied in temperature. He began to plot new lines on the map running through places having the same temperatures, just as each line of latitude runs through all places of like distance from the equator. The temperature lines ran zigzag all over the map. He called them isotherms, and today no student of geography can do without his isothermic map. He followed this up with many other queries about the climate, and from his extended travels in South America and elsewhere he remembered certain facts. The height above sea level counts in climate, he knew from some of his own exciting mountain climbs. Mountains affect the rainfall too, he recalled. In his marvelous book, “Cosmos,” the science of physical geography was born, and Humboldt showed us a new way to look at ourselves and our earth.

Following the work of Humboldt and others, Joseph Henry gave us the daily weather map with its high and low-pressure regions and other data. Again, four-fifths of the earth is under water and this is a great field for investigators. Years ago, Lieutenant Maury of the U.S. Navy devoted his life to describing and mapping the sea – its currents, winds, temperatures, depths and many other qualities. Through him, the father of oceanography, navigators can take advantage of the most favorable winds and currents and many other benefits. Other types of explorers, like William Beebe, map the land of the fish, the actual depth and bottom of the sea, while Auguste Piccard did the opposite and soared 10 miles into the stratosphere. John Milne investigated the inside of the earth-the causes of earthquakes, and improved the seismograph which gives warning of impending disasters of this kind. And so today we still live in an age of discovery, and the vague notions of far-off countries give way to the most precise records. Accurate measurements of distances, heights, weather conditions, geological conditions; productive regions of the earth-its oil, minerals, wheat and other economic resources; plant life, animal life, human distribution, wealth maps, health maps-all these open fields of interest, work and achievement.

A basic necessity for compiling up-to-date maps is the collection and analysis of geographic and economic data. Several hundred thousand maps, charts, geographical reports, statistical records, post office guides, survey and exploration reports, historical notes and handbooks from all parts of the world are available for intensive study and research carried on by cartographers. All this research, traveling, surveying, compiling and drawing are essential to the production of the modern map. And today changing conditions make other maps of vital importance. One long-established concern publishing maps is in touch with all foreign governments through a branch office in Washington which contacts all the embassies. They consider a man in their cartography department an apprentice for the first three or four years of service which will give you a clue to the difficulty and importance of this type of work. New or old, maps and mapmaking are powerfully fascinating, bringing the world of war and work, peace and plenty, romance and reality, before our very eyes in a glowing panorama of adventure.

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First-Aid Station; Explosives Room



Concrete Brattice (with Manhole, Solid); Timber Door



Telephone; Power Line; Electric Light; Motor, Fan; Pump; Hoist; Gong



Shaft Stations



Conventions Used on Mine Maps (entire plate)



Mine Openings: Shafts (Rectangular, Circular); Tunnels; Diamond Drill Hole; Churn Drill Prospect Hole; Water Well; Oil Well; Gas Well; Sulphur Well, Barren Well; Mines & Quarries; Prospects



Conventions Used on Topographic Maps (entire plate)



Hypsography: Contours, Dumps, Dump and Car Track, Fills, Open Cuts, Cut, Stripping, Open Pits; Sand and Sand Dunes



Conventions Used on Topographic Maps (entire plate)



Limestone, Sand, Conglomerate, Drift, Metamorphic Rock, Gneiss



Geologic Conventions (entire plate)


Source: Lester C. Uren (1919) “Conventional Symbols for Mine Maps.” Mining and Scientific Press (August 16, 1919 p. 231-235)

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When I compiled a previous post entitled “A Discourse on Map Pins and Pinnage,” largely based on Willard C. Brinton’s Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts (1914) I rather forgot that Brinton had another tome, published in 1939, entitled Graphic Presentation.

Among the pages of this latter book can be found a few items worthy of note: J. Edgar Hoover pinning a map of FBI personnel (above), and another image of a map being pinned in the wild (most popular automobile colors, by U.S. state, 1939):

Also, a fine selection of map pins, updated for the demands of map pinners in 1939:

A few other stray map pin items have also come to my attention.

An advertisement in The American City (11, 1914) suggesting pinned maps EVERY city should construct:

Or one from System: The Magazine of Business (33, 1918):

Or a bit of advice on using pinned “progress maps” in oil field work (Underground Conditions in Oil Fields, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1920):

In Select Notes: A Commentary on the International Lessons for 1893 the Rev. Peloubet recalls the use of map pins for Bible study in the novel Tom Brown at Oxford:

Run out of map pins? Your local dealer is all out due to war-time demands? Popular Mechanics (March 1945) has instructions for DIY map pins:

Enough on map pins already.

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The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 5 (detail 1, close-up)


Found while cleaning out an old map cabinet: oceans of just about nothing, punctuated by signs of a minimal landscape. Soiled, creased, tears, dusty. Thumb-print and fading pencil marks, from someone who stared at this map a long time ago.

Details from a topographic map of Egypt in 6 sheets, published by The Survey of Egypt in 1910, scale 1:1,000,000.

Click on any map for a larger version of the scan.


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 5 (detail 1)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 1 (detail 1)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 1 (detail 2)


Note the type leaking over the map border (Mediterranean, Lake Borollos, Gharbia)

The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 1 (detail 3 – close-up)


Note the type leaking over the map border (Mediterranean, Lake Borollos, Gharbia)

The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 1 (detail 3)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 3 (detail 1 – close-up)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 3 (detail 1)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 5 (detail 2)


The Survey of Egypt, 1910, 1:1,000,000, Sheet 6 (detail 1)

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Pin maps have not much been much used in the past, chiefly because a map pin which would give satisfactory service has not been available for common use. Until recently the map markers obtainable have been little more than old-fashioned carpet tacks having chisel-shaped points which cut the surface of any map into which they were pushed. Tacks with rough steel shanks cannot be pushed far into a map if the tacks are to be pulled out again. Also, rough steel is likely to rust so as to cause the whole tack to deteriorate rapidly.

Thus begins a discourse on the map pin – and its brethren map beads, flags, and buttons – by Willard C. Brinton in his Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts (1919). In chapter 12 of that formidable volume, “Maps and Pins,” (2.5mb pdf) we are treated to 27 pages of considered commentary on the map pin: undoubtedly everything that could be said about map pins at the time. May I suggest cartopinography as the appropriate nomenclature for this deliciously narrow subset of the cartographic arts? Yes I may.

The shameful failings of mere tacks as map pins are amply demonstrated in the Brinton screed:

An alternative universe of map pins, beads, flags, and buttons are offered up, and, of course, delightfully illustrated: I repeat the opening image followed by an annotated list of map pin descriptors:

1. Long pin with small size glass head, available in many colors.
2. Long pin of brass wire for use with beads as shown in No.9.
3. Long pin with glass head used in conjunction with a piece of sheet celluloid cut into the shape of a flag.
4. A celluloid flag, with beads above the flag to represent quantity, or beads in different colors to denote various characteristics for the data portrayed. The grip of the sheet celluloid on the pin is sufficient to hold both the beads and the flag at the upper part of the pin.
5. Long pin with large size glass head, obtainable in different colors.
6. Pin like that shown in No.5 used with beads strung upon it.
7. A brass tack large enough to receive gummed labels which may be written upon with a pen.
8. Map pins having sharp points and small spherical glass heads in contact with the map. These pins are available in many different colors; the upper one in No. 8 is red and the lower one blue.
9. Beads in various colors of a size to correspond with the map pins in No. 8. Here the beads were red. White beads, used for every tenth position, show at a glance that there are 22 beads on the pin. Note that the color red photographs as black.
10. Map pins having sharp needle points and spherical glass heads in contact with the map. The pin is of the same general style as No. 8 but it has a head of larger diameter. This pin is obtainable in many colors.
11. Cloth-covered map tacks available in plain colors and in plaids.
12. Single bead used with an ordinary pin as a crude substitute for a regular map pin.
13. Beads in different colors corresponding in size with the map pin of No. 10.
14. Beads of two different sizes representing different things but at the same location.
15. Beads of two different sizes and three different colors. Since both sizes and colors may be varied, and almost any number of beads used on one pin, there are practically unlimited possibilities for the showing of complex data.
16. Beads on a pin which holds down on the map a sheet of colored celluloid cut to the exact shape of a small land area to which attention is directed.
17. A sheet-celluloid marker held by a map pin like that seen in No. 8.
18. Celluloid-covered tack, available in different colors.
19. Celluloid-covered tack with stripes of different colors.
20. Celluloid-covered tack with printed numbers from 1 to 99 inclusive.
21. Celluloid-covered tack having a rough surface so made that the surface may be written upon with pencil or pen, yet erased afterwards or rubbed off with a moist cloth. Lettering may be made permanent by means of a coat of varnish.
22. Large size celluloid-covered tack available in different colors.
23. Large size celluloid-covered tack with stripes of different colors.
24. Very large size celluloid-covered tack.

Included in the study are sundry illustrations of map pinnage at the zenith of development.

Below find a pin map showing the source of letters appealing for funds from Mary Harriman, the wife of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman. Mrs. Harriman’s fortune was somewhat reduced by the sheer number of map pins acquired for this exercise in cartopinography. Note the excessive pinning of New York City. So many pins are attempting to share the same geography that the map required an additional pin island (floating off the coast of New York city):

Harvard University, that hotbed of map pin innovation, confronted head-on the “too many pins in one place” problem that plagued the Harriman pin map. Why not, they suggested, create stacks of beads? Why not indeed!

The results, illustrated below, show the residence of 1907 Harvard graduates, six years after graduation. The map beads are stacked on a wire, every 10th bead is white. Why turn to a simple table when you could count beads on wires stuck in a map?

Further pin map considerations must be taken when attempting these protruding pin maps: such a bead map “should be mounted on several layers of corrugated straw-board to allow the long pins to sufficient depth in the mounting to hold fast.” One does not want teetering map pin beads!

The Harvard map sports six layers of straw-board, and a total thickness of 1 and 1/4 inches. Not only does such a sure base support the extensive beadage in the Boston area, but it is also “extremely light and very convenient to handle.”

Yes, I know what you are thinking: what kind of wire would one use for such a map? Would you believe piano wire? But some work is needed to transform piano wire into map bead wire. Brinton details the process: “The piano wire should be heated in a gas flame so as to remove some of the spring temper. After the wire has been heated it can be straightened and it will remain straight without continually springing back into coil form.” Once the heating and straightening has taken place, Brinton suggests a light coating of varnish to stabilize the wire used in longer columns, such as those for Boston and New York City on the map.

I suspect the Harvard map might suffer a bit of map bead flaccidity if hung upon a wall, given gravity and all. I also wonder about the hazards of such lengthy map beadings: a farsighted passer-by might, for example, receive a nasty map bead wire puncture-wound upon viewing the map too closely. No such injuries were reported in Brinton’s tome, however.

In our modern age of fancy maps-on-the-web the tangible map pin is certainly in decline. Yet a quick search leads to several suppliers of map pins, flags, and similar items, such as the Hudson Map company and The Map Shop.

Yet it is the ubiquitous Google Map that has saved the map pin from obscurity. Google’s default map pin marker can certainly be replaced by any kind of marker you want (see Custom Map Symbols in Google Maps) but who wants to futz around with that?

The Google Map map pin has taken its place as a literal pop-culture icon. Indeed, Google’s digital map pin has leaked back into earthly reality. Below find the work of map pin artist Adam Bartholl:

The map pin is dead! Long live the map pin!

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The construction of symbols on maps requires the interaction of many elements.  How these elements come together – literally the intersection of bits of points, lines, and areas – is the subject of a series of illustrations entitled “The Drawing of Combined Symbols.”  The majority of these guidelines focus on peculiar details that when done well, the typical map user won’t even notice. They are among the fascinating hyper-minutiae of cartography.

Faces indicate the quality of the choices illustrated – good, ok, and poor.

Examples are illustrated by Prof. Kei Kanazawa (heading the Working Group of the Japan Cartographers Association) in a chapter entitled “Techniques of Map Drawing and Lettering” in the out-of-print book Basic Cartography, Vol. 1 (International Cartographic Association, 1984, p. 45). These guidelines were developed for the pen and ink era of cartography, yet most are applicable to contemporary digital mapping.

Illustrations are for educational purposes only. Click on an illustration for a larger version.



Railway Symbols: Note arrangement of tics and black and white parts.



Manner of connecting line symbols corresponding to broken lines.



Several examples of crossing line symbols.



Drawing of double broken line symbols.



Drawing of double line road symbols in connection with other symbols.



Position of individual point symbols: (1) Place of explanation symbol, (2) Point symbols corresponding to the exact place on the ground.



Drawing of contours.



Relation of contours and road symbols.



Boundary along linear objects. Parts of a boundary along linear objects such as a river, road, and so on which are clearly recognized are usually omitted.

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