12 Joan Blaeu 1645


The Blaeu family were probably the finest of all the Dutch cartographical publishers and their Atlas Major is still regarded as the finest of the age. Willem Blaeu (1571-1638) was a globe and instrument maker and founded the business in Amsterdam in 1599. He was trained in astronomy and the sciences by Tycho Brahe, the celebrated Danish astronomer. At first he published single maps and his 20-sheet world map is highly acclaimed. Until 1617 he often signed his works Guilielmus Janssonius or Willems Jans Zoon, his patronymic name, but after that time he seems to have decided on Guilielmus or G. Blaeu. By 1628 he had produced maps and works covering the whole field, hydrographical, topographical and celestial.

In 1630 he acquired 37 plates of the Mercator Atlas from Jodocus Hondius II to add to his own collection and with the publication of his Appendix Blaeu began his lifetime’s work: a major atlas intended to include the most up-to-date maps of the whole of the known world. Five years later the first two volumes of the Atlas Novus or Theatrum Orbis Terrarum were published. He was very interested in quality and production and introduced the new press with a sliding bed, enabling the printer to see more easily what he was doing. Highly successful and well appreciated in Holland he was appointed Hydrographer to the East India Company in 1633. When he died his two sons succeeded to the business. However, Cornelis died in 1642 and it was Joan (or Jan, but signed himself Iohannem) Blaeu who produced the fourth volume, containing the British county maps, in 1645.

The Atlas Novus was finally completed in 1655 with the sixth and final volume. No sooner was it published than Joan commenced his masterpiece, the Atlas Major, and in 1662 all eleven volumes were finally complete containing some 600 maps and 3000 pages of text.

In February 1672 a disastrous fire destroyed Blaeu’s printing house in the Gravenstraat and the Devon plate with many others was lost. A year afterwards Joan Blaeu died. The firm’s surviving stocks of plates and maps were gradually dispersed, some of the plates being bought by Frederic de Wit and Schenk and Valk before final closure in about 1695. Large stocks of printed maps enabled collections to be put together, eg John Overton’s Overton Atlas I of 1670 and an atlas of the Royal Geographical Society both contain Blaeu’s Devon.

The map of Devon is based on Speed with many of the tribal names added in 1623. Like Jan Jansson (compare 11) the maps do not show roads, nor the inset of Exeter but the coats of arms are present. Both Devon maps are very similar as far as detail is concerned. However, Blaeu’s map is neater and more delicately engraved. The sea areas are often illustrated by Jansson (Devon has boats and fish) but not by Blaeu. Jansson, who is often accused of copying from Blaeu, is more flamboyant in his lettering (compare for example surrounding county names and sea areas). On the reverse of each map (except the Overton) is a text taken from William Camden’s Britannia1


Size 390 x 490 mm. Milliaria Anglica ... (8 = 50 mm).



1. 1645  Guil. et Ioannis Blaeu Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, sive Atlas Novus - Part IV Latin text: Page 116, Sign Gg.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1645, 1646. LIX, S28, BL; S30.
    Le Theatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas French text: Page 105, Sign Dd.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1645, 1646, 1648. S29, LS, B; S31, [LUL]; S43, BL.
    Novus Atlas, Das ist Welt-beschreibung German text: Page 113, Sign Gg.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1645 (1646), 1646, 1648. S32; S33; S44, W.
    Toonneel des Aerdrycks, oft Nieuwe Atlas Dutch text. Page 105, Gg (last page of Cornwall, first of Devon).
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1646 (1647). KM B142A, S38,CB.
    Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus Second Latin text: Page 95, Sign Dd.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1648. LXII, S42, BL, B, C, W.
    Vierde Stuck der Aerdrycks-beschryving ... Engelandt Dutch text reset: Page 91, Sign Cc.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1648, 1648 (1664). LXI, S45, BL; LXV, S77, BL. C.
    Nuevo Atlas del Reyno de Ingalaterra Spanish text: Page 105, Sign (page 104) Cg. Most of the second edition (1662 - Inglaterra) was a French text with Spanish text pasted over.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1659, 1662. S64, W; LXVII, S73, BL. C.
    Geographiae Blavianae, Volumen Quintum, quo Anglia Typographic title-page; Latin text and engraved title-page Anglia, quae est Europae liber XL.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1662. LXIII, S71, BL, C, NMM, (DEI).
    Cinquiéme Volume de la Geographie Blavianae, Contenant l’Angleterre French text: Page 81, Sign Z. Latin verses translated into poetry. Engraved second title page Angleterre, qui est le XI. livre de L’Europe.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1662, 1663. LXIV, S72 B; S75, BL, NMM.
    Cinquiéme Volume de la Geographie Blavianae, Contenant l’Angleterre Engraved title page Angleterre, qui est le xl. livre de L’Europe dated 1662.
    Amsterdam. Joan Blaeu. 1667. LXVI, S84, BL, BCL.
    Overton Atlas I - Collection of maps  
    London. J Overton. (1670). S89, Adm.

[1] Dr Almond pointed out what looks like a number 6 on all copies he has inspected – this was possibly a flaw in printing caused by a small shard of copper or a scratch on the plate (Ee between frame lines).