What did Florida look like on a map in 1522?
Unless you’ve journeyed up to the fourth floor of our Main Library, you may not know about our extensive map collection. The Lewis Ansbacher Map Collection features over 240 antiquarian maps from all over the world.
After receiving an antique map from his son as a gift, local attorney Lewis Ansbacher decided to start collecting maps. His extensive collection includes historical views and plates with a Florida focus, featuring different depictions of the Sunshine State from as early as the 16th century. The Lewis and Sybil Ansbacher Family Foundation graciously donated the map collection to the Jacksonville Public Library for customer utilization.
Library associate Jay Brasfield offers monthly tours of the Ansbacher Map Room. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Main Library, this room is the perfect place to study and explore.
The oldest map in the collection, Terra Nova (or “New Land”), was made in 1522. Like many maps of this era, this one was printed using a woodblock technique.
The next map in line in the collection was produced in 1553 and depicts early appearances of the Straits of Magellan and Japan. Both of these maps were made in Germany. If you look close enough, you’ll notice that these two specimens have something else in common—if you look closely, they both include illustrative representations of cannibals!
Our Special Collections department contains several works by the French artist Jacques Le Moyne, who is well known for accompanying Jean Ribault during his expedition to establish Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River in 1564. Le Moyne was responsible for mapping Florida’s waterways. On the third wall of the map room, you’ll find one of Le Moyne’s maps, which is heralded as one of the most important 16th century maps of the region. Venturing into the Special Collections gallery, you’ll discover 42 of Le Moyne’s early engravings. These engravings were originally published in 1591 by Flemish engraver Theodor De Bry and exhibit early Timucua life in Northeast Florida and beyond.
A staff favorite is a map of the world created by Dutch cartographers Joan Blaeu and Gerard Valck in 1695. This map is called a “polar projection,” meaning it was surveyed from both the North and South Poles. It inaccurately represents California as an island, which was considered common knowledge at the time.
Another Blaeu map, Americae Nova Tabula, portrays four sea monsters throughout the Earth’s seas. Brasfield has observed Blaeu’s tendency to leave lines incomplete at certain points on his maps, which could be the result of uncertainty about a land mass’ shape or the direction of a body of water. Rather than predicting what came next on the map, it's possible that he may have simply chosen to leave the work unfinished.
Several maps in the collection include a lake that feeds into the River May, or what we know today as the St. Johns River. During the time of these maps’ origins, many believed that an undiscovered water source fed into the river. However, it was later understood that the St. Johns unusually runs north. Maps created after this discovery eliminate the inclusion of the fake lake, allowing the river to flow freely and accurately.
Another unique map on our walls portrays Florida as a series of islands. According to Brasfield, this 1763 map “makes it look like someone dropped Florida and it broke.”
Brasfield finds much pleasure in offering tours of the library’s map collection. “Showing off the room to folks that didn’t know it was here is great,” he says. Thanks to a generous gift from Sybil Ansbacher, Special Collections recently installed a giant ViewSonic touch screen for public use, which includes a virtual tour of the maps in the collection. Since many of the maps are hung up high on the walls, this touch screen allows the viewer to zoom in on the detail of any of the 240 maps in the room.
If you’re unable to make it to the Main Library for a tour of our map room, you can take a virtual tour online. Visit our website to explore the map collection from your computer screen. There, you can get up close with each map on the walls of the Ansbacher Map Room. You can find more information about each map in our digital collection. Special Collections also offers self-guided tours with a booklet they’ve compiled. If you’re visiting the Main Library on a day when a tour is not being offered, visit the Florida Collection desk for access to our self-guided booklets.
By looking at a map, Brasfield notes that viewers can see “how the perception of our world has changed through time,” as well as “how inaccurate information getting repeated is nothing new.”
Join us for a tour of the Ansbacher Map Room at 11 a.m. on the third Friday of every month. The tour occurs in Special Collections on the fourth floor of the Main Library. All library programs, including this tour, are free and open to the public. We hope you’ll come by soon!