David Rumsey is the foremost map collector in the world. His collection contains more than 150,000 maps dating from 1700 to the 1950s. Almost 20 years ago, Rumsey began the process of digitizing the maps and now has over 55,000 maps available for the general public to view and download. In 2014 MOVA International contacted Rumsey about transforming some of his maps into unique MOVA Globes. The first map produced as a MOVA Globe is the Antique Terrestrial White. Launched in October 2014, the Cassini Terrestrial MOVA Globe has already become an instant favorite, winning the 2015 Luxury Gift of the Year Award from the UK’s Giftware Association. We sat down with Mr. Rumsey to discuss his love of maps, the intersection between art and technology and his perspective on the Cassini Terrestrial map.
MOVA: What first got you into the world of maps and geography?
David Rumsey: I’ve been in it so long it’s hard to remember. All my life, I’ve enjoyed maps. When I was a child I was exposed to contemporary maps. They are a representation of three-dimensional space and a translation of the world. I collected contemporary maps during my growing up years and early twenties and sometime in my thirties I began to stumble across old maps.
For me they were a visual history. They show visually what we read about in text books. Documenting old maps is a great craft. They represent science, history, measuring space, navigating, and art. It’s everything all rolled into one.
Tell me more about your collection.
I’ve been building this collection for over 35 years. Being a collector is about assembling things that fascinate you in a specific kind of order. When I collect I try to make sense of what it is and what it was. It’s important to have good description when cataloging items; dimension, scale, date. At the same time, we give context to the map. I collect other things that relate such as globes by the same maker or other maps that relate to what he did.
I’ve done four exhibits with airports and am giving all the maps to Stanford University. They are building a map center on the 4th floor of its library. Stanford will house all the maps as well as MOVA Globes in the collection. Having them at Stanford ensures preservation in the long run and makes them available to scholars and general public.
Your collection utilizes cutting-edge technology to transform the way people consume maps, similar to the way MOVA technology revolutionizes the traditional globe. Why do you think digitizing your collection is so important?
As of now we have over 55,000 maps digitized and online. I really like getting things out in the world. That’s why I thought it was a fabulous idea to get them onto MOVA Globes and into the hands of other people. Partnerships with MOVA and also the open content (free of charge) online will hopefully expose more people to the maps.
In order to transform all the maps to digital versions, we first had to use high resolution scanners. For the gores we had to photograph them with digital cameras and produce high resolution digital images. We then georeferenced and georectified them to make globes. Essentially, you have an image of an old map or globe and on the other side is a modern map or street map and you make tick points, tip of South America for example, and it creates a georeference. You need to have up to 100 tick points in order to get a very accurate globe. Everything starts as a Tiff and is then made into a Geotiff and then mapped around a globe. This allows you to project the round world on a flat surface.
Our first MOVA Globe created with one of the maps from your collection is our Cassini Terrestrial, originally Globo Terrestre, made in 1790 by Giovanni Maria Cassini. What makes Cassini a notable cartographer?
Cassini trained with one of the best engravers of his time, Francesco Piranesi, and learned the art of engraving from a master.
Cassini brings together all the important elements; great engraving, a current account of history (for the time), scientific delineations and accuracy in placing points. He was so current. When we georeferenced the original globe gores, we put this Cassini globe into Google Earth in 2006 and we were astonished at the accuracy. He had good relationships of South America to Africa. Amazingly close.
What’s interesting about the routes and discoveries depicted on Cassini’s Globo Terrestre map?
Cassini was fascinated with Captain James Cook, so this map depicts the captain’s three voyages, with lines representing his specific sailing routes. Much of the geography of the map is based on Cook’s observations and theories. For instance, there is no Antarctica because Cook didn’t believe it existed. The map also shows the United States which was very young at the time.
Cassini was also more into the science behind map making. He lists the length of a degree – measuring unit of countries, including China. His globe also features an ecliptic marking on the globe which shows where the Sun’s rays are hitting directly on the Earth for any day of the year. A lot of globe makers would not go that far.
For better readability we changed the colors because it was originally published in white. [Note: MOVA International changed the color back to white in creating the MOVA Globe]
Cassini published the gores in his atlas of the world and he also made 12” diameter globes. Not many of the original globes exist today. The census is around seven pairs together of celestial and terrestrial.