Visit from the International Map Collectors’ Society

Donna Sherman, our Map Curator, writes: 

The maps and atlases in our Special Collections contain a wealth of cartographic treasures just waiting to be explored. There are maps painted on vellum, drawn by hand and printed on paper.  They can be large single sheets stored in plan chests or they can be buried in books, atlases and archives.  There are grandiose city plans spread over numerous sheets and mass-produced pieces of ephemera which have miraculously survived the vicissitudes of time. The collection is a source of fascination for students, researchers and library staff alike and recently they have also attracted the attention of the International Map Collectors’ Society (IMCoS).

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Members of the International Map Collectors’ Society visiting the Collection Care Studio. In the foreground is Desceliers’s world map of 1546.

IMCoS is a world-leading map society, recognised for its unique contribution to map collecting.  Its members include collectors, dealers, librarians, academics and map enthusiasts.  The Society also supports the study of cartographic history and contributes to lecture programmes and research projects, as well as organising an annual international symposium.

I was contacted by the Society’s Secretary about arranging a visit at the end of March and I immediately set to work selecting a number of items which I wanted to display.   These included an extremely rare early edition of Ptolemy’s ‘Cosmographia’ published in Bologna in 1477, Christopher Saxton’s county maps of England and Wales published in 1579, and a manuscript map of Lancashire created in 1604. I also wanted to show them some maps from our Japanese collections and to explain how the Library had worked in partnership with the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, the Japan Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation to digitise a number of these and make them more accessible for teaching and research.  Finally, the display would not be complete without some local material and some recent acquisitions, so I also included the Drink Map of Manchester (1889), and a large limited-edition print, ‘Nova Utopia’, by Stephen Walter (2013).

Tokaido bungen no zu (Atlas of Tokaido), c.1690, Japanese 211.
William Smith’s Map of Lancashire, c.1602-1604, Latin MS 509.


Drink Map of Manchester, 1889,

The visit was also an opportunity to find out more about some of the items in the collection which we knew less about. Amongst these was an early printed map of the world, purchased by Enriqueta Rylands around 1892. An article by a well-respected map collector, A.E. Nordenskiold, suggests that the Rylands copy could have been created as early as 1430 during the preparation of a metal map produced in the 15th century, and later purchased by Cardinal Borgia in 1774.  The map was removed from its frame in time for the visit so that it could be examined more closely by IMCoS members in the hope that any clues may become evident.  The map certainly caused a stir and sparked some lively discussions.  Ljiljana Ortolja-Baird (editor of the IMCoS journal) had recently located an 18thcentury copy of the printed map at the American Museum in Britain.  Both maps can now be compared and, hopefully, some light may be shed upon the original’s history.

Borgia 15th-century world map.

As well as viewing a range of items from our collections, the IMCoS group were also given a tour of the library and a visit to the conservation studio where they were able to observe our Collection Care team at work.  Here, they were also given the opportunity to examine a large manuscript map of the world created by French chart-maker Pierre Desceliers in 1546.  This unique map measures an impressive 128cm x 254cm and was made for Henry II when he was Dauphin of France.  Due to the size of the map and its fragile state, it is very rarely made accessible for consultation.  The group were delighted to see the map; however they also appeared equally as impressed by the bespoke case made for it by the Library’s Collection Care team!

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Pierre Desceliers’s world map, 1546, French MS 1*.

The event received good feedback and appeared to be enjoyed by everyone who took part, including both the IMCoS members and the Library staff involved.  It was a valuable learning experience and an enjoyable way to share knowledge about the world of maps, as well as forming new connections and discovering new avenues to explore.


Sherman, D., 2017. ‘A Northern Powerhouse: maps and atlases in the University of Manchester Special Collections’, Journal of the International Map Collector’s Society, Spring 2017 (148), pp. 11-16.

IMCoS web site:

Japanese maps web site:

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