Oldest map to use word ‘America’ up for sale

Jill Lawless
Associated Press

London — Christie’s auction house said Tuesday it has discovered a previously unknown copy of a 510-year-old map dubbed “America’s birth certificate” because it gave the New World its name.

Julian Wilson, a senior specialist in Christie’s books department, said the two-dimensional globe created in 1507 by pioneering German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller is “the earliest piece of writing that uses the word America.”

Waldseemueller decided to name the landmass after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who helped show that lands being explored by Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries were not — as Christopher Columbus initially surmised — part of Asia.

A wall-map version of the same chart by Waldseemueller, purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million in 2003, has been called “America’s birth certificate,” and Wilson said the name equally applies to this version.

“This is the first time that America is on the map, in more ways than one,” he said.

Christie’s plans to offer the map for sale in London Dec. 13, and set the price it is estimated to fetch at between $788,000 and $1.2 million. Four other copies of the map exist in museums and private collections, but this one was previously unknown.

The map is the oldest-known printed globe, designed to be cut out and pasted around a wooden ball. It is also the first map to show North and South America as separate continents and to depict a distinct Pacific Ocean, which no European had then seen.

Wilson said the map is remarkably accurate. Waldseemueller was one of a group of cartographers based in Saint-Die, France that charted discoveries made by Spanish and Portuguese explorers.