By: Gerard Van Keulen
Date: 1720 (published) Amsterdam
Dimensions: 22.6 x 39.25 inches (57.5 x 74.3 cm)
A rare and remarkable map of the colonial America with a focus on French claims by Gerard Van Keulen. The map was commissioned to to help promote the Compagnie d’Occident (“Company of the West”) which offered great profits to shareholders through the riches waiting to be discovered in the Louisiana Territory and ultimately resulted in the first real financial bubble and is regarded as one of the greatest financial schemes in history.
By the late 17th century, the Van Keulen family had solidified themselves as the world’s finest maritime map publishing company. It wasn’t until 1720 that Gerard Van Keulen produced his first non-nautical map, being this large format map of North America comprised of two joined sheets. The reason for this map’s creation was to promote John Law’s Compagnie d’Occident, which became known as one of the great financial bubbles in recorded history. Van Keulen was likely asked to produce this map in an attempt to lure his fellow Dutchmen in as investors. The first state of the map (this example) was produced at the height of the bubble in 1720, which would burst later that year.
The Story of John Law and Mississippi Bubble
Throughout the 17th century, the Great King Louie XIV had borrowed gold from his country to build his great palace among other things and by the time he died, the people of France were very poor and wanted their money back. To ease the masses, the government devalued what gold was still held by the people. One day a Scottish economist named John Law who had traveled Europe for nearly two decades came to Paris with a solution to their money problems. Give the people paper money in exchange for their gold which became quite popular throughout the country. However the people were still quite poor and John Law had just what they were looking for, a “get rich quick scheme.”
What John Law did was form, Compagnie d'Occident (Company of the West) which sold shares of France’s new territory, Louisiana (named after King Louie XIV). The territory was said to hold great commercial wealth in gold, rubies, diamonds, furs, etc., and everyone in France, nobleman to peasant could invest in shares for themselves. While everyone in France was scrambling for shares and prices rising rapidly, nearly nothing was being done in Louisiana. After all, it was over 800,000 square miles of harsh wilderness dominated by hundreds of Native American tribes speaking various languages. Eventually a combination of heightened share prices and inflation brought the paper money to gold ratio to roughly 5 to 1 and the bubble burst, leaving the people of France poor once again.
Cartographic Significance and History
The map can best be explained as a compilation of detail and elements drawn from De Fer’s rare 1718 map “La France Occidental,” and De l’Ile’s 1703 map “Carte du Canada,” as well as his 1718 “La Louisiana.” While detail is abundant throughout this map, we will first focus on the Gulf Coast and the area of present day Texas. In 1685 Robert Cavelier de La Salle founded a French colony along the Bay of St. Louis noted on the map as Fort Francois. He intended to establish his colony at the mouth of the Mississippi river, but a combination of bad maps and navigational errors landed him approximately 400 miles west of his intended target. The colony lasted only three years and was abandoned due to harsh environmental conditions and hostile Native American’s. Shown in the map are some of La Salle’s routes eastward to the Mississippi. It was on one of these journeys that La Salle and five of his men were killed in a mutiny along the Brazos River.
The map displays incredible detail for its time throughout the La Louisiana as this was the main focus in the map’s production. In the northwest portion of the territory, several Native American tribes are noted as being enemies of the Spanish, the other dominant European power with interests in the area. Along the Mississippi, Fort Prudhome is depicted to be much larger than it actually was which may have been a tactic to embellish the idea of French control over the area. The delineation of the Great Lakes is about as accurate as any map could be for the time and the East Coast is shown with exceptional detail. For the most part both regions resemble De Fer’s maps; however Visscher’s influence can be noted in the depiction of a large Seneca Lac within New York and bordering Pennsylvania. In the lower right, two inserts illustrate a portion of the Gulf Coast and the mouth of the Mississippi River in detail derived from both De Fer’s map of 1718 and Valentin Devin’s earlier manuscript map of the area.
This is undoubtedly a must have map for any high end collection of America maps, particularly with regard to the early mapping of French Louisiana and Texas. As mentioned before, this is an example of the first of two states. While the first state has the name Gerard Van Keulen at the bottom of the title cartouche, the second state bears the imprint Chez la Veuve de Jo. Van Keulen & Fils Marchands Libraires, Avec Privilege. Gerard died in 1726 and the second state was issued circa 1730 by his widowed wife Ludwina Konst and her son Johanne II.
Ref: Sellers & Van Ee #178; McCorkle, B.B. (New England) 719.6
Condition: Map is in B condition with several wormholes in the lower half of the map that have been expertly repaired and do not distract from the image. The map displays a striking imprint over clean, heavy paper with ample margins all around.
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