Ptolemy atlas – Claudii Ptolemaei Tabulae geographicae (..); G. Mercator / C. Ptolemy – 1730 (1578)

Claudius Ptolemy (100 – 170 AD) / Gerard Mercator (1512 – 1594).

Wetstein’s beautifully colored edition (1730) of Mercator’s highly regarded version of Ptolemy’s Geographia (1578).


1 in stock


Complete atlas with engraved decorative title page, index and 28 double-page maps, including the Ptolemy worldmap. All the engravings are nicely hand-coloured.

Between 1695 and 1704 three editions of Halma’s reissue of Mercator’s Ptolemy were published in Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht. For the 1695 reissue the plates were reworked with new cartouches and a new title page engraved by Jan van Vianen. Halma probably acquired the plates at an auction in 1694 of the Janssonius heirs. In 1730 the Wetstein brothers published the last edition. The maps are the same as those in the Halma’s editions. The map of Europe, number VII, has been reworked.


  • Type: Ptolemy Atlas, complete
  • Carthographer: Claudius Ptolemy / Gerard Mercator
  • Publisher: R. & J. Wetstein and C. Smith
  • Amsterdam
  • Date of publication: 1730
  • 1578
  • 47 x 28.5 cm (18.5 x 11.2 inches), folio
  • Collation: two blank leaves, 1 leaf title page, 1 leaf two paged index, 28 double paged engravings, two blank leaves
  • Illustrations: Copper engraved title page and 28 double-page copper engraved maps, hand-coloured engravings.
  • 8090 Bk
  • Bron: Van der Krogt 1:531 / Nordenskiöld Early history of carthography 51

Condition: A

Very good, given age. Complete and clean example with nice contemporary coloring. Hard cover. more info on request.

General historic information

Mercator’s Geographia

The present atlas was published in Gerard Mercator’s version of Ptolemy’s Geographia, first published in 1578, with editions still issued as late as 1730. While perhaps best known for his world atlas, published in various editions beginning in 1595 for nearly a century, Mercator’s Geographia is highly respected for the depth of research and fine engraving represented in its maps.

By the early sixteenth century, mapmakers such as Martin Waldseemüller and Lorenz Fries, wishing to reconcile Ptolemy’s worldview with updated geographic information, had issued versions of the Geographia divided in two sections—one with the classic Ptolemaic maps and texts, and a second depicting the modern world. In opposition to this trend, Mercator’s twenty-seven newly engraved maps for the Geographia contained no updated information.

In order to avoid misinterpretations of Ptolemy’s work by earlier editors, Mercator desired for his Geographia to accurately portray Ptolemy’s second-century view of the world. He envisioned this representation of the classical world serving as a companion to his forthcoming atlas of the modern world. To achieve this, he spent thirteen years researching, drawing, and engraving the maps he included. The quality he achieved in his engravings was such that the original printing plates were still in use at the time of the last edition of his Geographia in 1730.

Ptolemy’s Geographia in Renaissance Europe

Claudius Ptolemy (Egypt: ca. 100-170 AD) was an ancient geographer, astronomer, and mathematician. He was the first to use longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates. This idea of a global coordinates system was highly influential, and we use a similar system today. He is known today through translations and transcriptions of his work, but little is known about his life besides his residence in Alexandria.

Several of his works are still known today, although they have passed through several alterations and languages over the centuries. The Almagest, in thirteen books, discusses astronomy. It is in the Almagest that Ptolemy postulates his geocentric universe. His geometric ideas are contained in the Analemma, and his optical ideas were presented in five books known as the Optica.

His geographic and cartographic work was immensely influential. In the Planisphaerium, Ptolemy discusses the stereographic projection. Perhaps his best-known work is his Geographia, in eight books. However, Ptolemy’s ideas had been absent from western European intellectual history for roughly a thousand years, although Arab scholars interacted with his ideas from the ninth century onward.

In 1295, a Greek monk found a copy of Geographia in Constantinople; the emperor ordered a copy made and the Greek text began to circulate in eastern Europe. In 1393, a Byzantine diplomat brought a copy of the Geographia to Italy, where it was translated into Latin in 1406 and called the Cosmographia. The manuscript maps were first recorded in 1415. These manuscripts, of which there are over eighty extant today, are the descendants of Ptolemy’s work and a now-lost atlas consisting of a world map and 26 regional maps.

When Ptolemy’s work was re-introduced to Western scholarship, it proved radically influential for the understanding and appearance of maps. Ptolemy employs the concept of a graticule, uses latitude and longitude, and orients his maps to the north—concepts we take for granted today. The Geographia’s text is concerned with three main issues with regard to geography: the size and shape of the earth; map projection, i.e. how to represent the world’s curve proportionally on a plane surface; and the corruption of spatial data as it transfers from source to source. The text also contains instructions as to how to map the world on a globe or a plane surface, complete with the only set of geographic coordinates (8000 toponyms, 6400 with coordinates) to survive from the classical world.