02 January 2021

The First Atlases

Very interesting stamps on these envelopes sent by Heleen (the Netherlands). She sent me the whole set of these fantastic stamps.

The first atlas ever was published in Antwerp in 1570, 450 years ago this year. To celebrate this, PostNL issued the stamp sheet The first atlases on 23 March 2020. The six stamps on the sheet are dedicated to maps from six atlases that were published in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th Century. 

The creator of the first modern atlas was cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598). Ortelius collected the best maps available in his time. He either redrew or shrunk 53 in total, added descriptions, and collated them to create a book. This atlas was published for the very first time in 1570, in Latin, entitled Theatrum orbis terrarum (literally: ‘the theatre of the Earth’s surface’). A Dutch translation was published in 1571. This world atlas inspired many other publishers to create their own atlases.

In addition to Abraham Ortelius, the stamps feature the following publishers: 

Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664)

Willem Jansz. Blaeu (1571-1638)

Gerard de Jode (1509-1591)
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

Gerard Mercator (1512-1594)

Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612)

Picture taken from this article


  1. A fascinating set of stamps. Amazing to think that atlases have been around for that long.

    1. Old maps are always fascinating. You learn so much from them. Although, on stamps, they are rather small and you would need a microscope!

  2. Ces timbres sont magnifiques !

  3. Thank you for sharing! I wasn’t sure if I had sent the complete set, and I didn’t yet know the website you mentioned. So now I know :-)

    Funny that the Netherlands seem to be laying, according to the maps by Blaeu and Janssonius (horizontal instead of vertical). Funny because usually the north is on top, but now the west is above :-)

    That different point of view also provides a different view on the world. I once saw a world map by an Australian designer, which was (according to 'us', in the north) upside down: north was on bottom and south on top, so the land downunder wasn't downunder at all, and 'we' were not on top but below the equator.
    Fascinating, because I then realized that not only words can 'frame' (be used to establish power and so) but also our view on the world map does ('north' often feels superior to 'south', many historical situations show..)

    1. It happened to me the first time I saw a (modern) Arabic map where, of course, Arabic countries are in the centre. It's silly, but I had never though there were maps different from those I was taught from at school.


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