Helen Freeman - 1963

The Great Dutch Cartographer and the Map Thief

Begun in 1860, The Johns Hopkins University's  Peabody Library has a large collection of maps and  many volumes  on geography, exploration and travel.  Among its 300,000 titles  is "Atlas World", the work of the seventeenth century Dutch Cartographer Joan Blaeu (1596-1673).

A simple question to the Librarian, resulted in my learning of the Peabody's connection with a twentieth century map thief, "If you could save one book, which one would it be?"

Without hesitation, the Librarian named Joan Blaeu's volumes of some 600 maps and 3,000 pages of text, published in Amsterdam in 1664.  As a geographer, I was delighted!

Next question, "Have you read the book about the map thief?" "Read it? We caught him!" and then she recounted events.

The Peabody is also known for its striking architectural interior of cast-iron balconies that rise to the 61 foot- high skylight. Two researchers were working on the ground floor :  a woman librarian in one corner and diagonally opposite her, a man.  Observing her fellow "researcher", the librarian noted his carefully-constructed island of books and that he looked around continuously.  Suspicious, she called Security and an account of these 1995 events is told in the  "The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime".  Travel journalist  Miles Harvey's  story is  of  the theft of 250 maps from libraries holding some of the most significant map research collections.

And these days, even with so much technology and greater control, there are still so many maps lost.