LONDON – A nearly 500-year-old map from the first set to identify the New World (search) as "America" and depict the Pacific Ocean was sold Wednesday for a record $1 million, an auction house said.
The printed map, one of only four known surviving examples produced by a group working under German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller (search), was bought by Charles Frodsham and Co. Ltd., a company that makes, collects and deals in items ranging from clocks to maps and books, Christie's auction house said.
Christie's (search) said the $1 million price — $880,000 plus auctioneer's premium — was the highest amount ever paid for a single-sheet map at an auction. The auction house had said it expected the map to fetch from $900,000 to $1.46 million.
"We are absolutely delighted to have bought the map," said Richard Stenning, a director of Charles Frodsham.
Scholars created the set of maps — believed to be components of the earliest printed globe — based on explorers' accounts and had to draw the Pacific Ocean before Europeans had discovered it. The work depicts a land mass labeled "America" that corresponds to part of South America.
The same group, working in northeastern France, also created the much larger and better known wall map bought by the Library of Congress in Washington for $10 million in 2003. That map, which also uses the name "America," is sometimes called America's birth certificate. It was not a single-sheet map. The woodcuts for the wall map, and for the map sold at Christie's, were both made in 1507.
Waldseemueller's group derived the word "America" from the name of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first to argue that the land mass discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 was a new continent, and not part of Asia. Waldseemueller and his fellow scholars used an account of Vespucci's voyages to draw their new maps.
The work sold at Christie's is known as the Waldseemueller Gores and portrays the Earth as a globe. It consists of 12 connected gores — or sections of a curved surface — printed on a sheet of paper measuring 7.2 inches by 13.8 inches. The gores were meant to be cut out and pasted on to a ball to form a globe.
There are only three other known examples of the Waldseemueller Gores: one at the University of Minnesota and two in German libraries.
Christie's said the map it auctioned belonged to a European collector who discovered it in his collection after reading about the subject in a newspaper two years ago. The auction house didn't name the collector or say where he lived.
Peter Barber, head of maps at the British Library, said the Waldseemueller Gores and wall map were the first to use the name "America" and the first to depict the Pacific Ocean, even though it had not been discovered at the time.
"If America is a continent it has to look like one, it has to be separate from a piece of land," Barber said. The scholars "had to invent the Pacific Ocean before it was actually discovered."
The Waldseemueller Gores form what is probably the earliest known printed globe, Barber said. But it is not the earliest depiction of a globe, he added, referring to manuscript and painted portrayals.
Christie's said the Waldseemueller Gores trebled the previous world record for a single-sheet map sold at auction.
"It's quite a unique piece to be able to offer. There's nothing comparable that has been sold," spokesman Matthew Paton said. For the previous world record, Paton referred to a 16th-century Italian map sold at auction in London.
In 2000, Sotheby's in London sold a single sheet map of the world printed in Venice in 1576. It fetched about $221,000 including the auctioneer's premium, a spokeswoman said.