400 Years of Cartography — The Holcomb Digital Map Collection
Not every map that appears in the General Land Office’s online database is physically housed at the Archives in Austin. The Holcomb Digital Map Collection is a diverse group of items consisting of 114 maps, atlases, books and pamphlets belonging to Frank and Carol Holcomb of Houston. Mr. Holcomb, a practicing tax and estate planning attorney, began acquiring maps with his wife in 1978, and together they have collected works covering the entire Western Hemisphere, but focusing primarily on Texas. The Holcomb Digital Map Collection is the result of months of collaboration between the Holcombs and GLO Archives staff in 2014 to preserve and make available to the public these important documents.
Spanning nearly 400 years, the Holcomb Digital Map Collection contains maps from some of the most prominent and famous cartographers from Europe and the United States. The oldest map in their possession is the 1513 woodcut Tabula Terre Nove, also known as The Admiral’s Map, by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. This map is one of the earliest depictions of The New World.
The Holcombs also own maps engraved and printed by such illustrious mapmakers as Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, Jansson, de Bry, de Wit, Moll, Tanner, and Mitchell.
On the 1579 map by Abraham Ortelius, far North America is represented as a vast unknown — full of promise, devoid of people, and awaiting discovery. The coastal areas of the Americas are full of Spanish and indigenous settlements with the interiors left yet unexplored. The land that will become Texas is labeled “Terlichichimechi.”
Henry Schenck Tanner, a Philadelphia map engraver turned publisher, helped establish the national identity of the United States through his work. In this map of North America, Texas, now in a semi-recognizable shape, is a part of the San Luis Potosí province of Mexico.
Their 1836 Map of Texas containing the Latest Grants and Discoveries, by E. F. Lee is part of the book “The History of Texas; or, the Emigrants, Farmer’s, and Politician’s Guide to the Character, Climate, Soil and Productions of that Country; geographically arranged from personal observation and experience.” by David B. Edward and shows all of the land grants in Texas and roads between them.
Frank and Carol Holcomb have assembled a world-class map collection, and have partnered with the GLO to exhibit their maps in several institutions across Texas.
You can view the Frank and Carol Holcomb Map Collection in high definition on the GLO’s website, where you can also purchase reproductions of the maps to benefit the Save Texas History program.