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Partie du Mexique

[Philippe Marie Vandermaelen]
[Brussels], 1827

Philippe Marie Vandermaelen, Partie du Mexique, Brussels, 1827, Map #94072, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Flemish cartographer and globe-maker Philippe Marie Vandermaelen made a significant mark on nineteenth-century commercial cartography with the 1827 publication of his six-volume Atlas Universel. Vandermaelen’s work represented two important advancements — it was the first atlas produced using the relatively new technology of lithography and also the first world atlas wherein all maps were drawn to a uniform, large scale (about twenty-six miles per inch, in this case). While atlas makers had previously varied the scale of each map to fit specific details on the page, Vandermaelen’s standardization across each of the atlas’ 380 maps allowed viewers to compare and more clearly visualize the relationships among mapped places. Further, he designed the maps to be joined together in a massive paper globe (unmapped open sea excluded) approximately twenty-five feet in diameter.[1]

The map features towns, rivers, and bays in Texas.

Like most early-nineteenth-century cartography of the Americas, the Atlas Universel owes a significant debt to the work of Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. It contains several maps of Mexico and the present-day American Southwest, including five sheets that depict various parts of Texas. This sheet, number 60, shows the entire Texas coastline, along with parts of coastal Louisiana and Tamaulipas (labeled with its former Spanish provincial name, Nuevo Santander) based on Humboldt’s 1804 map of New Spain. The map identifies several rivers entering the gulf, including the Colorado, Guadalupe, San Antonio, and San Rosario. Additionally, the Nueces River roughly forms the border between Texas and Tamaulipas rather than the present-day border at the Río del Norte (Río Grande), hinting at a borderlands dispute that remained unresolved until the end of the U.S.-Mexico War. Along the latter, the five villas del norte that José de Escandón established as part of his regional colonization plan appear. From west to east, these are Laredo, Revilla, Mier, Camargo, and Reinosa.

In Tamaulipas, the five villas del norte appear along the Río del Norte.

Vandermaelen further highlighted Humboldt’s influence by including a large block of text from his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (1811). The text consists of Humboldt’s analysis of his observations of different kinds of precious metal deposits in Mexico and the local methods for mining them. Mexican silver had long captured the interest of outsiders; but Humboldt’s work stimulated a flurry of new European investment schemes, especially as the Mexican independence process raised the prospect of a new openness to foreign investment. In fact, rich silver mines in central Mexico were sold to British operators the same year the country proclaimed its federal republic with the Constitution of 1824.[2] For those who could afford its hefty cover price ($800 in 1827), Vandermaelen’s atlas offered a detailed portrait of the United States’ newly-independent southern neighbor.[3]

The map includes a block of text from Alexander von Humboldt detailing Mexico’s natural resources and mining practices.
  1. Dorothy Sloan Rare Books, Inc., “Auction 23: Western U.S. & Mexico Maps from Vandermaelen’s Atlas,” Sloan; Wheat, Mapping the Trans-Mississippi West, 94; Martin and Martin, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 32; Henry G. Taliaferro, Cartographic Sources in the Rosenberg Library (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 1988), 219.
  2. For an English translation of the text block, see Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain . . , trans. John Black, Vol. 3, 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, and H. Colburn, 1814), 147–59. On the impact of Humboldt’s work in British mining investment circles, see Margaret E. Rankine, “The Mexican Mining Industry in the Nineteenth Century with Special Reference to Guanajuato,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 11: no. 1 (January 1992), 29–48.
  3. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, “1827 Vandermaelen map of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore,” https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/malacca-vandermaelen-1827 (accessed September 20, 2021).

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