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Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 - History

The later history of the maps by Andrew Grout

On the death of Robert Gordon in 1661, the Pont maps in his possession passed to his son, James, who was a cartographer in his own right. In his will, Robert Gordon instructed James 'to be countable therfore to the publique, but because they [i.e. Pont's maps] are all imperfect, that they be weil corrected or [before] any use [be] made of them' (Spalding Club (1841), p.49).

Sometime between 1683 and 1686 the surviving Pont manuscripts (or at least a substantial portion of them) were acquired from James Gordon by the Geographer Royal, Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1722), who in 1683 had announced his intention to publish a major new Scottish atlas. Whether Sibbald ever made use of the maps is unclear; his projected atlas was never realised.

Following Sibbald's death in 1722, the Pont maps were purchased by the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. At this time they were apparently bound up in one folio volume. It was the contents of this volume that were listed so carefully by George Paton of the Advocates Library in the 1770s. Paton's list of the Pont and Gordon manuscripts (as well as of the manuscripts of another great Scottish cartographer, John Adair) was published in 1780 by the English antiquary Richard Gough (Gough, 1780). Although this collection was subsequently reordered (Fullarton, 1858), its content as it stands today remains substantially as it was at that time.

It is commonly forgotten that Pont also wrote descriptive texts to accompany his maps. Much of his written work has probably been lost, or at least lies unattributed in transcriptions, but his manuscript description of Cunningham, Ayrshire, is preserved in the National Library of Scotland as Adv.MS 33.2.27. This was published as Topographical account of the District of Cunningham, Ayrshire. Compiled about the year 1600, by Mr Timothy Pont by the Maitland Club in 1858, in a volume of topographical descriptions edited by John Fullarton. In his introduction to this volume Fullarton made his own important contribution to Pont studies by compiling, with the assistance of David Laing, by far the fullest biographical account to date.

In the early twentieth century the remarkable Caleb G. Cash, teacher, scholar, antiquary, and hill-walker, published two influential papers in the Scottish Geographical Magazine. In the first of these (1901) he described the history of the Pont, Gordon, and Blaeu maps; and in the second (1907) he provided a detailed catalogue of the maps in which he sought to differentiate those drawn by Pont from those by Gordon and Adair. Cash's work formed the basis for subsequent studies, the most important of which are, perhaps, those by Moir and Skelton (1968), Moir (1973), and Stone (1989). Moreover, as Stone (1989, p.214) has pointed out, 'we are indebted to Cash above all for rescuing the maps from impending destruction by mis-use'. Nevertheless, one further map, which had escaped the attention of Cash, was rediscovered in the collections of the Advocates Library in 1925. This manuscript (now listed as Pont <36>) was the subject of a special study by Stone (1983).

It was in 1925 that the Pont maps, along with the rest of non-legal collections of the Advocates Library, came into the possession of the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. Here they remain as a unique 'treasure' in the collections of the Map Library.