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

General overview

Pont's maps are important both because they are the first detailed maps of Scotland and because they form the basis of the first atlas of Scotland - produced as the fifth volume of Joan Blaeu's first monumental world atlas, Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus. How the maps came to be used by Blaeu and how such a large body of them survived to become part of the National Library of Scotland's collections is a fascinating and complex story.

On Pont's death (sometime between 1611 and 1614), his maps passed to his heirs. But by 1629 they had been bought by the antiquary and historian Sir James Balfour of Denmilne (1600-57), the Lord Lyon King-of-Arms.

Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit (1585-1670), a scholar and statesman, learned of Balfour's purchase of the maps and passed the information to the Amsterdam-based map-maker Joan Blaeu (c.1599-1673), knowing that Blaeu was looking for maps of Scotland to act as sources for a planned atlas.

Scot eventually sent the Pont maps to Amsterdam, and it is assumed that Blaeu engraved plates for printing direct from the more finished of them. But other Pont maps needed clarification or elaboration before plates could be engraved, and these were probably returned to Scotland (perhaps in 1633), where Blaeu had enlisted the help of Robert Gordon of Straloch (1580-1661) and his son James Gordon of Rothiemay (c.1615-1686). The precise role of the Gordons is unclear, but it is likely that they subsequently sent Blaeu mapping information derived both from Pont's originals and from other sources, and this information was used by Blaeu to finish engraving his maps of Scotland. In his atlas, he credits no fewer than thirty-six of the regional maps in his volume to Pont. The Pont maps that Blaeu had returned to Scotland were probably retained by the Gordons as being of no further use to Blaeu, and it is probably these maps that survived to form the Pont collection now in the National Library of Scotland. Altogether, 77 individual maps survive on 38 sheets of paper, covering only certain parts of Scotland.

On the death of Robert Gordon in 1661 the maps passed to his son James, and sometime between 1683 and 1686 they were acquired by Scotland's Geographer Royal, Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1722). Following Sibbald's death in 1722 they were purchased by the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. In the early 1900s, Caleb Cash laid the foundations for future Pont studies by publishing detailed listings and descriptions of the maps.

As well as drawing maps, Pont appears to have kept written records in the course of his travels. None of these survive, but pieces of text based on them were acquired by the Advocates Library.

In 1925 the non-legal collections of the Advocates Library - including the precious Pont maps and textual material derived from Pont's notes - were transferred to the nation, forming the basis of the newly-established National Library of Scotland.