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In 1595 the Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator introduced a new word to the publishing lexicon.
Having prepared a volume of maps of the same style and dimensions, he used the term ‘atlas’ to describe the finished work.
Mercator was not paying homage to the Titan god condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity. He was honouring the legendary Atlas, King of Mauretania — a man skilled in philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, who was credited with inventing the celestial sphere. Atlas was often pictured measuring the globe with a compass.
In today’s world of digital publishing, ‘atlas’ is still used to describe a collection of maps on a theme, or with a similar appearance and design. The Library holds an impressive number of atlases, with the most dazzling volumes produced during the Golden Age of Cartography of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.