Glossary of Map Words


A book or bound collection of maps, sometimes with supplementary illustrations and graphic analyses.


An imaginary line the Earth rotates around. When speaking about maps and globes it's the line that measurements are made from to determine a specific location.


Borders offer a lot to enhancing any map. Borders can be anything from a simple line to elaborate decoration with ornamental motifs. When using an ornamental motif, choose one that matches the map... whether influenced by the culture of the geographic region, a particular historic feature, or a symbol of the native flora and fauna..


A cartouche is a frame with a decorative border. Usually they contain a title, a scale, or other information about the map. Simple designs are just rectangular or oval frames. But they may be highly decorative as seen in antique maps. Borders can be made to look architectural, or look like carved wood, scrolled leather, or ropes..


The art or technique of making maps or charts. A cartographer is a person who makes maps.

Central meridian

- A line running north and south at the center of a map , which has been divided into squares so the map can be put into other dimensions. All the points along the line have the same longitude.

Circa (c)

. The word Circa and its symbol (c.) means approximate. When dating old maps sometimes the precise date of issue is not known so an approximate date e.g. c.1759 is used to define a period of time when the cartographer flourished and was known to have worked on similar maps.


By Pierre Joppen, Sep 25, 2005

Colouring of maps

1. Contemporary Colour. Colouring varies with old maps. When they were produced some maps were fully coloured at the time, some were partly coloured, some were coloured in outline, and many not coloured at all. When maps were coloured at or close to the time of production it is referred to as contemporary colour as it is contemporary to the printing of the map. Maps were originally coloured to enhance appearance and readability. Generally three or four colours (green, pink, orange and yellow) distinguished political subdivisions, black was used for names, red coloured cathedrals or other buildings distinguish large cities and blue stands for water.

2. Modern Colour. Often older maps issued without colour have colour added in whole or in part. Any colour added long after the map was issued is referred to as modern colour. Modern colour can be skillfully applied or less so but it usually is in outline and may or may not be historically correct. If it is skillfully applied and historically correct it is often difficult to distinguish from contemporary colour. If you are in doubt you can ask a map dealer. Usually they can distinguish between the two.

3. Pros and Cons. Most dealers and collectors agree that contemporary full colour is best and that bad modern colour is undesirable but after that there is substantial lack of agreement. Many uncoloured maps are much more attractive with skillfully applied modern colour. A few collectors prefer maps only as originally issued coloured or not but most dealers agree that skillful modern colour enhances interest and thus value of many maps. It is very much an individual collectors choice.

Compass Roses

Illustrated device that illustrates where north is. The design from a compass card, engraved on a chart for navigators to set their bearings on a pre-selected course and by which bearings of visible objects may be taken to fix a ship's position on a chart.A different kind of compass is always used for drawing and measuring circles Nothing says a graphic is a map more than a compass rose because is so linked to maps.


- Also known as the equinoctial line. This is an imaginary circle around Earth, halfway from the poles and perpendicular to the Earth's axis of rotation. It divides the Earth in half into the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Figures, plants, animals, and architecture

Including ornamental objects on a map brings whimsy and liveliness to a map. Early map-makers often included figures in local or national costumes and pursuing local interests such as hunting or farming. Animals could also be included to show local fauna or even sea monsters. These often acted both as filler and as important geographical knowledge to show what types of animals live in the area.
Local vegetation were also treated as symbols of local fauna. Instead of the modern method of marking forest areas with just a green color, old maps would engrave individual trees marking the forest and the type of trees composing the forest.
Groupings of all the items could be composed to create the identity of the region. Economic products were frequently shown as a cornucopia of the local workers, fish, vegetables, and fruit.
Buildings can be added to give a taste of the vernacular architecture.
Modes of travel have been part of maps for a long time. Ships are a frequent ornaments on the oceans of old maps.


Although it has little modern usage, heraldry gives the opportunity to capture history and tradition on the map in appropriate areas. Heraldic symbols also tend to be dignified designs with rich colors.Many Bleau maps had numerous heraldic seals on them.


Insets can be used to good effect to fill empty spaces on a map. Common forms include a plan of a principal city and the location of the mapped area referenced to the continent, country, or other easily-recognized area.


- The angular distance in degrees, minutes and seconds measured from the center of the Earth to a point north and south of the Equator. It's a system used to locate positions on Earth.


A legend shows symbols used on the map referenced to their meanings. Legends may be enclosed in a frame, cartouche, or may stand alone blended into the map like a vignette..


The angular distance of a point on the earth's surface east or west of an arbitrarily defined meridian, usually the Greenwich meridian (Greenwich, England).

Mercator projection By Pierre Joppen, Jul 7, 2004

A cylindrical map projection introduced in 1569 by the famous Flemish mathematician and geographer Gerhard Mercator. Originally named Gerhard Krämer (meaning "trader" in German), his name was latinized (a fashionable practice among scholars of the day) to Mercator, meaning "world-trader". This conformal projection is still commonly used for world maps, on which rhumb lines are represented as straight lines, making this projection very useful for navigation.


From the Latin 'medius' meaning middle and 'dies' meaning day. A semi great circle joining the earth's poles known as lines of Longitude crossing the equator and all parallels of Latitude at right angles.

Neat Line

. This is an engraved line that is drawn around the perimeter of the map's image.


A paper size approximately 8"X9". Bound into a book it is folded in half three times. Abbreviation 8vo.

Outline Color.

Hand color that is applied to old maps only around the land boundaries and the seacoast.


A slightly raised border around a map made by the impression of the copper or steel plate used in engraving a map or print.


A sheet of paper folded in half twice with dimensions approximately 9"X11". Abbreviation: 4to.

Recto and Verso

. Recto is the front side of a page. Verso is the reverse.


A map that has had a margin added or extended generally to add space for matting when framing. Maps published in atlases sometimes had narrow margins along the bound edges and sometimes when maps were issued two or three to a page, they have been cut into individual images requiring margins to be added on two or three sides.

Rhumb Lines.

Lines on the earth's surface which intersect all Meridians at the same angle. Meridians and parallels of Latitude are rhumb lines. Rhumb lines which cut Meridians at oblique angles are called Loxodromic curves. The radial lines on a compass are also called rhumbs. On early charts rhumb lines are drawn radiating out from a compass rose.


. An 18th century French style of ornamentation that included leaf, flower, shell and scroll motifs, often used as frames or cartouches surrounding the title on 18th century maps. A style much used by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, Hydrographer to the King in Paris in the 18th century to decorate his maps and charts.


Antique maps frequently feature faces and heads blowing winds from the four corners of the world. Winds can be an important addition to a map attempting to capture the antique old-map feeling.


Scale is important to interpreting distance on the map. Although accuracy is not so important on decorative maps, they are an important feature of a map and give a good opportunity for decorative treatement.

Old maps featured them in cartouches and vignettes. They are frequently shown with some sort of dividers, a measuring tool used to calculate distances on maps.

Scale may be represented in one of three ways...

* Words such as "one inch equals one mile".
* Fraction 1 : 63,000, meaning one inch on the map is 63,000 inches in the real world.
* Line divided into units that visually show the unit of length on the map and gives the distance in the real world. This tends to be best because it expands or shrinks in proportion if the map is enlarged or reduced in size. It also gives the greatest opportunity for embellishment.

Tropic of Cancer

- .It's the latitude of 23 degrees 27' north. The Tropic of Cancer is the farthest North the sun can go. When it gets there, it's summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. This usually happens around June 21st and is the longest time of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.

> Tropic of Capricorn

- The latitude is 23 degrees, 27' south. The Tropic of Capricorn is as far south as the sun can go. When it gets there, it's winter solstice. This usually takes place around December 21st and is the shortest period of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.


While sixteenth-century Flemish map-makers preferred the highly decorated cartouche for their maps, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century map-makers preferred the vignette. In the vignette figures and country scenes previously contained in the framed cartouche lost their frame and were blended into the map.


Antique maps frequently feature faces and heads blowing winds from the four corners of the world. Winds can be an important addition to a map attempting to capture the antique old-map feeling.