Strange Maps

By Staff
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In our July-August 2010 issue we ran a series of “cartographic curiosities” from the wonderful blog Strange Maps. Here are some we couldn’t fit in the magazine. Enjoy!

Market Reef:                          

So you’re a map nerd and you think you know about every cartographic anomaly in the world, from the bizarre Belgian enclave of Baarle-Hertog in the south of the Netherlands to the three little islands in the Beagle Channel that almost caused a war between Chile and Argentina.?Then you learn about Market Reef, a little island between Finland and Sweden that is shared by both countries – and is the smallest island thus divided between two nations. The bizarre border on Market Island (Märkat in Swedish) was caused by the Finnish lighthouse that was accidentally built on the Swedish side of the border. It was transferred to Finland, while an equally large piece of the Finnish half became Swedish.?The island is uninhabited, but is a favourite destination for radio enthousiasts, as it is listed as a separate country in amateur radio call numbering.

Map redrawn by Frank Jacobs, from


People of a very religious disposition have been known to see the face of Jesus in a slice of burnt toast, or the Virgin Mary’s silhouet in a tree. Map-nuts similarly observe simulacra of states and continents in everyday objects.

“I’ve seen photos of clouds resembling maps, pancake surface patterns,” writes Bjørn Bojesen. “But never a blob of jam.”  And then: “I was just making a sandwich, and there it was – America on the chopping board!”

Both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of South America are wonderfully rendered, the accretion of jam at the left hand side even  symbolizing the Andes mountain chain. Central and North America are somewhat less true to life, but their general shape is not that far off. As jam-based maps go, anyway.

Although “there is something really weird going on in Alaska,” as Mr Bojesen readily admits. The Aleutian islands have morphed from a narrow island chain into a gigantic terrestrial tentacle, sticking into the Pacific Ocean and almost touching the West Coast.

On the other side of the continent, Cuba and/or other Caribbean islands have hypertrophied and are drifting east into the Atlantic.

Thanks to Mr Bojesen for sending in this picture of ‘Jamerica’.

American Dove:               

In 1833, The United States didn’t have an East Coast yet, for lack of a West Coast. The gigantic Louisiana Territory, acquired some 30 years earlier from the French, gave America dominion over the Mississippi basin, but Mexican land and the Oregon territory, claimed by Great Britain, still stood between the US and its ‘Manifest Destiny’ – to stretch “from sea to shining sea”.

That’s a line from Katharine Lee Bates’ song ‘America the Beautiful’, composed in 1893 when the west was won, mainly by the Mexican-American War of 1846-’48. It would be many decades before all the lands between Mississippi and Pacific would enter the Union as full-fledged states, but the iconic shape of America’s lower 48 states was there.

In 1833, other icons were still vying for public acknowledgement. For example, this Eagle Map of the United States, Engraved For Rudiments of National Knowledge.

The map represents America as an eagle (it looks more like a dove), with its head coinciding with New England (except Maine), its eye with Vermont, its neckline following Lakes Ontario and Erie, the wing outlines Lakes Huron and Superior (and further west the eventual Canadian-American border at the 49th parallel).

The eagle’s breast follows the Atlantic seaboard, its talons form Florida – even though the claws protrude far from the coastline, and somewhat ominously, towards Cuba.

The real reason why this particular iconic representation of America’s national bird never caught on, is in the tailfeathers – shaped to follow a border no longer in existence by 1848. The western borders of the subsequent independent and later US state of Texas are recognisable, for now as the dividing line between the US and Mexico. The feathers follow the US inland border as it moves north, and disappears out of sight at the area disputed with Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the great inland empire of Louisiana is already being divided up into US states, with Louisiana and Missouri separated from the ‘mainland’ of the formerly French lands.

This map was published in Philadelphia in 1833 by Carey & Hart, in a now extremely rare atlas, the Rudiments of National Knowledge, Presented To The Youth of the United States, And To Enquiring Foreigners, By A Citizen Of Pennsylvania.

An image of this map was sent in by antique maps dealer Barry Ruderman, who recently put an original copy of the map up for sale. It’s yours for just under 20,000 dollars, indicating just how rare it is. “This is the first example of the map we have seen on the market in the past 10 years,” states the relevant page at Ruderman’s website – not in any way affiliated with Strange Maps, I hasten to add. It just so happens that in this case, the rare map also is a strange one.


Heinrich Bunting (1545-1606) knew the world didn’t really look like this. There are enough maps in his works (such as Itinerarium Sacrae Scripturae) to indicate he knew the continents had an irregular, and not a symbolic shape.

Yet he delighted in drawing other symbolic maps, examples of which can be anthropomorphic (Europe as a virgin) or hippomorphic (Asia as a winged horse). This particular map is a tribute to Buntings hometown Hanover, as the text above the map indicates: Die ganze Welt in einem Kleberblatt welches ist der Stadt Hannover meines lieben Vaterlandes Wapen (‘The Whole World in a Cloverleaf, Which Is The Coat of Arms of Hannover, My Dear Fatherland’).

The map shows a world divided into three parts (Europe, Asia and Africa), connected at a single central point: Jerusalem. This is essentially still the same symbolic map of the world as the one first devised by Saint Isidore in the seventh century. Isidore’s ‘T and O’-shaped map, itself inspired by Scripture, influenced Christian European mapmaking up until the age of discovery.

That age would be the one Bunting grew up in. He and his contemporaries were among the first generations of Europeans to know Isidore was wrong – but it’s almost impossible to resist imagining how this centuries-old archetype of a map took a while to be erased out of the common memory of cartographers.

Bunting’s map is nice in that it combine symbolism with realism: in the bottom left corner a piece of land is named America. Strange is that a similar detached piece of territory at the top of the map is labelled Denmark and Sweden. Bunting must have known that Denmark was contiguous with the European Continent…

Some named countries and places (not all are easily readable) on the three continents are, left to right:

Europe: Hispanien (Spain), Mailand (Milan), Welschland (Welsh? Walloon? Country), Frankreich (France), Lothringen (Lorraine), Roma (Rome), Deutschland (Germany), Ungarn (Hungary), Polen (Poland), Preussen (Prussia), Griechenland (Greece), Türken (Turks)

Africa: Lybia, Egypten, Morenland (Land of the Moors), Königreich Melinde (Kingdom of Melinde) , Caput Bonae Spes (Cape of Good Hope)

Asia: Siria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Chaldea, Persia, India

Grande Allemagne:

Published in French magazine, Sure le vif in 1918, what Europe might have looked like had Germany won the First World War.

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