The Moll Atlas: How the World Appeared in 1721

Among the many treasures tucked away in the Archives is a series of maps known simply as “The Moll Atlas” (RG 76, Series 30).  While the name might not initially scream “excitement”, the Moll Atlas is breathtaking for not only its complexity, but the sheer beauty of the maps themselves.  Unfortunately, this is not the entire series due to the fact that some of the maps were not able to be scanned and, as a side note, the shadowing that can be seen in the images below is due to the fact that the maps are no longer perfectly flat.  Over time, they have slightly warped in places and that is what causes the slight distortion that you see.

Herman Moll began work on “The World Described or, A New and Correct Sett of Maps” in 1707 and continued to work until it was completed in 1717.  This collection was famous even then and was still available for sale as late as 1796.  Originally published as a folio edition, this series took into account all of the known parts of the globe.  Moll seemed to be quite fond of filling in blank spaces on the page and so included “Advertisements”, “Explanations”, criticisms of other cartographers and their abilities, commentary on the weather and planning the length of stays in port for ships, and also interesting comments on the local flora and fauna of the regions.  There are also a myriad of panels depicting what he thought were the highlights of the area encompassed by the map.

According to the cartographer himself, the series is:

“A New and Correct Sett of MAPS: shewing, The Kingdoms and States in all the Known Parts of the Earth, with principal Cities, and most considerable Towns in the World.  Wherein the Errors of the ancient Geographers are corrected according to the latest Observations of Travellers, as communicated to the Royal Society of London, and the Royal Academy of Paris.  Each Map is neatly engraved on Copper by HERMAN MOLL, Geographer, and printed on two Sheets of Elephant-Paper, so that the Scale is large enough to shew the Chief Cities and Towns, as well as Provinces, without appearing in the least confus’d.  And to render these Maps more acceptable, there is engraved on several of them what is most remarkable in those Countries.”

I highly encourage those of you reading this blog to spend some time looking closely at the maps.  The artwork around the sides is truly fascinating and contains quite a bit of information about the region contained within the map.  Also, take some time to zoom in on the land masses themselves to see some very interesting notes about the local flora and fauna.  You won’t be disappointed.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  Index page to the maps contained therein.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  Dated 1712, this map shows the area that would eventually become the United States.  Note the giant blank areas in the upper northeast and the fact that California appears to be an island.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  This map is dated 1720.  Note that the name of what is now known as the Atlantic Ocean was once called “The Western Ocean”.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  This map represents Russia and the surrounding regions, including Poland and Little Tartary.  A small note about the engraving on the right side of the map proclaims that all previous maps are “very erroneous and defective”.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  “A New Map of Great Britain” showing England, Scotland, and the surrounding islands.  Interestingly, this map was constructed using information, in part, from the local postmaster at the time (see the note in the upper left hand corner of the map).
RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  A map of “Great Britain Called Scotland” dated 1714.  The engravings around the edges of the map appear to indicate some of the highlights of the country.
Rg 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  An incredibly complex map showing “The Seat of the War on the Rhine being a New Map of the Course of that River from Strasbourg to Bonn with adjacent counties”.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  Map of Spain and Portugal, divided into kingdoms and principalities.  Dated 1711.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  This map, dated 1703, depicts the kingdoms that composed Spain at that time.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  “A Historical Map of the Roman Empire and the Neighboring Barbarous Nations”.  It is interesting to note that on the inset globes, giant areas of the world are simply missing due to lack of information.


RG 76: Series 30, The Moll Atlas.  Map of Italy with engravings showing fortifications around several cities.









5 thoughts on “The Moll Atlas: How the World Appeared in 1721

  1. Ms Edwards, I have what I believe is an original of the the map above, “A new map of Great Britain”. I’ve been curious about its origin since I’ve had it, which your article helps clarify. However, my map is slightly different than the rest I’ve found online in that instead of it saying, “Printed and sold by Thomas Bowles…”, it says, “Sold by Herman Moll”. It does have the sentence about John King. Wondering if you have any info on this discrepancy. F Keller

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