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California as an Island in Maps Maps from the Glen McLaughlin Collection of California as an Island
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The island of California

The first mention of California as an island is in Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo’s “Las Sergas de Esplandián,” published in 1510. This rendering, coming from Montalvo’s imagination, became firmly embedded on maps — California was depicted as an Island on maps in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was not until Father Eusebio Kino’s map entitled “A Passage by Land to California,” informed by his travels between 1698 and 1701, that this cartographic blunder was exposed. Even so, it took another half century for the the island to attach itself back on to North America on maps — the maps lagged behind reality and became a cartographic phenomenon that defied the science of mapping. The island of imagination won over terrestrial reality and resulted in some of the most beautiful maps ever produced.

Glen McLaughlin collected nearly 800 island of California maps over a period of 40 years, making this corpus of maps the largest privately held collection known. The essence of his collection is in its depth — materials ranging from hemispheres to world maps, title pages to celestial charts. The collection also includes multiple states of the same map, where minute differences between maps are preserved in sequence. Through a combination of a donation and a purchase, the maps came to Stanford University in December 2011. The entire collection is now online.

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