Arnold Colom’s Zee-atlas
Wherever they sailed, the Dutch collected detailed information and published the results in accurate, comprehensive and often beautifully bound maps.
The Zee-atlas, ofte water-wereldt, one of the earliest sea atlases, was published by Dutch engraver Arnold Colom (1624–1668) in Amsterdam in 1658. Bound in vellum embossed with gold, the Zee-atlas shows in remarkable detail the coastlines of Western Australian and Cape York Peninsula.
A sea atlas was not meant for navigation—it was made for commercial offices and libraries.
Importantly, the charts of the Zee-atlas were purpose-made—not re-used navigational charts—and published as atlas sheets in a coherent collection. Previously, atlases consisted of a loose set of charts from various sources, issued in manuscript or printed on vellum, and often included text in different languages. The plates would be sold or passed on to later publishers, who might print them unaltered or with changes.
Although his maps were highly prized, Colom’s career was short. When he fell behind in his rent, his security for the debt included 18 printing plates for the Zee-atlas. He died without redeeming his plates.