An 18th century map of New York City was recently discovered by the Brooklyn Historical Society…buried deep within its own archival collection. For over 150 years the map lay misplaced somewhere within the museum’s reliquaries; unlisted in decades of updated catalogs and unknown to generations of updated curators. But a major renovation of the museum was the fortunate incident that led to the long lost map finally being found.
Much of the society’s collection had been placed in storage while the renovation work was in progress. When this work ended in 2003, workers began cataloging or re-cataloging items in the collection. Last May, while the museum’s lead cartographer was cataloging maps, she came across a particularly decrepit one, “discolored to a nice burnt orange and brittle to the touch.”
Once unrolled, it was revealed to be a map of New York City dating to around 1770, one of only four in existence made by cartographer Bernard Ratzer. Thanks to an inscription on the back, the society surmised that it was a gift from the once-prominent Pierrepont family.
According to Carolyn Hansen, the Society’s map cataloger:
“To my knowledge, it is the most complete cartographic portrait of New York City from the 18th century.” “After researching the map, I felt both excited and concerned. On the one hand, it is a tremendous joy to find such a rare piece. On the other hand, the map was in terrible condition and would need extensive conservation in order to be saved.”
For the present time, the map is only available to researchers; it will be placed on permanent display in about a year.
- 1770 map of NYC (kottke.org)
- Numomoon for Frank: Rare 1770 Map of New York City Is Restored – NYTimes.com (nytimes.com)
- The Day: Maps of Brooklyn (fort-greene.thelocal.nytimes.com)
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