collection history



David Rumsey amid items of his map, atlas and globe collection

The David Rumsey Map Collection was started over 30 years ago and contains more than 150,000 maps. The collection focuses on rare 16th through 21st century maps of North and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. The collection includes atlases, wall maps, globes, school geographies, pocket maps, books of exploration, maritime charts, and a variety of cartographic materials including pocket, wall, children's, and manuscript maps. Items range in date from about 1550 to the present.

Digitization of the collection began in 1996 and there are now over 64,000 items online, with new additions added regularly. The site is free and open to the public. Here viewers have access not only to high resolution images of maps that are extensively cataloged, but also to a variety of tools that allow to users to compare, analyze, and view items in new and experimental ways.

Maps are uniquely suited to high-resolution scanning because of the large amount of detailed information they contain. In their original form, maps and atlases can be large, delicate, and unwieldy. Digitization increases their accessibility, and when combined with online catalogs, they can be searched in a variety of ways. The site allows public access to rare maps that have been hidden or available only to a few.

With Luna Imaging's Insight® software, the maps are experienced in a revolutionary way. Multiple maps from different time periods can be viewed side-by-side. Viewers can also create their own collections of maps that hold particular interest by saving groups of images. Complete cataloging data accompany each image, enabling in-depth searches of the collection. 

Materials created in America and that illustrate the evolution of the country's history, culture, and population distinguish the collection. Close inspection of the maps often reveals the growth and decline of towns, mining excavations, the unfolding of the railroads, and the "discovery" of the American West by European explorers. The collection also includes European imprints containing maps of the Americas that were influential to American cartographers, as well as maps of other parts of the world distinguished by great craftsmanship, significance, and beauty.

A more detailed description of the evolution of the physical collection into the online collection can be found in "State of the Art", an article that originally appeared in Mercator's World Magazine.

about the technology

The collection on the Internet brings together the finest optical equipment and digital scanners, cutting edge viewing technology, the latest image processing software, powerful wavelet compression, and reliable long-term storage of digital images. The digitized maps are very high resolution images scanned at at least 300 pixels per inch, as measured against the original map's dimensions. The larger maps generate files frequently approaching two gigabytes in size; the average file size of images in the collection is 200 megabytes.

The following hardware and software is used in the process of creating and distributing the images over the Internet:

  • Insight client/server and browser software by Luna Imaging, Inc.
  • PhaseOne Powerphase 4x5 digital scanning camera back (150 megabyte capture)
  • PhaseOne PowerphaseFX 4x5 digital scanning camera back (380 megabyte capture)
  • PhaseOne image-capture software
  • Sinar X 4x5 view camera
  • Rodenstock lenses
  • Kaiser RePro copy stand with Videssence Icelites
  • Adobe PhotoShop CS4 and CS5
  • MrSid image compression software by LizardTech
  • Maplicity and MapImager GIS software from Telemorphic (archived website)
  • ArcView and ArcIms GIS software from ESRI
  • Global Mapper GIS mapping software

Computer Network:

  • Apple Mac Pro, Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core, 12 gigabytes RAM
  • Apple G5 Dual, 2.5 GHz, 8 gigabytes RAM
  • Apple G4 Dual, 1 GHz, 1.5 gigabytes RAM
  • Dell Precision T7500 Workstation, Two 3.60GHz Quad-Core, 24 gigabytes RAM
  • DVD  4.2 gigabyte storage discs

about cartography associates

Cartography Associates, founded in 1996, promotes the distribution of digital facsimiles both in print and electronic media. Specializing in both primary source documents and cutting-edge technology, Cartography Associates is committed to developing tools that integrate cataloging with visual images on the Internet. Cartography Associates' vision is to offer users the best of both worlds: the powerful searching, access, and user functionality made possible by technology, combined with the visual beauty, technical mastery and intellectual richness of original source materials.

copyright information

Images copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates. Images may be reproduced or transmitted, but not for commercial use. For commercial use or commercial republication, contact This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. By downloading any images from this site, you agree to the terms of that license. Users are expected to abide by all copyright laws. Distribution, reproduction, or other use requires the written permission of any copyright and other rights holders unless the materials are in the public domain or authorized by fair use or other statutory exemption. It is the user’s obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in this collection. For maps not in the public domain that we know are being sold by their makers, we do not allow downloading or printing and we attempt to provide a link to the maker's site in our metadata for the map.