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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 10, March 9, 2008, Article 9

AMERICA'S 'BIRTH CERTIFICATE' ON DISPLAY AND ON A MEDAL

Dick Johnson writes: "What a delight to open my Sunday
paper this morning to discover a feature article on the
Martin Waldseemuller Map. This map, created in Germany in
1507, is the first publication of the word "America."  It
is how we got our name for the Western Hemisphere. The map
is monstrous in size, four by eight feet, printed from
twelve blocks of carved wood and it was squired away in
a castle in southern Germany (in Waldburg-Wolfegg) for
over 400 years.

"The article brought back fond memories of the research
I did for a talk on Betts Medals at American Numismatic
Society's COAC conference May 15th, 2004. At the insistence
of ANS board member John Adams the theme of this conference
was Charles Wyllys Betts book 'American Colonial History
Illustrated by Contemporary Medals' and the vast series
of medals numismatists call Betts Medals. (Note to budding
authors -- write the definitive book on a medal series
and future numismatists might name the series after you!)

"Several Betts medals bore the name 'America.' So I reported
on how we got the name from that now 500-year old map. Martin
made up the word from the name of explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
Some say he thought  Vespucci discovered our continents, that
he was unaware or discounted Christopher Columbus discoveries.
Since Vespucci had sailed up and down the east coast of North
and South America he was given credit by Waldseemuller.

"Upon their return his crew communicated to the mapmaker the
details we see on the map. Later, it was said, he wanted to
change the name, but the name had caught on by then, to
remain forever, America.

"Well Martin's map was discovered in 1901. It is the only
surviving copy and it is in mint condition . It made news
all over America. So enterprising engraver-medallist Victor
David Brenner created a plaquette in honor of Vespucci and
displayed that map on the obverse. Somehow he got the ANS
to sponsor the issuance of that plaque and it was published
within months of that discovery (strike while the iron
is hot!).

"The Library of Congress wanted that map for their collections.
They call it America's birth certificate. Negotiations broke
down repeatedly. Germany even named it a national treasure
and prohibited its export. After overcoming seemingly impossible
obstacles, the current prince finally sold the map in 2003
to the LoC for $10 million. Today it is housed in a huge frame
filled with argon gas to preserve it, much like the cases for
the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

"The map is the centerpiece of the Library's exhibit
'Exploring the Early Americas.' It is kept in a shuttered
room with no sunlight permitted. It is on the second floor
of the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington DC where it
may be viewed Monday to Saturday.

"Two internet sites detail more about the map and its
acquisition. That sliver of land on the left of the first
map is North and South America which Martin thought was
an island:
Full Story

"The history of the map and its purchase is at:
Full Story

"Here's a link to an image of the Vespucci Plaquette -
it is the sixth medal shown (scroll down) at this ANS
history chapter:
Full Story "

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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