The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 25, June 16, 2013, Article 17


Tony Lopez submitted these thoughts and questions about the Mercator Map medal. -Editor

mercator mapTony Lopez 1000

I recently acquired a beautiful example of a Drake Mercator Map medal (Photo attached) from the UK. The example I have is the type with the cartouche on the eastern hemisphere declaring that Mercator made the medal in 1589.

The medal weighs 584 grains, is 68.82mm diameter including the loop, and 67.61 mm at the widest point without the loop. The construction is two soldered plates, measuring 1.4 mm width at the edge. An image of the edge is seen between the two images of the medal. This seems to be one of the later electrotypes made perhaps by Ready at the British Museum (though missing any "R" on the edge as is seen), but at a mere .7mm for each of the two halves, meticulously made.

In researching this medal, I came across numerous references to the medal in the e-sylum, including Alan Weinberg questioning the common claim seen that here are nine examples. If in fact there are hand engraved examples, then there may well be less than nine authentic examples, but The Library of Congress has two examples from the Kraus Collection, one of each type, and on their site actually has a listing of the nine known examples here (see number 58 on this web page):

To quote them:

"The copies now known are:

H. P. Kraus, no. I. The example here described. 383 grains; with tang. Unique example, inscribed with the cartographer's name and the date 1589. Probably the prototype.

H. P. Kraus, no. 2.410 grains; with tang. [See No. 58a.]

British Museum, no. 1 (1882.5.7.1). 300 grains; with tang. Probably the first example to be properly described (by Sir Wollaston Franks, 1874).

British Museum, no. 2 (1891.9.5.12). 260 grains; with tang. Also located by Sir Wollaston Franks: "somewhat battered and slightly broken," according to Miller Christy (p. 3).

(Sir John Evans?)--Lord Dillon--J. G. Murdoch. 424 grains; with tang. Possibly the one described by Evans in 1906.

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, no. 1 (A.4, 1934-49). 326 grains. Purchased 1934: provenance unknown.

National Maritime Museum, no. 2 (A.4, 42-136). 275 grains. Presented in 1942, through the agency of Earl Mountbatten; earlier provenance unknown.

A specimen reported by Lord Milford Haven (1919) and Henry K. Wagner (1937) as being in the possession of Drake's descendants. 284 grains. Probably the one noticed by Lady Eliott-Drake as at Nutwell Court in 1911 ( The family and heirs of Sir Francis Drake , I, pp 73-74).

Henry C. Taylor collection, New York. 312 grains; no tang."

I located the Sir John Evans example; now apparently down-under at the Library of New South Wales, with this provenance:

“Purchased through Spink & Sons, from the collection of Sir John Evans in 1923 who is believed to have acquired the medal from Mr John. G Murdoch in June 1904 who purchased the medal from Lord Arthur Dillon in 1892.”:

To read the complete article, see:

It is worth noting that the Library of Congress site includes a discuss the construction of the medal, with the earliest and most recent studies concluding that the medals are in fact die struck or cast and not hand engraved:

"There is considerable variation in the weight of the known examples of the Silver Map, the lightest weighing 260 grains, the heaviest 424 grains. The present example is intermediate; it weighs 382 grains. There is much doubt as to the method by which the medallions were made. Miller Christy, author of the earliest detailed study, refers to it as "cast or struck" and to the "die or mould" used in its preparation. Lord Milford Haven remarks that "it was at one time believed that these pieces had been struck with a die in imitation of engraving, but a recent careful comparison showed that each had been engraved by hand." A. M. Hind the latest authority, is equivocal, remarking that this and similar pieces "were multiplied either by striking afresh with a die taken from the original engraved counter, or by repeated engraving with the aid of paper or vellum prints from the original impressed on the new surface as a guide to the engraver".

For me personally, having never seen any example of any of them other than the low-resolution images on the internet at the Library of Congress, National Maritime Museum, British Museum, and Library of New South Wales, I have no way to judge what is engraved or cast or struck.

As far as the example I have in hand, I know it has been said that that an electrotype can be precise down to a molecule - but it is impossible to make a matrix accurate to the original down to a molecule of tolerance, so electrotypes are always inferior to originals because of the matrix being only an impressed copy, usually created by hand. I have seen Ready electrotypes, and they are excellent in quality, but still notably inferior to the originals. This example at 584 grains is heavier than any of the nine examples listed above, so the weight certainly points to the possibility of an electrotype, but I have never seen any electrotype constructed out of two pieces that is this thin and detailed. From what I can tell even an electrotype is prohibitively rare, and other than electrotypes at the NMM and the ANS (and presumably the British Museum), I know of no other examples in private hands. The photo speaks for itself - this is a lovely piece - and a worthy addition to my collection!

From a cursory comparison of images I have located on the internet, I agree that they seem to be precise copies of each other, as the example I have matches all the others with a cartouche, including the electrotype at the NMM (though it is worth noting that the NMM electrotype has a smaller stated diameter of only 66mm).

Clearly more study needs to be done to see if there are in fact any engraved examples of these medals, and to sort out the method in which these were created. Without this detailed study, it is impossible to know what is authentic and what is not.

I thought this should also be added to the mix into the discussion regarding whether an engraved Drake Mercator Medal exists. On the British Museum website page showing the A.W. Franks example without the cartouche, they address this:

The medal(s) they have are not engraved, and this is their stated conclusion about the construction of these medals:

"Although at first sight they appear to be individually engraved, Mercator issued a group of silver maps as an edition. The few examples that survive today copy each other exactly in every detail. Mercator must therefore have developed a technique for producing multiples. Although it is sometimes assumed that they were struck using engraved dies (a technique quite close to the printing of maps), examination under a microscope shows that they were actually cast, presumably from an engraved original. This method was later used by the de Passe family for the production of silver portraits of the Stuart royal family."

If in fact the Mercator medals in the incredible cabinet of the British Museum are not engraved, then I am leaning towards believing that none of the medals are hand engraved as stated by both the Library of Congress and the British Museum. websites. In addition to the Stuart medals mentioned, there was also a similar struck or cast medal made of Elizabeth I (by Crispin I van de Passe) emulating an engraved medal, but it is attributed to the early 17th century. In Medallic Illustrations, however, there are other struck or cast medals shown from the same 1580's period as the Drake Mercator medal which do emulate engraved medals, including a 1586 counter for James VI of Scotland (MI I 137/94) and a 1588 counter for Sir Thomas Heneage (MI I, 151/24); so the technology to strike or cast medals emulating engraved medals did exist at this same time.



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