News and Views from Scotland

'The Chimney Map' - Near Miss for Historic Document

Portion of the Gerard Valck World Map Found in a Chimney

A rare 17th century Dutch map which was found by chance in Aberdeenshire has gone on display in Edinburgh. The map was found after the restoration of a property near Kemnay in the 1980s. The map was nearly discarded as rubbish, but after spending two year languishing in the back of a van it was shown to a local map enthusiast. He appreciated its age and rarity and the distressed document was taken to the National Library of Scotland for painstaking restoration.

It has been revealed to be a late 17th century wall map of the world produced by the Dutch engraver Gerard Valck and there are only two other known copies in existence. (Graphic of one in a much better condition shown on the right is via Wikimedia Commons).

Clare Thomson, the conservator who worked on project at the National Library of Scotland (pictured on left), said she had strong doubts when she first saw the map about being able to salvage it. 'Never have I worked on anything as bad as this. It was so fragmented, some of it was just like confetti,' she said.

The map was separated into eight sections to be able to work on it and has now been re-assembled to appear as it was originally intended. Although significant sections have disintegrated and been lost, enough remains to be able to tell a fascinating story.

'Maps were largely symbols of power at this time,' said Paula Williams, map curator at the National Library. 'They were very expensive to make and even more expensive, relatively, for people to buy. Whoever owned this map wanted to display their own power.'

'As the map is Dutch, it represents a world view as seen from Amsterdam, complete with colonial ambitions. Australia, for example, appears as New Holland and the rivalry with their old enemy Spain is represented by a depiction of atrocities committed by Spanish invaders in South America.'

Aberdeen schoolteacher and map enthusiast Brian Crossan, who handed it into the Library after builders had saved it from the skip, was reunited with the map today in March 2017 when it went on public display for the first time.

The map has been removed from its original fabric backing, delicately washed and cleaned, and re-assembled with a new paper lining. Fragments that had fallen off, some much smaller than a postage stamp, have been re-attached. 'This is a truly amazing piece of work,' said Mr Crossan. 'I would never have imagined that this could have been done. I was sure the map was beyond saving and it's great to see it once more hanging proudly on a wall for everyone in Scotland to see, instead of abandoned and out of sight.'

Two short films have been made by Trina McKendrick of Written in Film showcasing the conservation work and exploring the history of the map: YouTube 1 and YouTube 2

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8 April 2017

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