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Close-up of beavers and Niagara Falls in map of North America, by Herman Moll, 1715
Hundreds of years ago, map-makers were hired by entrepreneurs or by the Crown to make drawings of faraway lands. To do so, they had to walk or ride horses across the wilderness or paddle and sail along the shoreline to sketch what a country looked like. As you can imagine, this was hard and sometimes very dangerous work! It's no surprise then to learn that many map-makers copied each other's work. For the map experts at Library and Archives Canada, the challenge is to find out which map-makers copied whom.
One of the most famous early maps of North America is unofficially known as the Beaver Map. It was published in 1715 by Herman Moll.
Close-up of beavers and Niagara Falls in map of the Americas, by Nicholas de Fer, 1698
See the beautiful scene of beavers busily building dams? Isn't it striking? Well, that's what Herman Moll must have thought since he copied it from another map-maker's work! Seventeen years before, in 1698, a map-maker named Nicolas de Fer published a chart with that identical beaver scene printed on it. Not one thing was changed. It was plagiarism pure and simple! In fact, Nicolas de Fer published the original Beaver Map but a more prominent colleague took credit for it.
But before you get all upset about how unfairly the poor and innocent Nicolas de Fer was treated, you should know this: His map contains images of Niagara Falls and beavers that were first printed in books by Louis Hennepin, published in 1697, and François Du Creux in 1664!
These days, there are copyright laws that forbid people from copying each others work. But back in the 1600s, the laws were less restrictive and since people didn't have access to many illustrations of beavers (or anything else "exotic") it was quite common to take someone else's work and add it to your own. It wasn't so much stealing as it was flattery. If someone's work got copied, it was almost like saying: "Wow! This illustration is so good that I will use it in my work too!" For our experts, keeping track of who copied what from whom first, is like playing a game of follow the leader across the centuries! In the 1700s, map-makers started to give credit to the original engraver; when they used someone else's work, they printed phrases like "after a drawing of Joe Blow" (or something of the sort) on their maps. This makes our job that much easier.
Did you know...?
Experts often know that a document is a copy just by looking at it.