From the mid-16th century intrepid explorers like John Davis (around 1550–1605), Martin Frobisher (around 1535–94) and Henry Hudson (died 1611) ventured to the arctic to find trade routes over frozen lands and icy seas. Their reports renewed interest in this remote part of the world and numerous maps were printed to reveal new findings to curious audiences in Britain and the Continent.
This map was created especially to convey the latest information on the North Pole to King Charles II (1630–85). It was produced by the bookseller and printmaker Moses Pitt (1639–97) as part of a lavish multi-volume atlas (The English Atlas) which was presented to the king.
By 1680, when this map was made, knowledge of the North Pole and techniques in cartography had improved a great deal. Pitt shows the latest developments in understanding here. Erroneous landmasses and islands have been corrected or removed entirely, and the outlines of important trading posts like Hudson’s Bay were updated. Charles II would have had an especial interest in Hudson’s Bay as he had 10 years earlier incorporated it under Royal Charter. There are some cartographical errors, however, such as North America being shown connected to Greenland.
Resources thought to be useful at the time are also illustrated in Pitt’s map. Trade routes are traceable, and some of the bounties of the area are shown in the inset pictures above. Whaling, depicted in the view at right, bore lucrative blubber, meat and oil, and the furs worn by local Inuit in the left view could be sold for profit all over the world. These indigenous figures bear a resemblance to those drawn by the English artist John White (1540–c.1593) who travelled to North America as part of an early colonial expedition a century before (1585).
Not only is Pitt’s map technically impressive, it is also a manifestly luxurious object fit for its patron. It was, however, very time-consuming and costly to create. In fact the whole run of intended volumes was never actually completed because of the escalating costs of production and Pitt was himself bankrupted by the whole endeavour.