The Library of Congress purchased the Waldseemüller World Map (1507) in July 2001 from a German Prince whose family has owned it for over 400 years. At $10 million it is the single largest acquisition of the library, and is on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson wing. Referred to as ‘America’s Birth Certificate,’ this map was the first to show the continents of North and South America and the first to identify the Pacific Ocean as a separate body of water.
It also was the first map to use the name America. The word “America” was written across the southern continent.
Waldseemüller carved 12 wooden plates from which the panels were printed. It was printed on 12 separate sheets of paper each measuring approximately 24 inches by 18 inches. Designed to be assembled as a wall-map, the finished map measured approximately 8 feet wide by 4 ft. 6 ins. high. Over 1,000 copies of the map were published.
The Waldseemuller map currently in the Library of Congress is the only one known to exist. Remarkably, it is complete and in pristine condition. It was believed that all copies from the first printing had deteriorated and disappeared as early as the 1600s.
Johann Schöner (1477-1557), a Nuremberg astronomer-geographer acquired an edition of the first printing. He did not display it as intended, but instead he bound it into a book along with other maps. This volume was acquired by the ancestors of Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg sometime after Schoner died. For nearly 350 years it remained, unknown and unread, in the Prince’s library collection in the Wolfegg Castle, in Wurttenberg, Germany.