The Library of Congress announced yesterday that it had raised the $10 million needed to complete the purchase of the only surviving copy of the 1507 world map that named America.
Library officials said the map was the most expensive single item ever acquired by the institution and would almost immediately be displayed in Washington. It will be the centerpiece of the library's exhibition to commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
"The purchase marks the culmination of an effort that has extended over many decades to bring this unique historical document to America," said James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, in a statement announcing the acquisition.
The Waldseemueller map, as it is called, is one of the most intriguing and enigmatic expressions of geographical knowledge of the New World in the first decades of its exploration by Europeans. It appears to be the first depiction of the Americas as a land mass separated from Asia by a wide Pacific Ocean.
The map's depiction of the northern continent bears almost no resemblance to reality. The true outlines of the southern continent are more recognizable, raising endless debate and speculation over whether the mapmakers had secret knowledge of the western coast, or if they simply made lucky guesses.
But one word written across the space for Brazil is the map's most enduring legacy. The word, "America," honored Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator who explored the eastern coast of South America.
The map, a woodcut print on paper in 12 sections, 8 feet by 4 1/2 feet altogether, was prepared by Martin Waldseemueller, a German cartographer working for the Duke of Lorraine at a community of scholars in St. Die, France. All copies were thought lost, until 1901 when this remaining copy was discovered in a castle in southern Germany. Two years ago, the owner, Prince Johannes Waldburg-Wolfegg, agreed to sell the map to the library.
The library made a down payment of $500,000. It then raised $5 million from Congress and the rest from private donors.
The Lewis and Clark exhibition is scheduled to run July 24 to Nov. 29. In about a year, library officials said, the map will be put on permanent display.