Globe may be oldest depicting New World

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

An Austrian collector has found what may be the oldest globe, dated 1504, to depict the New World, engraved with immaculate detail on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs.

The globe, about the size of a grapefruit, is labeled in Latin and includes what were considered exotic territories such as Japan, Brazil and Arabia. North America is depicted as a group of scattered islands. The globe's lone sentence, above the coast of Southeast Asia, is “Hic Sunt Dracones.”

“ ‘Here be dragons,' a very interesting sentence,” said Thomas Sander, editor of the Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society. The journal published a comprehensive analysis of the globe on Monday by collector Stefaan Missinne. “In early maps, you would see images of sea monsters; it was a way to say there's bad stuff out there.”

The only other map or globe on which this specific phrase appears is what can arguably be called the egg's twin: the copper Hunt-Lenox Globe, dated about 1510 and housed by the Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library. Before the egg, the copper globe had been the oldest one known to show the New World. The two contain remarkable similarities.

John W. Hessler of the Library of Congress said he saw “a couple red flags that popped up” while reading Missinne's paper. He has heard from a number of sources that Missinne is the anonymous owner of the globe, raising a possible conflict of interest, given that Missinne is touting the importance of the discovery.

Missinne declined to say whether he owns the globe.

Washington Map Society board member Jeffrey Katz said as long as the scholarly aspect is there, it doesn't matter whether the author of the study is also the owner.

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