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Attack of the killer lobsters: 16th century Dutch map makes its mark at Swann Auction Galleries
Attributed to the Dutch mapmaker Petrus Plancius, it is one of the oldest printed Dutch charts of coasts outside of Europe. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

NEW YORK, NY.- It looks like a scene from a 1950s Hollywood B movie, but this attack by giant lobsters actually features on one of the earliest detailed maps of southern Africa, dating to 1592-94.

Swann Auction Galleries will offer it for sale as part of an extensive auction of rare and unusual Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books on June 6.

Attributed to the Dutch mapmaker Petrus Plancius, it is one of the oldest printed Dutch charts of coasts outside of Europe.

The title at lower left of the map offers a description of the area of focus, roughly translated: “Depiction of the coastal strips of Manicongo, Angola, Monomotapa, Natal, Zofala, Mozambique, the Abyssinians etc., together with the shallows and sandbanks along them. And also of the big island that is usually called Saint Laurentius or Madagascar that is counted among the very largest islands of the entire Orient.”

Apart from the geography, the decoration of the map is stunning: exotic and fanciful beasts in the landmass, five compass roses, fantastic sea monsters and sailing ships, with the left-most vessel bearing the flag of Amsterdam.

The shipwreck scene, showing men being devoured by gigantic lobsters, is based on the story of a Dutch ship named St Jacobus, which ran aground on the rocks of Baixos de Ludia between Mozambique and Madagascar while returning from the Indies in 1586. Folklore has it the crew was eaten by wild animals (though likely not enormous crustaceans). The estimate for the map is $3,000 to $5,000.

Other highlights in the sale include a draft copy of the historic Lewis Evans map of the early British colonies in America from 1755, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.

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