Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Antique map of Northern China by van Keulen

Stock number: 17669

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Johannes van Keulen II (biography)


Paskaart van den vaarweg tusschen Formosa en Japan

First Published

Amsterdam, 1753

This Edition

1753 first and only edition


50.1 x 57.0 cms




A highly important map, and one of the first accurate maps of these waters.

From an extremely rare sea atlas by Johannes (II) van Keulen, the Zee-Fakkel Part VI, issued in 1753, the so-called secret atlas of the Dutch East India Company, of this atlas only a few copies have survived.

For many regions in Asia and Africa, the printed maps from this atlas are the first, the best and the only accurate early maps.

These maps are never in the market, and they are beyond doubt the non plus ultra of printed maps of the East Indies and the Indian Ocean.

For two centuries, from 1602 to 1799, the Dutch East India Company (the VOC) ruled the waters of Asia and Africa. Accurate charting of these waters was essential for succesful and safe navigation.

The VOC had their own mapmaking office. During the first 150 years, only secret manuscript charts were used, to minimize the risk of spreading the knowledge to competitors. But from 1753 onwards, a printed atlas was used, the van Keulen Zee-Fakkel Part VI, with printed charts to navigate the waters from South Africa to Japan.

There was a variety of reasons for printing the VOC maps:

First, in the course of 150 years the knowledge of these waters had leaked out to other European nations and secrecy was of less importance.

Second, printed maps were more accurate and less prone to errors than manuscript copies.

Third, loose maps were impractical and sometimes lost despite the strict
policies of use.

Fourth, in the course of 150 years the knowledge of these waters had leaked out to other European nations and secrecy was of less importance.

And last, but not least, printed maps were cheaper to (re-)produce than manuscript maps.

The atlas is known as the secret atlas of the East India company, because it was not sold to third parties and only used on board of VOC ships. For this reason it is extremely rare, and only few have survived. Further, the number if charts in the atlas is often limited because ships that did not sail to India / Ceylon or China / Formosa / Japan were given versions of the atlas that did not contain the charts of these areas, making many of the maps even rarer.

Johannes van Keulen (1654-1711)
Gerard van Keulen (son) (1678-c.1727)
Johannes van Keulen II (grandson) (active 1726-1755)

The Dutch produced a remarkable number of enterprising and prolific map and chart makers but not even the Blaeu and Jansson establishments could rival the vigour of the van Keulen family whose business was founded in 1680 and continued under their name until 1823 and in other names until 1885 when it was from wound up and the stock dispersed at auction.

Throughout the history of the family, the widows several of the van Keulens played a major part, after their husbands' deaths, in maintaining the continuity of the business. The firm was founded by Johannes van Keulen who was registered as a bookseller in Amsterdam in 1678. In 1680 he published the first part of his 'Zee Atlas' which, over the years, was expanded to 5 volumes and continued in one form or another until 1734. More ambitious and with a far longer and more complicated life was his book of sea charts, the 'Zee-Fakkel', first published in 1681–82, which was still being printed round the year 1800. A major influence in the development of the firm was the acquisition in 1693 of the stock of a rival map publisher, Hendrik Doncker.

Although the firm was founded by Johannes van Keulen, he was primarily a publisher; it was his son, Gerard, a talented engraver, mathematician, Hydrographer to the East India Company, who became mainspring of the business which not only published charts but also books on every aspect of geograpy, navigation and nautical matters,

(Moreland and Bannister)

It was grandson Johannes van Keulen (II) who in 1753 produced Volume VI of the Zee-Fakkel for the VOC East Indiamen, containing printed charts for the navigation covering the waters from the Cape of Good Hope to Nagasaki . The atlas was not commercially sold and only for use on board of VOC ships, therefore it is also refered to as the 'secret atlas' odf the VOC. The engraving quality and craftmanship surpasses that of all earlier printed sea charts.

Sea charts from the secret atlas are among the rarest and most desirable sea charts for collectors.