Monday, June 21, 2010

A Tiny Corner of Switzerland, Circa 1879...

My collection consists mostly of books or pamphlets, though, as I’ve noted in the past, I occasionally end up with non-book items that are fascinating pieces of textual history. While I was in Maine this week to visit with family and enjoy some vacation time, my grandfather gave me some fascinating new items for my collection. This week’s entry features one of those items.

The object is a lithograph map of Finhaut, an idyllic mountain municipality in southwestern Switzerland, on the French border (approximately 4o 30’ - 4o 40’ latitude and 46o 3’ - 46o 7’ longitude). The map shows the surrounding district of Saint-Maurice, part of the Valais canton (cantons are the equivalent of states in Switzerland). I’m not an expert on map-collecting, but cartography is one of those fascinating cousin-disciplines to bibliography that always repays study and I’ve enjoyed trying to find out some more about this unique specimen.

The map was printed on a sturdy paper stock and then cut into eight separate pieces, each measuring 10.5cm x 16.5cm. These pieces were then glued to a piece of gray canvas measuring 34.5cm x 45cm and the edges of the canvas folded over the outer edges of the paper to more firmly secure and protect them. The canvas is still in good shape (though a bit water-stained in places) and it has served its purpose well: the folds in the map are still intact, whereas a paper map of the same age would likely be torn and frayed. The upper left piece bears the heading “Section 1, B1.XXII.” and the upper right reads “Blatt 525” (“Plate 525”), indicating that the map was removed from a larger book (presumably an atlas, but I haven’t been able to identify it).

In the lower right there is a small circular blind stamp bearing the Swiss cross in the center, surrounded by the words “ Eidgenössisches Militaire Archiv” (“Federal Military Archives”).

The map was based on the observations and notes of one H. L’hardy (a box in the upper right corner reads “Aufnahme von H. L’hardy”, or “Recording of H. L’hardy”) and printed by noted Swiss lithographer and cartographer Rudolf Luezinger (1826-1896).

According to Bernhard Jenny and Stefan Räber of the Swiss Institute of Cartography:

Leuzinger [left] was...trained by Jakob M. Ziegler and Johann Ulrich Wurster in Winterthur, Switzerland. He specialized in mountain cartography, working for the Swiss Federal Office of Topography and the Swiss Alpine Club. His pioneering work includes colored shaded relief produced by lithographic printing.

Rudolf Leuzinger is also the author of the hypsometric map “Carte physique et géographique de la France” published in 1880.

Hypsometric maps use different colors to represent the elevation of different terrains. While he did not use this technique for my map, Leuzinger -- one of the earliest map-makers to use hill tone shading -- did draw it to show the topography of the region.

The map bears several dates. Included on the lithographic plate is the notation “Eidg. Stabsbureau 1879.”, indicating that the Eidgenossisches Stabsbureau, or Swiss Federal Office [of Topography], first printed the map in 1879. Stamped beneath that notation is the text “Nachträge 1886” (“Addendum 1886”). On the paper label pasted on the reverse of the top left panel, a light gray pen has inscribed “Finhaut / 1890.” Also written on this label, in a different, more modern hand and in pencil is a dealer’s price (“$8.00”)

Without seeing the original 1879 version, it’s impossible for me to tell what the 1886 addendum might be. One addendum does stand out, however. In the lower right corner of the second piece from the right on the bottom, an owner has made several inked and penciled additions (none in the same hand as the title label on the front of the map).

These additions extend the Swiss-French border southward beyond the scope of the printed map by about one kilometer; they also add the names of two geographic features and their respective heights. The first is largely obscured. The second is the bridle path Col de Balme, at an elevation of 2,202 meters, leading from Chamonix to the Trient Valley.

Using Google Maps’s “Terrain” function, I’ve tried to compare the topography of the region in 1879 (as presented by Leuzinger) with the current lay of the land. Some new towns have appeared, and the names of some physical features have changed. But the two biggest changes are by far the most telling -- both speak to the power of man to alter, both deliberately and inadvertently, the face of the planet.

To the west of Finhaut, just before the French border, Google Maps shows the wide blue expanse of Lac d’Emosson. This two-square mile body of water was formed as a reservoir in 1925. Leuzinger’s map shows only a thin blue river running north to south down a deep valley, surrounded by a light peppering of tiny lakes and ponds.

The other difference is more disturbing. Between the northernmost tip of that valley and the peak of Mont Ruan, Leuzinger has drawn an oblong 1.5-square mile blue and white expanse labelled “Glacier des Fonds”. The glacier is completely missing from the Google Maps view in 2010.

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