One of the Largest Atlases in the World is Accessible Online

Elizabeth Borneman


The Klencke Atlas is one of the world’s largest atlases. Larger than life at about eight feet tall, this book is a collection of maps that were given to King Charles II of England in the 1660s. Created by a Dutch sugar merchant in order to impress the King, the book compiled 41 maps of the world as it was at the time the book was created.

Johannes Klencke was a sugar merchant who wanted to impress the king with his giant book of maps. Apparently, the gesture worked, as Johannes Klencke was granted the title of baronet after the gift was given. The atlas became known as the Klencke Atlas and was one of King Charles II’s favorite books. The atlas was passed through the royal family until the death of King George III in 1828, when the atlas became the property of the people of England.

The atlas was the height of geographical knowledge at the time. The 41 maps in the collection featured detailed cartographical renditions of the British Isles, the Netherlands, Italy, France, China, the Middle East, the East Indies, and Greece. Much of the world was under the control of the British Empire at the time, and the book memorialized the extent of the empire.

Map of Europe, Asia, and Africa from the Klencke Atlas, ~1660. Image: British Library.
Map of Europe, Asia, and Africa from the Klencke Atlas, ~1660. Image: British Library.

The atlas has its home in the British Library, where it was recently digitalized. Although people were allowed to access the Klencke Atlas prior to digitization, the very act of perusing the book was incredibly complicated. Now, anyone can access the book online.

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The book’s age and size made photographing the pages difficult. A camera was brought in to take pictures of the pages, and the pictures were overlapped to create a high-resolution image that could be easily viewed on a screen. Creating the Klencke atlas in digital format took about a month to finish.

View: Klencke Atlas Online, British Library


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.