Representing a collection of things on the same sheet of paper and doing so with everything being in the same scale seems to have been an invention of the 19th century--more specifically, this innovation may have been that of the architect Etienne Durand in the 1840's. Durand would place the plans of various buildings in a collective all in the same scale--which was a great thing because then the student or the viewer would be able to compare these images with a common denominator. (I guess that a person could make a case for J.J. Audubon that appeared in his iconic work, published just a few years earlier than Durand in 1837/8, as all of his birds were on the same scale because all of the 1,068 birds he included in his work were drawn life sized.)
In any event this thought came to mind with the mostly-19thc practice of showing the lengths of rivers and the heights of mountains to scale in atlases, though especially with the representation of lakes and islands (and waterfalls!) which to my experience are much more uncommon sightings. All of this leads me to this fine work (below), which surfaced again this morning--a representation of lakes and islands on the same scale, and printed in 1856. I don't know at this point how much earlier these things get for lakes/islands, but it seems that they wouldn't be very much earlier than this.
SO, 18561 may have been tone of the earliest times that these 150+ lakes and islands of the Western and Eastern Hemisphere were ever been printed on the same page and in the same scale exclusive of their associative land masses and placed contiguously, side-by-side. They were, of course, seen in a common perspective before on any world map, but I think that this is the first year in which the islands and lakes of the world were displayed without oceans and land masses, and the effect is a little odd. If you take away the color and the text the image takes on a very definite biological flavor (I keep thinking of that tiny bone in the ear for the small lakes…) In any event it is far easier to compare these features without the distractions of the non-lakes and non-islands clouding and confusing our perspective fields.
This was also the beginning of the heyday of publishing comparative this-and-that in atlases: from 1840-1880 or so was the period in which the majority of descriptive comparatives were published. This is when you would see comparatives of the lengths of rivers and the heights of mountains and waterfalls beautifully displayed in atlases. I don’t know what happened after then, but the publication of this sort of data really fell off, with the heights of mountains/lengths of rivers stuff relegated to filling the empty areas in double-hemisphere world maps.
Here’s a relatively early image of this type called “A View of the Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers and Heights of the Principal Mountains in the World”, published by Orr & Smith in London (1836), featuring 44 rivers and a hundred or so mountains. It is a lovely and graphically pleasing work, and an early effort in displaying the dissected river and mountains in such a forensic-like way.
This I think is my favorite genre of specialty map, and, for now, I’d just like to surface this map by George Colton, and admire it, and try to imagine the kind of impact it must’ve had on people back there in 1856 who were seeing this sort of data displayed so for the first tine. It would have been a huge revelation to see the lakes and islands compared side-by-side; it was a fresh, new idea, and an insight in how to look at things in general.
1. The bibliographic/cartographic data on the islands/lakes map: Comparative Size of Lakes and Islands. (with) four maps: Lakes in the Western Hemisphere, ... Eastern Hemisphere, Islands in the Western Hemisphere, ... Eastern Hemisphere. Published by J.H. Colton & Co. No. 172 William St. New York, entered (in copyright) in 1855, by J.H. Colton & Co., Published In: Colton's Atlas Of The World, Illustrating Physical And Political Geography. By George W. Colton. Accompanied By Descriptions Geographical, Statistical, And Historical, By Richard Swainson Fisher, M.D. Complete In One Volume. New York: J.H. Colton And Company, 1856.