Sample volvelle.

The discovery of new land masses and trade routes fueled the rise in the production of printed maps seen in the first half of the sixteenth century. Textbooks from this era, such as those of Apianus, a professor of mathematics at the University of Ingolstadt, covered elements from the known realms of astronomy, cartography, geography, history, and meteorology.

Issued in more than fifteen editions, Apian's Cosmographia was translated into vernacular languages, including Dutch, English, French, and Spanish in the first 70 years after its publication in 1524. Cosmography is described today as providing a mathematical basis for mapping the general features of the universe. In addition to popularizing cosmological science, Apian is also recognized for his pioneering work in geographical and astronomical instrumentation.

The inclusion of volvelles in Cosmographia marks it as a labor-intensive production requiring skilled craftsmen to ensure their accurate assembly. Volvelles are woodcut diagrams comprised of movable parts rotating on string axes. Components are typically cut from waste paper and surplus scrap paper that may (as in the case of this edition of Apian) contain fragments of manuscript and printed texts. Applications include astronomical, mathematical, and cosmographical texts, most commonly produced during the sixteenth century. Extensive illustrations in this textbook also feature maps of the world, including early images of America.

Lois Fischer Black
Curator of Special Collections