The Library has a collection of several hundred charts published before 1800. These charts provide a valuable historical record, not only of the seas around Wales and other parts of the World, but also of the depiction of the coastline and features on land.
Dutchman Lucas Waghenaer published the first sea atlas, ‘Speighel der Zeevaerdt’, in 1584. The first edition did not include a chart of the Welsh coast; however, the second edition, of 1586, contains a chart of St George's Channel and the Bristol Channel; this is the earliest chart in the Library's collection.
Slightly younger is a portolan chart of 1592made in Seville by Don Domingo de Villarroel. This chart on vellum, though damaged by fire, clearly shows the coasts of Europe, Africa and America as it was known 100 years after Columbus first landed there.
One of the most important items from a Welsh perspective is Lewis Morris’ survey of the Welsh coast from Llandudno to Milford Haven. In 1748 he published his work plans of harbours, bars, bays and roads in St George's Channel.
The charts were a significant improvement on earlier ones and provided a wealth of additional large-scale information on tidal streams, anchorages and hazards. Morris also prepared a large chart of the entire coast from Llandudno to Milford Haven. Morris's son William revised and augmented the large chart in 1800 and the volume in 1801. The Library holds several copies of both editions. Both Lewis and William Morris’ charts can be viewed on the Digital Mirror’s Maps section.
In 1751 Murdock Mackenzie (Senior) embarked on a 20 year survey of the west coast of Britain. His General chart of the St George and Bristol Channels, of 1775, shows the coastline more accurately than earlier charts. His series of larger scale charts include detailed surveys of the Bays of Caernarfon, Cardigan and Carmarthen.
Charts in the collection show not only hydrographic and maritime information but are also useful sources for local history. For example Thomas Jeffery's chart of Milford Haven, 1758, shows gun batteries and associated information.
Also represented in the collection are 19th century Admiralty charts and also some commercial charts from the same period.
Items in the core collection of antiquarian charts are listed in the Library’s Main Catalogue. Volumes of charts have been catalogued also; in some cases, charts within these volumes have been individually catalogued.