Are you looking for an impressive image to add to your blog? All you have to do is Google for it and it appears, as if by magic, on your screen—even if it’s an image taken from a centuries-old book. Spare a thought, however, for the poor people who have been tasked with putting it online in the first place.

Digitizing old books in their collections is a routine part of the work undertaken by archives and libraries. This both preserves the books and makes their content more accessible to the public. But what happens when you need to scan one that’s nearly six feet tall?

The Klencke Atlas | Azure Fire Publishing: encouraging youth-friendly Fantasy & Sci-Fi literacy through writing challenges

The Klencke Atlas. Photo: THE BRITISH LIBRARY/PUBLIC DOMAIN.

The Klencke Atlas

At five feet, ten inches tall, and seven feet, seven inches wide when open, the Klencke Atlas is a massive collection of 41 maps. It was made as a gift to King Charles II by Johannes Klencke. Klencke was a Dutch sugar merchant who hoped to land favorable trading deals with the British Empire. Charles II was a map lover and kept the atlas in his cabinet of curiosities. As for Klencke, he was knighted. The book stayed in the royal collections until 1828, when King George IV gifted it to the British Library with other maps and atlases.

Now the British Library has undertaken the titanic (literally) task of digitizing it. As Kelsey Kennedy of Atlas Obscura explains, it was time to get creative. The Library had to set up a special studio. Two inclined platforms support the sides of the tome, while two people hold up reflectors to evenly illuminate the pages for a camera mounted above.

The End Result

The resulting photographs reveal incredible detail. They also point at some glaring gaps in geographic knowledge in the 17th century, considering much of North America, Australia, and Antartica had yet to be charted when the atlas was completed in 1660.

The Klencke Atlas | Azure Fire Publishing: encouraging youth-friendly Fantasy & Sci-Fi literacy through writing challenges

Antarctica and much of North America were still unmapped in 1660. Photo: THE BRITISH LIBRARY/PUBLIC DOMAIN. Via Atlas Obscura

The Klencke Atlas | Azure Fire Publishing: encouraging youth-friendly Fantasy & Sci-Fi literacy through writing challenges

Maps of Europe are much more detailed and feature illustrations around the borders. Photo: THE BRITISH LIBRARY/PUBLIC DOMAIN. Via Atlas Obscura

While the maps were intended to be hung on the wall, they were left bound instead. This proved a boon to their preservation, as they are now in better condition than those that were subjected to years of sunlight, heat, and dirt. The worst damage was done during previous attempts to restore the aging paper and binding over the years. The maps were trimmed and mounted on new paper sometime in the 1800s, and the volume was rebound in the early 1960s. Today the atlas is usually displayed closed, so the new photographs will allow enthusiasts and scholars to study the maps and illustrations without the trouble of cracking it open.

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