Single sheet (ca 25 x 18 inches). Fine engraved map of the northern Pacific Ocean with original hand-colour in outline and in part, the title within an elaborate cartouche top centre with text panels on either side.
First edition. This is a landmark map in the history of northwestern cartography, charting the common boundaries of North America, Asia and the fictitious "Mer ou Baye de l'Ouest. French cartographer Philippe Buache's map illustrated the recent findings of explorers Aleksey Chirikov and Vitus Bering, a legendary pair of adventurers who led a Russian-sponsored expedition to Northwest America. (Chirikov is recognized as the first European to land on the northwestern coast of North America.) Buache likely had special access to this Russian expedition's findings as Buache's brother-in-law, Joseph Nicolas Delisle, served as Russia's official court cartographer (see no. 92). Nevertheless, while portions of Buache's map were based on firm topographical data, his work remains most famous for lending false credence to the reportings of explorers Juan De Fuca and Admiral De Fonte. De Fuca and De Fonte both claimed to have found evidence of a Northwest Passage, providing a much sought-after link between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The 1,200 mile long "Mer ou Baye de l'Ouest" (Great Bay or Sea of the West) pictured on Buache's map, was supposedly discovered by Juan De Fuca in 1592. At that time, De Fuca claimed he had found a large inland sea in the American Northwest, which was connected to the North Sea by a strait. In 1640, as he was sailing north from the Pacific coast of South America, Spanish admiral Bartholome de Fonte also claimed to have discovered a large network of bays and rivers in the northwestern region of America. De Fonte further maintained that when he reached this area he had come in contact with another sailor who had claimed to have reached the Northwest by traveling west from Boston. Though both De Fuca's and De Fonte's reports turned out to be nothing more than over-imaginative speculation, several members of the French cartographical school long supported the explorers' theoretical claims. Such cartographers included, most notably, Buache himself and his second brother-in-law, Guillame Delisle. Thus, this map constitutes an extraordinarily important document in the history of Northwestern geography in general and Alaska in particular. It also provides false evidence of a passage that only ever existed in legend. Seymour I. Schwartz & Ralph E. Ehrenberg, The Mapping of America (New York, 1980), 157-158.