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Library of Congress Geography & Maps: An Illustrated Guide

Cities and Counties

Color atlas showing the building footprints of the Capitol Building and Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
G.Wm. (George William) Baist. Baist's real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia: complete in three volumes. 1903. Geography and Map Division.

Plans of cities, towns, and private estates have been bound in atlas format since the sixteenth century. The division is fortunate to have an excellent copy of the earliest atlas devoted to city plans, Antoine du Pinet's Plantz, povrtraitz, et descriptions de plvsievrs villes et forteresses, tant de l'Evrope, Asie, & Afrique, que des Indes, & terrees neuues, published in Lyon in 1564. It also has copies of both the Latin and French editions of Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg's Civitates orbis terrarvm, the first systematic city atlas, which was published in six parts from 1572 to 1618. Containing 350 plans and views of most of the leading cities of the world, the French edition is generally considered the most magnificent city atlas. One of the most beautifully engraved and hand-colored atlases in the division is Joan Blaeu's Theatrvm civitatvm et admirandorvm Italiæ (Amsterdam, 1663), a two-volume collection of architectural drawings, statues, and landscape views in Italy, Piedmont, and Savoy. Considered among the finest topographical works ever published, only a small number were printed. Several manuscript estate atlases are also found in the collections that document the real estate holdings of the landed gentry in England.

Map of Deer Creek township in Illinois showing plats and listing landowners.
Brock & Company. Standard atlas of Tazewell County, Illinois: including a plat book of the villages, cities and townships of the county, map of the state, United States and world. 1929. Geography and Map Division.

With the advent of lithography and other modern printing techniques, the number of atlases published during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries increased dramatically.

In addition to the fire insurance maps and atlases, the division holds a large number of large-scale city real estate atlases. Prepared for tax assessment and sales purposes, these atlases depict the size, shape, and construction material of individual buildings; lot boundaries and identification; and sometimes property ownership.

While city atlases served a specialized clientele, their rural counterparts, known as county landownership atlases, were a commercial enterprise promoted by subscription campaigns and directed to a wider audience. Based on the pre-Civil War production of wall-sized, single-sheet county landownership maps, atlases showing landownership developed into a popular atlas format starting in the 1860s in the northeastern United States, and expanding into the midwestern states by the 1870s and 1880s. These commercially published atlases contain cadastral or landownership maps for the individual townships within a county. In addition, they often include county and township histories, personal and family biographies and portraits, and views of important buildings, residences, farms, or prized livestock. The division holds more than 1,800 county landownership atlases.