A display of the historic printed map collection that was formed by the museum's co-founder, Dallas Pratt, and is believed to be among the finest in existence.

Dr Pratt bought his first 16th century map in 1932 while in Paris with a friend. He recalled: 'Strolling past bookstalls which line the left bank of the Seine, my eye was caught by three quaint and colourful maps.

'One was of the world, with fat-cheeked wind-puffers, one of the western hemisphere with a cannibal’s ‘lunch’ dangling from a Brazilian woodpile, and the third depicted an upside-down Europe with south at the top. Who could resist?'

His collection – which he donated to the museum in 1988 – now stands at some 200 renaissance maps which chart how the Americas were recorded by European cartographers between the 15th and 17th centuries.

Whereas medieval maps illustrated theology rather than geography, during the Renaissance map makers learned more from navigators, who had ventured across the Atlantic in search of treasure. Returning to the classical discipline of scientifically documenting land mass, the maps they produced enabled Europe to conquer the New World territories.

But not all maps of this period were made to be used as sea charts. Artists such as Dürer and Holbein produced their own versions for buyers who preferred to venture across the oceans in their imaginations, such as merchants and princes. Exmaples of these are also represented in the exhibition.

American Museum in Britain

Claverton Manor, BATH, Somerset, BA2 7BD

01225 460503

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