The present work was made when Chile was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, buoyed by a decades-long commodities boom. Rich in copper, potassium nitrates and other minerals, as well a cash crops, Chile fueled the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America. Notably, Chile’s conquest of its northern provinces (Antofagasta, Arica and Tacna), from Bolivia and Peru, during the War of the Pacific (1879-84) granted it immense nitrate and copper deposits; Chile soon saw its national treasury revenues grow by 900%!
Further south, in Patagonia, in 1881, Chile and Argentina made a provisional boundary agreement that saw Chile’s territory confirmed as reaching down to Cape Horn. The country thus extended along the Pacific Coast of South America north to south for 4,270 km (2,653 miles) yet averaged only 177 km (110 miles) in width.
While Chile suffered bouts of political instability, its economic growth saw the country form a large middle class, while funding improvements to social services and infrastructure. Indeed, the present map is an especially fine artefact of Chile’s great investment in public education during its golden era. Sadly, Chile’s economy suffered more that perhaps that of any other country during the Great Depression, when commodity prices collapsed. The country never fully recovered, and for decades was buffeted by political and economic instability. It was only in 2006, that Chile regained its place as Latin America’s most affluent nation.
Turning back to geography, in the 1880s Chilean academics bemoaned that the study of geography and cartography had not kept pace with the country’s economic development. Mapping was focused upon mining or episodic military events, which was good in some ways, but left the country short of fine general national and regional maps and atlases for educational purposes or strategic planning.
Enter Enrique Espinoza Gárate (1844 – 1899), a Chilean geographer who revolutionized the study of subject in his country. In his early and mid-career, he held a variety of jobs, being variously a high school teacher, a journalist and a customs officers in the Chile’s newly conquered northern provinces.
In the late 1880s, Espinoza dedicated a great deal of time to creating a definitive geographical description of Chile. He relied upon the best available surveys and written accounts from the government, mining companies and academics, as well as the stellar information yielded by the 1885 national census, the first to be made after Chilean acquired new territories from the 1881 boundary agreement with Argentina and the war against Bolivia and Peru.
With the sponsorships of the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities of the University of Chile, Espinoza published the Jeografia descriptiva de la República de Chile, arreglada segun las últimas divisions administrativas, con los territorios anexados y en conformidad al censo jeneral levantado el 26 de noviembre de 1885 (Santiago: Impr. Gutenberg, 1890). Considered the first proper scientific study of Chile’s geography, it was an enormous success, running into five editions issued up to 1903.
The Jeografia descriptiva was primarily a written text, and Espinoza decided that it was important that he create a graphic element to express his work, a scientific national atlas. The resulting first edition of the present Atlas de Chile Arreglado para la Jeografia Descriptiva was published in 1897 in Paris by the venerable firm of Erhard Frères, which specialized in the cartography of Asia, Africa and the Americas. While it was possible to print such a work in Chile, it was more cost effective, and of higher technical quality, to have it made in Paris.
Focusing upon the present second edition of the atlas, which was issued posthumously, in 1903, it features 39 maps (five folding), including a national map, a map of South America, and 37 detailed provincial / regional maps of all parts of Chile (from Easter Island to Tierra del Fuego), as well as route maps of various key railways (key to Chile’s resource economy), and 4 city plans (including Santiago, Valparaiso, Iquique and Santa Rosa de los Andes).
The maps are very attractively lithographed in colour, with elevations expressed in green hachures, capturing Chile’s extreme topography with impressive accuracy. All cities, towns and villages of note are carefully marked, with all roads and railways delineated.
Interestingly, one will notice that Map Nos. 31, 32, and 25, depicting parts of Chilean Patagonia, show hastily revised boundaries between Chile and Argentina, traced in manuscript, in red pen. These hand revisions were added by the atlas’s distributor in Chile, F.A. Fuentes, according the ‘Advertencia’ handstamp on the verso of the title. By the turn of the century both Chile and Argentina were dissatisfied with the 1881 preliminary boundary agreement in Patagonia, so they submitted the matter for binding arbitration, adjudicated by King Edward VII of Great Britain, in what became known as the ‘The Cordillera of the Andes Boundary Case’ (November 20, 1902). The king came back with a resolution that represented a compromise, but one informed by more accurate cartography. These new frontier lines were not known by the publisher until after the atlas was printed, necessitating the present manuscript revisions.
The atlas was first issued in 1897, with the present example being of the second edition of 1903. While held by several institutions, it seldom appears on the market.
References: David Rumsey Map Collection: 7930.002; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: 4″ Kart. R 18062<1903>; OCLC: 253346044, 249424532, 21144694.