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COLOMBIA: Mapa comercial de la República de Colombia compilado estampado y publicado por Richard Mayer.





A colourfully attractive, large format map providing a wealth of information on the economy and infrastructure of Colombia made just after the end of its generation-long ‘coffee boom’; published in New York by the Austrian specialist cartographer Richard Mayer.


Colour print, folding into original printed paper wrappers (Excellent, clean and crisp with vibrant colours), 75 x 58 cm (30 x 22.8 inches).



This beautifully designed and colourful bilingual map depicts Colombia just after the end of its generation-long ‘coffee boom’ (1903-28), a period of unprecedented economic growth and industrialization that brought Colombia into the modern world.  The map was published in New York by Richard Mayer, an Austrian specialist in the economic cartography of Latin America.  It was thus intended to inform prospective European and American investors as to Colombia’s dramatic geography, transport routes and its vast natural resources wealth.

The map showcases what was considered to be the economically important bulk of Colombia, and so purposely excludes most of the undeveloped Amazonian Basin, in the southeast, and the nearly deserted La Guajira Peninsula in the far northeast.  The focus is upon the country’s Andean heartland and its coasts, capturing these lands after they had been transformed by almost three decades of hyper infrastructure development.

The dramatic Andean topography is expressed by hachures and shading, while the country is divided into its departments by pink lines, while all cities, towns and villages of any import are marked.

The bilingual legend, in the lower left, identifies the symbols used to locate roads, trails, navigable rivers, canals, ropeways (important for transporting coffee across Andean slopes), tramlines, oil pipelines, and wireless stations, while steamship routes connect the coastal cities to the rest of the world along innumerable named routes.

The map labels the locations of mines, and importantly, the great oilfields, near Barrancabermeja, in the east.  The map also uses pattern coding to identify the 21 named railways that traverse the incredibly rugged landscape.

Foreign borders are shown in attractive hues and, in neighbouring Panama, the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone is conspicuously coloured green.

Colombia, the home of the fabled city of ‘El Dorado’ was blessed with great natural resources, being an agrarian powerhouse, but also rich in gems, minerals and oil.  However, throughout the 19th century, its international trade and economic development was limited by the country’s internal political problems and the parochial outlook of its key stakeholders.

Colombia entered the new century in a state of terror and chaos called the Thousand Days’ War (1899-1902), a gruesome civil conflict.  The following year, Panama, which was hitherto Colombia’s disgruntled ‘Isthmus Department’, succeeded from the country following a contrived U.S.-backed coup, done so that the Americans could build and maintain sovereign control over the Panama Canal.

However, out of the ashes, Colombia finally enjoyed a period of order and stability, that led to massive foreign investment and infrastructure growth (as showcased upon the present map).  Fuelled in good part by America’s insatiable thirst for coffee, Colombia’s export markets boomed.  The country enjoyed unprecedented economic growth such the even many average Colombians saw a significant improvement in their personal circumstances.  The changes to the country were unmistakable, as Colombia modernized and became firmly connected to the global trading economy, while it experienced its first great wave of urbanization.  However, beginning in 1928, this prosperity was shown to be built upon weak foundations.  The Colombian government and its major private concerns had borrowed heavily from foreign entities to fund their growth and were shown to be completely reliant upon the U.S. market, especially for coffee.  That year, the Americans began to scale back and cancel coffee orders, as well as shipments for other items.  This caused a cash flow crisis in Colombia, and its major companies were unable to keep up with loan payments, plunging the country into a massive, deep recession (1928-1933), that dovetailed into the global Great Depression.  While Colombia eventually pulled out of this mire, it was not able to return to the pre-1928 level of prosperity.  Good times were long in the future, as the country fell into a decade-long civil war, ‘La Violencia’ (1948-58).

This all being said, for people with money, often the perfect time to invent is during a recession, and so the timing of the publication of the present map, in 1930, was perhaps helpful!

Richard Mayer was an Austrian cartographer who specialized in the economic mapping of Latin America.  He benefitted from the fact that since the mid-19th century a tremendous amount of trade was conducted between South and Central American and Germany and Austria, in part facilitated by the large and influential German immigrant communities in those regions.  Meyer had offices in both Vienna and New York, and in the late 1920s founded the G.G. & G. Research Company as a banner for his publications.

From around 1916 to 1935, Mayer published a series of excellent maps of various Latin American countries and regions, all in his lovely, brightly coloured signature style, like the present work.  He published ‘commercial maps’ of Paraguay (1916), Peru (1916), Chile (1917), Colombia (first issued 1917), West Indies (c. 1919), Nicaragua (1928), Bolivia (1930), and Ecuador (1931).  He also produced railway maps of Honduras (1917) and Guatemala & El Salvador (1917), was well as a general map of Venezuela with Trinidad and British Guiana (1917).  He also made a special map of the Gran Chaco ‘oil’ region (1931), the ownership of which was then disputed between Bolivia and Paraguay.

Mayer issued the first edition of his commercial map of Colombia in 1917, done to a scale of 1:1,000,000; this was reissued in 1920.  This was followed by a revised 1928 edition executed to a scale of 1:1,200,000, which seems to be the antecedent of the present 1930 edition, and both of these issues were published in New York under the G.G. & G. Research Company label.  Curiously, around the same time, Mayer printed an edition of the same in Vienna, which is almost identical, save for having slightly different print and paper qualities and colour shading, along with a line in the bottom margin that reads ‘Printed in Austria’.

While we can trace around a dozen or so institutional examples of the map in its various editions, examples only very rarely ever appear on the market.


References: Staatsbiliothek zu Berlin: Kart. R 15222; OCLC: 255940172, 1023521855.

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