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Reddit helps Norway library identify incredibly rare atlas

One of the world's rarest atlases had unknowingly been hidden away in the National Library of Norway for six decades before a reference librarian and his fellow map aficionados on Reddit uncovered the truth.

Reddit helps Norway library identify incredibly rare atlas
The library's copy is now believed to be one of only 15 left in the world. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway
The National Library of Norway holds one of only 50 copies ever printed of the Cedid Atlas Tercümesi, published in 1803 in Istanbul and believed to be the first atlas ever published in the Muslim world. 
 
What’s more remarkable than the library’s rare item is how it came to be discovered. 
 
Anders Kvernberg is a reference librarian at the National Library and an avid user of the Reddit website which aggregates content posted by users. So when he came across a striking hand-coloured atlas which he was unable to read but was able to identify as an Ottoman map from 1803, he scanned some pages and uploaded them to /r/MapPorn, a Reddit thread dedicated to sharing interesting map images – something he did “just for fun”. 
 
After a few weeks had passed, however, Kvernberg was back on the same Reddit thread and saw that another user had republished one of the pages from the Norwegian library's mystery atlas – this time a map or Africa. 
 
That user had identified the map as coming from something called the Cedid Atlas.
 
Kvernberg then began researching the atlas’s history and was amazed to discover that only 50 copies were printed and only 14 were thought to remain in existence.
 
“I realized this was the very same atlas I had held in my hands a few weeks earlier. As you can imagine, I ran down into storage to check if it was a reprint, a later edition, something like that. Nope, distinctly genuine old paper and leather. One edition printed, never reprinted. 14 copies worldwide. That makes your heart beat,” Kvernberg wrote in a subsequent Reddit post
 
Benedicte Gamborg Briså and Anders Kvernberg. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway
Benedicte Gamborg Briså and Anders Kvernberg. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway
 
The librarian then looped in his boss and the library's resident map expert, Benedicte Gamborg Briså, and the two of them were able to confirm that thanks to their find – and the Reddit community’s help – there were now 15 known copies. 
 
This one was thought to have made it to the National Library in the 1950s. Briså and Kvernberg believe that the atlas’s previous owner was a textile importer from Oslo who acquired the rare artefact in the late 1930s somewhere in the Balkans. 
 
The National Library of Norway now plans to digitize its copy of the Cedid Atlas and put it online.
 
Kvernberg and Briså have since shared their remarkable internet-assisted discovery with international media including NPR and the Washington Post
 
The Cedid Atlas is believed to be the first atlas published in the Muslim world. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway
The Cedid Atlas is believed to be the first atlas published in the Muslim world. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway

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VIKING

How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT

Unification

An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.

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