New York Public Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Download and Use


When I was a kid, my father brought home from I know not where an enor­mous col­lec­tion of Nation­al Geo­graph­ic mag­a­zines span­ning the years 1917 to 1985. I found, tucked in almost every issue, one of the magazine’s gor­geous maps—of the Moon, St. Peters­burg, the Himalayas, East­ern Europe’s ever-shift­ing bound­aries. I became a car­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­ast and geo­graph­i­cal sponge, por­ing over them for years just for the sheer enjoy­ment of it, a plea­sure that remains with me today. Whether you’re like me and sim­ply love the imag­i­na­tive exer­cise of trac­ing a map’s lines and con­tours and absorb­ing infor­ma­tion, or you love to do that and you get paid for it, you’ll find innu­mer­able ways to spend your time on the new Open Access Maps project at the New York Pub­lic Library. The NYPL announces the release with the expla­na­tion below:

The Lionel Pin­cus & Princess Firyal Map Divi­sion is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 car­to­graph­ic works as high res­o­lu­tion down­loads. We believe these maps have no known US copy­right restric­tions.* To the extent that some juris­dic­tions grant NYPL an addi­tion­al copy­right in the dig­i­tal repro­duc­tions of these maps, NYPL is dis­trib­ut­ing these images under a Cre­ative Com­mons CC0 1.0 Uni­ver­sal Pub­lic Domain Ded­i­ca­tion. The maps can be viewed through the New York Pub­lic Library’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions page, and down­loaded (!), through the Map Warp­er.

What does this mean? Sim­ply put, “it means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high res­o­lu­tion.” Maps like that above, of New York’s Cen­tral Park, issued in 1863, ten years before Fred­er­ick Law Olm­st­ed and Calvert Vaux com­plet­ed their his­toric re-design.

Can you—as I did with my neat­ly fold­ed, yel­low­ing archive—have all the maps in full-col­or print? Well, no, unless you’re pre­pared to bear the cost in ink and paper and have some spe­cial­ized print­ing equip­ment that can ren­der each map in its orig­i­nal dimen­sions. But you can access some­thing worlds away from what I could have imagined—a dig­i­tal enhance­ment tech­nol­o­gy called “warp­ing,” also known as “geo­rec­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

nypl map

This, explains the NYPL, “is the process where dig­i­tal images of maps are stretched, plac­ing the maps them­selves into their geo­graph­ic con­text, ren­dered either on the web­site or with tools such as Google Earth.” For exam­ple, below see a “warp­ing” of the 1916 Redraft of the 1660 “Castel­lo Plan” for then-New Ams­ter­dam over a cur­rent-day Google Earth image of low­er Man­hat­tan (and note how much the island has been expand­ed past its 17th cen­tu­ry shores). The “warp­ing” tech­nol­o­gy is open access, mean­ing that “any­body with a com­put­er can cre­ate an account, log in, and begin warp­ing and trac­ing maps.” User con­tri­bu­tions remain, “a la Wikipedia,” and add “one more piece to this new his­tor­i­cal geo­graph­ic data mod­el.”


The “warp­er” is a spe­cial fea­ture that helps place his­tor­i­cal maps in a mod­ern visu­al field, but it in no way ruins the enjoy­ment of those maps as archival pieces or art objects. You can see car­tog­ra­ph­er John Wol­cott Adams orig­i­nal 1916 Castel­lo Plan redraft below, and vis­it NYPL’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions for a high res­o­lu­tion image, ful­ly zoomable and, yes, print­able. For more on the incred­i­ble warp­ing tech­nol­o­gy NYPL makes avail­able to us, see this extend­ed blog post, “Unbind­ing the Atlas: Work­ing with Dig­i­tal Maps.” Over ten thou­sand of the collection’s maps are of New York and New Jer­sey, dat­ing from 1852 to 1922, includ­ing prop­er­ty, zon­ing, and topo­graph­ic maps. In addi­tion, over one thou­sand of the maps depict Mid-Atlantic cities from the 16th to the 19th cen­turies, and over 700 are topo­graph­ic maps of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire between 1877 and 1914. That should be enough to keep any ama­teur or pro­fes­sion­al map-lover busy for a good long while. Start dig­ging into the maps here.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Reuse & Remix

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

Down­load Over 250 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

14,000 Free Images from the French Rev­o­lu­tion Now Avail­able Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (12)
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  • MrMLK says:

    Just so you know, its free to down­load a low res­o­lu­tion ver­sion. Its $50 each to down­load a high res­o­lu­tion copy.

    I’m am not quit as impressed as I was before.

  • Tim says:

    @MrMLK — look again sir.

    It’s free to down­load the orig­i­nal full res­o­lu­tion tif ver­sion and if it’s been geo ref­er­enced that too. Just go to the Export tab. They are around 60mb each.

  • Nord Wennerstrom says:

    Please note — there is no “A” in Olm­st­ed. That said, thanks for the info about this resource.

  • Felix Lapointe says:

    If there is a free option, it is well hid­den; I, too see how to buy a file and not down­load it for free.

  • Andrew M says:

    Find a map you want the orig­i­nal of, click edit/rectify map. From there click the export tab, and the first link should be orig­i­nal TIFF: Down­load orig­i­nal unwarped TIFF.


  • Acelia Garcia de Weigand says:

    Esta Her­mosa Bib­liote­ca la vis­itabamos jun­to con el Dr. Eric Wolf y jamas nos cans­abamos de ver tan­tas joyas de Arte que tiene. Es mi Bib­liote­ca favorita has­ta ahori­ta que he vis­i­ta­do y enam­ora­da de ella.
    Vivi­mos 18 lus­tros en Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty y pues claro, era nues­tra recrea­cion men­tal de seguro porque estar siem­pre en Long Iland es abur­ri­do y ese era nue­stro gran escape y al mis­mo tiem­po jun­tarnos con nue­stro ami­go Antropol­o­go favorito, Eric Wolf.

  • Tas says:

    @Tim sor­ry, I can’t find the export tab you men­tioned. Where is it? I’ve been hav­ing the same trou­ble find­ing high res. many thanks.

  • Michael O'Neill says:

    Low­er right hand cor­ner of the page in my Fire­fox, there’s a shad­ed box with the text “View in Map Warp­er.” Open that page and look for the index tab labeled “Export.”

    It’s there.

  • Genevieve Roberts says:

    Woh, who’s com­plain­ing! To me that’s like com­plain­ing because some­one gave you the gift of a paper­bound set of the Great Books instead of a lux­u­ry gilt on leather ver­sion. Low res­o­lu­tion pic­tures were a mir­a­cle not long ago and accu­rate maps are, still. I’m just amazed and shak­ing my head over your com­ment. Do you not think the library has to get funds some­where? Who paid the peo­ple who did all the work to get the maps to you? Are they sup­posed to go hun­gry, for your occa­sion­al amuse­ment?

  • Genevieve Roberts says:

    I’m sor­ry, I was­n’t clear. I was reply­ing to MrM­LK’s bit­ter com­ment, above. I had­n’t real­ized you can down­load the hi-res ver­sion either, thank you all for that infor­ma­tion.

  • Leslie Dexter says:

    Excel­lent com­ments — Speak­ing of which , oth­ers need to fill out a a form , my sec­re­tary filled out and esigned a fil­l­able ver­sion here

  • Stephen Tinius says:

    March 2022: “As of April 2021, Map­warp­er will no longer be updat­ed by NYPL, and will soon be archived. This means all embed­ded views uti­liz­ing Map­warp­er will no longer work once the site is archived. How­ev­er, all con­tri­bu­tions and data will be retained by the Library for future use and research.

    Thank you for your inter­est and use of the tool. You can find our source code and doc­u­men­ta­tion for Map­warp­er and oth­er NYPL projects here”.

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