Throwback Thursday: Plate for Creating APH's First Mass-Produced Tactile Map
In honor of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes competing in Rio this month, I tried to find a map of South America in our collection. We have many. Our object this week was used to make our first mass-produced version of a tactile map. This is a brass embossing plate. APH introduced its series of cardboard tactile maps in 1894. Captions were originally in New York Point, the point system that most U.S. schools used before 1910, although some of the surviving plates indicate they were later converted to braille. The three volume set included eighty maps with the bulk covering the United States and its territories. This plate was used to create a map of the western hemisphere. I am no cartographer, but I think this is a vertical perspective projection map. Somebody can check me up on that. The earth looks round, as if you were stationed somewhere in outer space and looking at half of the globe. The land is indicated by raised horizontal lines, with a few rivers picked out by even heavier raised lines. The water was left smooth, and the equator, tropics, and arctic circles are indicated by dotted lines. And that is pretty much it. Prior to the creation of this set of maps, all previous versions from APH were hand carved out of wood. The plates for this set were made by hand too. A worker would hand inscribe the lines on the plates with an embossing tool, and the captions would be added one dot at a time with a special set of tongs. The plates were fitted into a special rotary press designed by APH Superintendent B.B. Huntoon, which could make thirty copies every minute (or so he boasted!) Unfortunately, we don’t own any prints made from this plate, but the Perkins School has a set in their archives. As a side note, brass became increasingly expensive in the twentieth century, turns out it was pretty popular for making artillery shells. So APH converted to using zinc.