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Historic map coming to Minnesota

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"Impossible Black Tulip"
A section of Matteo Ricci's 1602 "Impossible Black Tulip," a massive map showing the world with China at its center, which will be on display at the University of Minnesota early next year.
Image courtesy of the James Ford Bell Trust

One of the world's rarest maps -- a massive print from 1602 showing the world with China as its center -- will soon be on permanent display at the University of Minnesota. 

The James Ford Bell Trust announced this week that it has acquired the "Impossible Black Tulip," the first map in Chinese to show the Americas, from a London books and maps dealer for $1 million. Only six copies of the map remain and several are in poor condition. 

"These opportunities don't present themselves very often," said Ford W. Bell, president of the American Association of Museums and a trustee for the James Ford Bell Trust, in an interview with MPR's All Things Considered. 

"This map was the only one on the market, and the only one likely to be on the market. So we had to take advantage of that opportunity."

The cartographer Matteo Ricci created the map, which is 5 feet high and 12 feet wide, at the request of the Chinese emperor, who wanted the document to serve as a resource for explorers and scholars. Ricci, a Jesuit priest, was among the first Westerners to travel to China.

"This is a great collaboration between East and West," Bell said. "It really is a very clear example of how trade was a driving force behind the spread of civilization."

The Library of Congress will display the map for the first time in North America on Jan. 12, where it will be scanned to create a permanent digital image available to scholars. 

The map will then travel to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a brief exhibition, before moving to its permanent home at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota in the spring.