Rare Lopez and Ortigas collections show the value of maps as touchstones to identity

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Rare Lopez and Ortigas collections show the value of maps as touchstones to identity

The recent joint exhibition of the rare map collections of the Ortigas Library and the Lopez Museum and Library recalls the lives of two Filipino gentlemen, rarefied in this society, having developed the most significant collection of Filipiniana books, prints, maps, photographs, and paintings in the 20thcentury.

Eugenio Lopez (1901 – 1975) and Rafael Ortigas (1937 – 2009) though a generation apart, had the same goal of building a library to make available to researchers and the public the vast amount of material, many very rare and costly, purchased or won in auctions throughout the world.

Eugenio Lopez

Attorney Rafael Ortigas. Courtesy of the Ortigas Foundation Library


Being the earlier collector, the industrialist Mr. Lopez, after World War II doggedly pursued, or through his agents, all leads on maps in antiquarian bookstores in Amsterdam, London, and New York. And, since being the first to take an interest in the Philippines, secured many precious works handily and at reasonable prices. In the early 70s when I started collecting Filipiniana, I would go to map stores in London and New York to ask for maps. More often I received a smile and and an apology, for a “Mr. Lopez” years back had taken all of them. 

(Detail) Nicolas Visscher, Indiae Orientalis nec non Insularum, Amsterdam 1657. Lopez Museum and Library Collection.

Ferdinand Blumentritt, Mindanao map, Berlin 1884. Lopez Museum and Library Collection.


Early 16thand 17thcentury maps by the distinguished engravers Hondius and Mercator — exquisitely detailed with touches of sea monsters and mermaids on the sides, the Philippine islands still a rough replica, were flown to Manila to rest in the archives of the new Lopez Museum being built then by Manila Bay. Hundreds more of the rare maps would make their way to Manila.

In the mid 60s, the businessman Mr. Rafael Ortigas, took a fondness for Filipiniana material and proceeded to hunt for them throughout the world helped by catalogs, later by websites, and aided by a fellow collector, Mr. Albert Montilla.

Maris Pacifici, Abraham Ortelius 1608. Mr. Albert Montilla Collection

 Trips to Europe provided early material while rare bookstores in the United States provided later imprints and maps. The purchase of the large Filipiniana collections owned by the rare book dealer Jock Netzorg and the history scholar and author Gregorio Zaide added over 15,000 volumes to the Ortigas Collection.  

The most compelling map in the Ortigas Collection is the Treaty of Paris map, stretching 16 feet, once laid on a grand dining table in Paris in 1898, for Spanish and American negotiators to circle, review and engage in hard bargaining. The Spaniards would part with their former colony for 100 million dollars. The Americans scoffed at the suggestion and offered 10 million. In the end, we were sold for 20 million.  

Bahia de Manila, Jose Algue, 1899. Ortigas Library Collection

The War Map of The Great East Asia Japanese Government, 1942.  Mr. Albert Montilla Collection.


Mr. Montilla, an Ortigas Library trustee, often shares his collection for viewing at the library and it is quite strong on World War II history and military maps.  At this particular exhibition, Mr. Montilla displayed rare maps indicating American, Japanese and Filipino guerilla forces mounting various offensives traced on the country’s topography, allowing a somber understanding of the complexity of conquest and re-taking.  

Aside from the over 100 of the finest and rarest maps on display at this exhibition, (covering less than 1/10 of their combined collection) I ruminated on the two gentlemen having amassed a significant collection now available to researchers and the public at large.  

Philippine Campaign, U.S. Eighth Army, 1945.  Mr. Albert Montilla Collection

I met Mr. Ortigas several times just before he passed away in 2009. He was by then quite avid in moving his library collection from his house to its new library space at the Ortigas Building. He had employed my partner and historian Jonathan Best to do the difficult transfer and set up. I remember Mr. Ortigas telling me that he hoped this huge archive would allow Filipinos to expand and enhance the country’s history. After close to a decade of operations, the Library fulfills the traditional research role and has expanded to provide timely historical information to all the major media outlets as well as to recent historical films needing research like Ang Larawan, Goyo and Heneral Luna.  

I had met Mr. Lopez at his Chronicle newspaper office in the early 70s to receive my first press credential.  In less than a year we would both be exiled in San Francisco with warrants for our arrest by the Marcos martial law government.  

I visited him at his home one afternoon to chat about his recent acquisitions and to forget, momentarily, the sad events in the homeland. One map he had just purchased was on the table, that of Mindanao and a listing of the various tribes, drawn and edited by Ferdinand Blumentritt. It was amazing to see such a well drawn and accurate map considering Blumentritt hadn’t ever visited the country. At this joint exhibition, I saw the same map after a 40-year absence.  

Mr. Lopez proceeded relating how Blumentritt gifted his friend Jose Rizal with the map of Mindanao. Rizal would tell his friend Maximo Viola how he felt slightly embarrassed that a foreigner would give such a gift, alluding perhaps how learned Blumentritt was with the country.  But Rizal confided to his friend that a map was important in knowing oneself. To underscore his point, Rizal uttered the Greek aphorism “Nosce te ipsum.”  Translated, it meant, “Know thyself.”

Treaty of Paris, Government Printing Office, United States. 1899.  Ortigas Library Collection

Mr. Lopez thought that an apt remark adding that Rizal had given maps the supreme compliment, for in knowing himself he knew what he had to do for his country. In having that map and the many maps he and Mr. Ortigas collected to share, these gentlemen knew what to do for their country as well.