Zelda Fitzgerald’s Gal-Pal Meets an 18th Century Dutch Atlas

February 10, 2018

“Though the Jazz Age continued it became less and less an affair of youth. The sequel was like a children’s party taken over by the elders.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jazz Age revels would do well to sober up quickly when confronted with this antique book, which, though colored well within the lines, is definitely not the stuff of a children’s party. So where does an 18th century Dutch atlas meet the American Jazz Age? Sounds like a trick question – but the answer is found in this intriguing volume entitled “Reis en Hand Atlas Van Vlaanderen, Braband en Aanleggende Landschappen,” published around 1750 in Amsterdam. This particular atlas, while nothing incredible to behold from its cover, once had a very interesting owner in the old south.

Atlas once belonged to friend of Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald

For many years, this copy of “Reis en Hand Atlas” was nestled among many other volumes on the shelves of a Montgomery, Alabama woman, Louise Cherry Brooks. No, not the 1920’s movie star, Louise Brooks, so popular for her iconic flapper image on the silent screen, but a southern society gal who just happened to be lifelong friends with the legendary Zelda Fitzgerald.

“A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

A bookplate bearing the name “Louise Cherry Brooks” is neatly affixed to the atlas, in English a “Travel and Hand Atlas of Flanders, Brabant and Contiguous Landscapes”. The colorful maps within laboriously detail the cities, forts, castles, villages, monasteries, chapels, hamlets, woodlands, mountains, swamps, rivers and sandbanks along the Flemish Coast.

So who is Louise Cherry Brooks? A prominent Montgomery, Alabama resident and collector, Brooks avidly pursued her passion for collecting art and historical books of regional interest. Her large library featured early Americana and Southern History, and her family is dated as one of Alabama’s earliest. Louise Cherry Brooks remained friends with Zelda Fitzgerald, eccentrically famous wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, until Zelda’s tragic death in 1948. Hundreds of pieces of costume jewelry were discovered in Brooks’ estate following her own death at the ripe old age of 93, no doubt elements of her flapper period in the 1920’s. In fact, a family Bible, once held in Brooks’ estate, was donated to the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery in 2016, providing a wealth of information about her friend’s family. In and of itself, the atlas is considered to be quite rare and contains 38 beautifully detailed and hand colored maps based then-new observations. It is believed that these particular maps were designed by Jan de Lat, a Dutch printer and book and map seller, and Jacob Keizer, a cartographic engraver/etcher, and were inspired by the work of cartographer Guillaume de l’Isle (1675-1726).

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