Antique Maps are maps printed or drawn at least 100 years ago.
All of the maps we offer for sale are original antique maps. On rare occasion, we may offer a map published less than 100 years ago if we believe the map is of interest to map collectors.
No. All of our maps are authentic antique maps, printed or drawn on or about the date shown in the description.
Many antique maps include the date the map was published, either in the title or in other parts of the map where publication information is included. These dates normally refer to the first year the map was offered for sale or the year the right to print the map was obtained. Dates on maps are not entirely reliable. Many maps were issued for more than one year without changes. For example, many 19th Century map makers did not change the dates on their atlas maps. For these maps, we are required to look at the content of the map or other clues for more accurate dating. The dates we list are usually accurate to within 10 years for older maps (pre 1700) and to with a year or two for later maps. We make best efforts to use our available reference tools to accurately date each map we offer for sale.
The dates we select are usually reliable to within 10 years for older maps and within a year or two for material published after 1800. If you have concerns about how we dated a map, please don't hesitate to ask.
Yes. Historically, in the antique map trade, certificates of authenticity were not offered, except on request. Most antique map dealers do not automatically offer certificates of authenticity. However, all reputable dealers will provide a certificate of authenticity upon request.
We accept the following:
- American Express
- Bank/Wire Transfer
- Checks (US Dollars only, drawn on a US Bank)
- Bank Checks
- Cashiers Checks
- Money Orders
Yes. We buy individual maps, atlases and collections. We are also interested in early Americana books with maps and views of American and major European Cities. If you wish to offer something to us for sale, please Click here.
If you wish to offer us maps for sale, it is most helpful to provide a list of maps which includes the title of the map, the mapmaker, the size of the map (printed image only) and a brief condition report. Pictures are also very helpful. It is typically not necessary to send more than one picture per map, unless requested. Click here if you are interested in selling us maps or atlases.
Yes. We provide appraisal services for $400.00 per hour, with a 5 hour minimum. Appraisal services include a written valuation and a formal qualifications letter, which can be used for insurance, tax and estate purposes. We have done a number of private and institutional map, atlas and rare book appraisals and have conducted continuing education lectures on valuing antique maps and atlases to several professional organizations.
If the items to be appraised are organized and described in advance in an organized format (including mapmaker name, title, date, size and a brief condition description), we can appraise 10-15 maps per hour on average. Depending upon the purpose of the appraisal, a physical inspection of the items is generally not required.
Yes. At last count, we had shipped to nearly 10,000 buyers in over 70 different countries since we launched our internet business in 1997. We can ship anywhere in North America within 1 business day and most other places in as little as 2 business days.
We ship maps either flat in packages specially designed for shipping maps or in specially ordered thick telescopic tubes. If you have a packaging preference, please specify your choice at the time of shipping. Please see our shipping and packaging sections on the Terms & Conditions page.
Yes. All items we sell are shipped fully insured for the purchase price of the item. If an item does not arrive, you will receive a full refund. If a package arrives damaged, you will receive a full refund upon return of the item in question. For a complete description of our return policy, visit our Terms & Conditions page.
If you are not satisfied with a purchase for any reason, you may return the item within 7 days of receipt for a full refund (or purchase credit, if you prefer). For a complete description of our return policy, visit our Terms & Conditions page.
Yes. Email us if you'd like to purchase a gift certificate.
We recommend the following general guidelines:
- Use archival, acid free material only.
- Maps should be tipped or hinged to the mat using a reversible archival matting tape or similar system. A map should never be glued, heat mounted, pressure mounted or taped flat to the backing board.
- We recommend glass or Plexiglas which protects against Ultra-Violet light.
Yes. We are happy to arrange framing services and have relationships with several framers.
Yes. We are delighted to include a greeting card with any purchase and include your personalized note. Please send us any special instructions in the gift/comment box at the time you order, to insure proper handling.
Our goal is to offer the best possible selection of antique maps and to charge fair and reasonable prices. There are several important factors in determining price, including replacement cost and earning a fair profit on each sale. In order to keep a large and interesting selection of maps available to customers, we must constantly buy new material.
We value maps based upon the age, rarity, decorative qualities, size, region, condition and other factors which we believe are relevant. We also have an extensive database of historical pricing information, including our sales records for over 25,000 maps, as well as auction and dealer catalogue records going back over 30 years.
Our business is built on relationships, not the sale of individual maps. Our goal is to earn the confidence of our clients. Providing the best possible selection, client service, fair pricing and expertise are how we have built our business.
Condition grading systems are subjective and to some extent, vary between the types of maps graded. For example, a wall map or separately issued working sea chart will rarely appear in gorgeous condition, whereas a lot of maps that appeared in atlases frequently appear on the market in gorgeous condition and defects stick out like sore thumbs. Accordingly, our grading system to some extent is a sliding standard that adjusts depending upon the type of map and our expectations about what a collector can hope to acquire.
We grade the condition of maps as follows:
Fine suggests that the map is flawless and in essentially perfect original condition. We use the fine designation very rarely. To earn this grade, the map must be a beautiful example of a map with no flaws.
VG+ means that the map has only the most minor defects. A small amount of marginal soiling, a bit of reinforcement to a centerfold or minor marginal tear or some similar defect at most.
VG means the map has minor defects. These may range from minor soiling and foxing to a well repaired tear or very minor facsimile work.
VG- suggests a relatively significant defect, including a fairly serious tear, staining, soiling etc. The map is all present and still in a collectable condition.
Good suggests loss of image, significant soiling or damage, but still worthy of consideration for a collector. It is infrequent for us to offer a map in such condition.
Poor suggests that there is significant loss of image, burn marks or other factors which significantly detract from the map. We rarely offer maps in poor condition.
The first factor is rarity. If a map is very rare, condition is less important. With certain maps, a collector may only have a few chances or perhaps only one chance in the collector's lifetime to acquire a map. With rare material, condition is much less important. If another example becomes available in better condition, a collector can always buy a second example and perhaps trade with the seller!
The second factor is, how was the map originally offered for sale? Maps which were bound into atlases will generally appear on the market in a good original condition. Having been preserved in a bound volume, they have not been subjected to the ravages of time. On the other extreme, separately issued maps, wall maps and broadsheet maps were generally exposed to heavy use and the elements and the survival rate is much lower. These maps tend to deteriorate much more quickly and therefore cannot be expected to appear on the market in perfect condition.
A nice example of a map may be cheap at $5,000, while a poor example may be overpriced at $2500. On the other hand, a less than perfect example of a map may present a collector with a chance to buy a map which would ordinarily not be affordable to that collector.
For a decorative collector, condition may be the paramount concern. For other collectors, some staining, a repaired tear or some facsimile work is much less important.
It would be wonderful if we could only offer flawless examples of all maps. The reality is, most maps have some minor flaws. Buy what you like and what makes you comfortable.
Minor repairs and restorations to antique maps are becoming increasingly common. While we would all like to purchase only perfect examples of antique maps, there are many nice examples which have minor flaws, a small tear, a wormhole, minor staining or foxing, a narrow margin, or some other imperfection, which are still very collectable.
The value of a map is market driven. If there are lots of nice examples of a map on the market, a minor restoration may mean a significant devaluation. On the other hand, for a rare map which is rarely on the market, minor restorations are much less of an issue.
Restoration work certainly does not inherently reduced the value of a map if it is properly done. Almost invariably, it enhances the value. While the repaired or restored map may be worth less than a perfect example, the issue is always one of degree. A repaired tear or narrow margin may reduce the value of a map by 10-20%. A significant facsimile addition or more serious tears may reduce the value much more.
In earlier times, dealers preached condition and old color as the most important factors to be considered by a collector. In the current market, with map prices escalating at roughly 5-15% per year over the past 30 years and many rare items becoming increasingly difficult to locate on the market, collectors must take a more pragmatic approach. Should the collector wait for a better example? Will one become available and at what price? We are advocates of the buy now, trade up later approach. Among collectors, it is common to hear regrets about maps not purchased when offered in earlier times. We rarely hear complaints about maps purchased too soon.
Initially, most collectors envision framing the maps they purchase. However, wall space only lasts so long. There are a number of methods for storing maps.
The basic rule for map storage is to avoid extremes. Heat and humidity are inherently bad for paper. Extended exposure to direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting systems will cause colors to fade and accelerate other chemical reactions in paper. Extreme changes between hot and cold ambient temperatures will also degrade paper over time.
As a rule, we recommend that maps be encapsulated in Mylar or a similar material for ease of handling. There are several reputable companies which manufacture acid free archival envelope and "L-velope" sleeves. In addition to ease of handling, these sleeves reduce the free flow of air around the maps, which in turn protects the maps against humidity and significantly retards the oxidation process in old colors.
One of the most popular systems for storing collections is a print portfolio. Such portfolios come in a number of styles, including hard shell folders with ties on three sides, zipper cases and other styles. This system works well for small and medium sized collections. Museum boxes and folders are also a popular choice.
There comes a point for many collectors where they outgrow portfolios and need more space. An excellent option is the use of architectural flat file cabinets. These cabinets come in a number of styles and materials. Some of the best systems are elevated, so that the tops of the cabinets can allow the user to lay maps on top at a reasonable height for viewing.
Yes. We have an open shop in La Jolla, California (15 minutes north of Downtown San Diego). For gallery hours, address and directions, please click here.
First, select one or two dealers whom you like working with and don't be shy about asking questions. A dealer who compliments your interests, personality and enthusiasm will add to your enjoyment. Part of enjoying a collection is sharing the experience with people you like and who share your interests. Not all dealers are alike. No matter how large the dealer's inventory, all have special interests and strengths.
Second, focus on what interests you. It may take awhile, but most collectors develop collecting themes. Whether your theme is regional, historical, genealogical, a particular map maker or maps with elephants or sea monsters, finding a theme that you like will help you to focus on creating a collection, not just buying maps. Don't worry about getting locked down. Most collections evolve over time, so don't view this suggestion as restrictive, just a good starting point.
Third, buy a few good reference books. Even in the internet age, it is hard to build a collection when you don't know what is out there to collect. 50 years ago, there were very few good reference books. Now, there are books covering many general and specialty topics which will help provide context and a sense of what is out there to be collected. In choosing dealer relationships, working with someone who has a wide selection and knowledge in your area of interest also helps.
Fourth, if possible, join a map collector's group. There are many map societies throughout the world. Joining a group in your area or one that shares your collecting interest will introduce you to other people who share your interests and give you the opportunity to visit the best collections in your area or other parts of the world. For collectors who visit the Miami International Map Fair in February of each year or attend the map fairs in London, Paris, Bruxelles and Denver, there are opportunities for both friendship, travel, guided access to major collections, interesting speaker topics and of course, buying maps!
Finally, don't be locked in to other people's ideas and lists of "must have" maps in your area of interest. For a true collector, the only thing more exciting than finding a map you have always wanted is discovering one you didn't know existed. If you constrain yourself to someone else's list, you are missing a chance to personalize your collection.
Many collectors fall into the trap of attaching importance to lists compiled by famous collectors or other list compilers. While lists and reference guides are marvelous tools, they are often subjective and reflect the tastes and biases of another collector, dealer or scholar. At best, these works set a standard of inquiry and education for you to build upon and use as a springboard for forming and developing your collection. At worst, they are limited and sometimes inaccurate collections of information, published for the sake of vanity, not scholarship. One of the exciting parts of collecting antique maps and atlases is that there are new discoveries being made every year, new maps uncovered and new information being appreciated for the first time. Chart your own path, don't allow yourself to simply be led by others who collected before you.
"Unrecorded" maps still appear frequently on the market. There are new "discoveries" in the field of antique maps all the time. Many collectors are conducting their own pioneering studies within their collecting themes. The number of specialist map collecting books has grown exponentially in the past 20 years and will continue to do so. Finding an unrecorded map or identifying previously unrecorded or under-appreciated information on a map is one of the great joys of collecting. Some of the smallest and seemingly non-descript maps yield some of the most significant discoveries. There is a vast amount of scholarship yet unwritten and fascinating thematic studies yet to be conducted. Follow your interests and your passion, not someone else's list!
Most maps printed prior to 1870 were printed without color, using only black ink. However, many map publishers added color to the maps shortly after printing and before the maps were bound or mounted on linen for sale.
When color was applied at or about the same time as the printing of the map, the map is referred to as having "original color." The terms contemporary color or old color are also frequently used. In most instances, original color was added by the original publisher. However, it was not unusual for color to be added at a later date by a royal colorist or other coloring specialist, who embellished the map for an early owner. For example, Abraham Ortelius began his involvement in the map trade as a colorist of early maps. In rare instances, gold leaf was also added. In most instances, color was applied in an assembly line fashion, often by children. This accounts for the fact that most old color is generally a bit sloppy in its application. In rare instances, maps were colored by professional colorists whose work is now highly coveted.
The addition of color to a map was typically done for one of two reasons. The first was to make the map easier to use, by delineating borders, highlighting cities, or identifying regions or topographical features. The second reason for coloring a map was to embellish the image and make it more attractive. Beginning in the latter part of the 16th Century, virtually all of the most famous atlases (Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius, Blaeu, Jansson, Visscher, De Wit, etc.) were offered either colored or uncolored by the original publishers. Over time, some of the uncolored examples were colored at a later date.
There are books published in the 17th and 18th Centuries which describe the methods of applying color to a map and how to color maps and symbols. During this time period, engravers often used special engraving keys within the cartouche to guide the colorist in their choice of colors.
The practice of hand coloring maps flourished in the 17th Century. In the 18th Century, greater emphasis was placed on the utilitarian value of maps and the decorative embellishments used on maps declined. Hand coloring of maps continued, but became increasingly functional, although there are certainly notable exceptions. By the last quarter of the 19th Century, most maps were published with printed color, although one notable exception are American County Atlases, which were issued with hand coloring well into the early 20th Century.
Modern Color is the term used for color which has been added recently. The antiquarian map trade recognized sometime in the mid-20th Century that adding color to uncolored maps often made them more salable. One of the most famous early map dealers, Ronald Vere Tooley, is said to have colored up maps for clients on request, while they waited. Other terms which are used for modern color include Recent Color and Period Color. The latter term is frequently used by auction houses and other cataloguers who are unwilling to represent the color as being old, but wish to suggest that it could be. We believe that the term is more appropriately used to suggest that the color is correctly done, but added recently.
We are often asked this question. The answer is highly subjective. It is easiest to break the answer down into two groups, maps that are correctly issued in color and maps that were typically issued uncolored.
Maps which were originally issued with color
An antique map with gorgeous original color will generally sell for more than an uncolored example, a recently colored example or a poorly colored example of the same map. By contrast, if the same map is poorly colored or the old color has caused damage or has offset (transferred onto the opposite side of the map from having been folded into an atlas), the value of an uncolored or recently colored example will fetch a higher price.
In between these two extremes, the difference is largely a matter of personal preference. Very few collectors are actively seeking uncolored examples of maps by Ortelius, Blaeu, Hondius and other mapmakers from the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography, yet over half of all the maps and atlases issued by these makers were offered uncolored. As a result, over time, when these uncolored maps were offered for sale by dealers, many had them colored. While there are examples of poor modern color, over the past 50 years, most professional dealers have employed skilled and well trained map colorists, who are in turn furnished with copies of the map in fine old color to use as an exemplar. As a result, many maps with modern color are more visually attractive than old color examples. The passage of time, use and the elements generally cause some degradation to old color. Many dealers will refresh old color, especially if the map requires minor repairs or cleaning before the map is sold.
There are skilled colorists who are also coloring the reverse side of the map to match the style of original color maps and utilizing other techniques to make a map appear to have original color. This practice is controversial. Some believe that it is done only to deceive and therefore is not an acceptable practice. Others see the practice as simply an additional step in coloring the map in the style of the period. We believe that disclosure is the only relevant issue. All reputable dealers can distinguish between old and modern color in almost all cases. If the color on a map is not misrepresented by the seller, the buyer can make an informed decision.
The last issue point on color is whether the color is correct. Correct color connotes that the color was done in the style of the period in which the map was printed. There are examples of maps with both old and modern color which are not colored correctly. When a map is not colored correctly, this typically has a significant negative impact on the value of the map. Often, poor color can reduce the value of a map by 50% to 75%.
The general rule with this group of maps is that nice color is better than bad color and collectors prefer colored maps to uncolored maps.
Maps originally issued uncolored
Certain maps were not colored at the time of publication. Most editions of Ptolemy's maps, Robert Dudley's sea charts and Vincenzo Coronelli's maps are three examples of maps which were not issued in color. Most collectors looking for these maps expect to buy them without color and would find modern colored examples less valuable than uncolored examples, perhaps significantly so. While the practice of coloring Coronelli's maps is not entirely unheard of, adding color to a Dudley Chart or a 1511 Sylvanus map (the first atlas of maps printed in two colors, black and red) would be viewed as sacrilege.
Part of the reason these maps are not colored is that they are viewed as famous and important maps. Not all maps are famous and important. Some maps are common, but quite decorative. As a result, some maps which were issued uncolored are routinely colored by dealers to make them more salable. One noteworthy example is the work of Victor Levasseur in his Atlas Nationale, published in Paris in the mid 19th Century. Levasseur's atlas was among the most commercially successful works of the 19th Century and is very common. Levasseur took smallish maps and surrounded them with elaborate allegorical vignettes, often by talented French artists. The plate life of these maps was very long and often, later editions reflect the lengthy use of the plates. The work of a good colorist is a significant embellishment and makes the common maps highly decorative. Another example of this phenomenon is the maps of John Tallis. Again, the maps are relatively small and are not rare. Uncolored, the vignettes and decorative borders are relatively plain. The addition of color makes them much more appealing to most collectors. In each instance, adding color adds value to the maps.
In short, buy what you like and don't be influenced by the opinions of others. If you are a purist, stay true to your convictions. If you are looking for a beautiful object for your collection, buy what you like. The most important value which an antique map can bring to you is the pleasure of ownership.Buy what you like and you cannot lose.
Recognizing an antique map from a reproduction, facsimile or a forgery is a useful tool for collectors. There are many simple recurring things that dealers look to for a quick determination of whether a map is genuine.
Facsimiles, Fakes & Forgeries
Most reproductions and facsimiles were not intended to deceive. Spotting these is typically quite easy. There are also high quality reproductions that while not intended to deceive, can mislead and unsuspecting collector. In some instances, there are famous reproductions on the market, such as the 1630 Hondius America Septentrionalis, which is in fact probably an early 18th Century re-engraving of the map (the original not having been issued until 1636 by Jansson, several years after Hondius' death). This map and several similar early "forgeries" have become somewhat collectable in their own right.
The most complicated reproductions are the forgeries which are intended to deceive. It should be noted that these types of maps are very rarely encountered. As a dealer, I have probably seen less than 20 intentional forgeries in my dealing career that were intended to deceive. These forgeries range from a remarkable re-engraving of a 1511 Sylvanus Cordiform Map of the World which was bound into an original 1511 Sylvanus Atlas which appeared at auction in 2005 to a high quality laser image of a rare map of America on old paper which appeared on the market several years ago. In the first instance, the first clue to the lack of authenticity was that the map was printed in only one color (black). Sylvanus' maps were printed in red and black, the first ever maps to include a 2 color printing process. While at first appearance, the assumption was that the map was copied, on closer inspection, the map included several engraved lines that were different than the original, leading to the conclusion that they were printed from a different plate. The age of the paper on which the map was printed suggested a 17th or early 18th Century re-engraving, but the availability of blank 18th Century paper makes it possible that the re-engraving was done at a later date.
In the second instance, a rare American map had been laser copied onto old paper. Engraving lines and a plate mark had been meticulously re-created, likely with a dental tool or similar object. It took a close analysis of the thickness of the "engraved" lines to finally conclude that the map was not authentic.
Fortunately, the incidence of fakes and forgeries being offered as authentic is very low. Such sales are generally confined to selling venues such as ebay, where often the seller does not realize the map is a reproduction (or occasionally, the seller is willing to pass off a fake) and non-specialist auction houses. However, we have encountered the odd fake or forgery in the inventories of a few dealers over the past 15 years. This highlights the importance of working with an experienced and reputable dealer. The purchase of an antique map must be viewed as an investment (even if not intended as one). We cannot say that we have met dealers who intentionally passed off fakes and forgeries, but we know of several instances where either inexperience or indifference resulted in a collector purchasing and expensive fake).
Evaluating Authenticity/Spotting A Fake
There are many ways to identify an antique map. The maps offered on this site are virtually all printed maps (we do have a few antique manuscript maps for sale). These maps were printed on paper and then either issued separately or bound into atlases, books or other bindings. The separately issued maps were either offered in sheet (broadsheet) format or laid down on linen or some other form of backing, for ease of use. Over the years, linen backings are changed, maps are restored and the original condition is periodically altered to preserve the map. These are all acceptable and do not have a significant impact on the collectability of a map. On the other hand, a fake, forgery or reproduction of a antique map is an entirely different matter.
The following is a list of indicators that dealers and experienced collectors look for when evaluating a map. There is no comprehensive list or set of indicators and the manner in which this list is applied varies from person to person and map to map. For an experienced dealer who has handled tens of thousands of maps and inspected any times that number over the years, the recognition factor is often instantaneous and automatic, so much so that it takes a moment to isolate the factors relied upon for the decision.
Folds, Centerfolds & Stitch Marks
Most antique maps come from either books or atlases, and therefore have been folded at least once. Therefore, one or more fold lines is one of the first indicators which dealers look for in evaluating a map. If the map is from an atlas, it normally would have been bound into the book using a strip of paper (a guard), which was sewn into the binding, with the map in turn glued to the guard, so that the map can be viewed flat and the centerfold is not tightly bound into the book and inaccessible. Maps were first put on guards in the early part of the 16th Century, so maps from before this date may have holes at the centerfold, showing where they were stitched into the book. Many maps removed from atlases still have a guard affixed to the centerfold.
Plate Marks & Engraving Marks
Another common way to identify an antique map is through the printing method employed in publishing the map. The earliest printed maps were printed using either wood blocks or copper plate engraving methods. By the middle of the 16th Century, the use of wood blocks was being phased out, and copper plates were the prevalent method for the next 300 years. At the end of the 18th Century and first part of the 19th Century, several new printing methods were invented, including the use of steel plates, lithography, and cerography. By the middle of the 19th Century, copper plates had largely been replaced by lithographic printing methods, which remained the primary method for making maps until the latter part of the 19th Century, when new mass production methods replaced lithography.
The earlier methods of map printing are characterized by plate marks, showing the impression the printing plate or wood block left on the paper when the map was printed. This compression mark typically appears outside of the neat line on the map. For earlier maps (wood blocks and earlier copper plate maps), the plate mark is generally less than 1 centimeter outside the neat line. Many reproductions of early maps can be readily identified by either the lack of a plate mark or a plate mark that is too far from the neatline.
It is also possible to identify an antique map from a modern reproduction by running your finger across the printed image. The engraved lines in a map printed using wood block, copper plate, steel plate and lithographic printing methods create ridges in the paper, due to the uneven compression of the paper in the printing press. If you can feel the ridges within the printed image when you run your fingers across the engraved lines within a map, this is an indicator that the map is not a modern reproduction. Often, the same phenomenon occurs on the verso (reverse side) of the map.
The art of paper making evolved significantly between the time of the first printed map and modern times. Until the early 19th Century, most maps were printed on hand made paper. Early paper was made by combining the pulp from rags with a liquid formula, spreading the wet pulp over chains and laying the pulp out to dry. Even the most skillfully hand made paper tends to vary in thickness. When held up to the light, old paper will invariably include chain marks and have an uneven quality to it. Often (but by no means always), a decorative watermark may be present (the papermaker's "mark"). In modern times, high quality paper was mass produced using a chain "laid" process. However, the modern paper is readily distinguishable from older paper, as it tends to have a much more uniform quality.
By the late 18th Century, there were widely varying degrees of paper quality. The quality of the paper is often a characteristic of a printed map. For example, the quality of paper used for certain cheap mass produced British "Magazine" maps is very different from the thick high quality paper which was used by the top London mapmakers. Certain late 18th Century French mapmakers used a paper with a blue-green hue. With experience, a collector can spot instances where a map is simply "on the wrong type of paper." In late 18th Century American Atlases, certain maps are notorious for being significantly more browned and toned than others in the book. This difference was caused by the fact that the maps were printed in different cities by different printers, then shipped to the publisher for binding. The difference in the paper used by the different printers is readily apparent.
Beginning in the early 19th Century, machine made paper was becoming more prevalent and the content of the paper was evolving away from rag and cloth. The mix of chemicals used in the paper making process also evolved. During this period, the paper is more even in quality. By the mid-19th Century, cheaper machine made paper was employed by some publishers and during this period and through the end of the 19th Century, some maps are characterized by a brittle quality, caused by a higher acidic content in the paper.
Matching the paper quality and paper type to the period in which a map was issued is a significant, if subtle part of the identification process.
Text on the Verso
From the earliest times, maps bound into books often included text on the reverse side (verso) of the map. While some of the earliest maps and views were bound into a book to be folded out, many are single or double pages, with text on the back (verso) of the map. Maps published by Munster, Ortelius, Mercator, Speed, Braun & Hogenberg, Schedel, Blaeu, Hondius, Jansson and many other early printers generally have text on the back of the map. In some cases, where the book or atlas was re-issued in multiple languages, a single map may be found with text in a number of different languages, depending on the edition. For example, Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas, was issued in Latin, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and English between 1570 and 1612. Not only was it issued in different languages, the letter press text was often changed periodically, so that the Latin text on the verso of the 1574 Latin edition of Ortelius Typus Orbis Terrarum (world map) is different than the 1584 Latin edition.
With many early maps, one of the easiest ways to distinguish among different editions of a map is the text on the verso. Generally, the lack of text on the verso of the same maps is a good indicator that a map is a reproduction (although there are examples of each of these map makers maps without text on the verso).
Color is often an excellent indicator of the age and authenticity of a map. Certain maps were invariably issued without color. The presence of color on these maps may be reason to question its authenticity. Similarly, the use of the wrong choice of colors or the manner in which the colors are applied is another indicator. These are not fixed rules, as the range of possible issue points to evaluate is wide. In Italy, there are wonderful copies of old maps and views being made and hand colored for decorative purposes, using fine paper and excellent printing methods. There are also cheap mass produced reproductions, fantasy maps and a host of other reproduced or re-created maps. Color is not a reliable indicator of authenticity, but on occasion, it is one of the first things that is obviously "wrong" with a map.
One other factor to consider is whether the printing method for a map is correct for the period. The subtle differences between the various types or printing processes is beyond the scope of this FAQ. Put simply, knowing the difference between a wood block, copper plate, steel plate and lithographically printed map and understanding the time periods that these processes were employed will provide additional tools for helping determining whether a map is an original or a reproduction.
Value is a function of the regional content of a map, the map maker, the age of the map, its size, rarity, decorative quality, condition and the "importance" of its content to collectors. While there is no set formula, each of these factors plays a role in valuation.
The antique map and atlas market is thriving and there are many buyers and sellers. Tens of thousands of antique maps change hands every year throughout the World. The market for antique maps and atlases is hundreds of years old, but in the past 40-50 years, it has become increasingly active, with many specialist dealers and collectors.
Antique maps are like rare books or old master prints. In all but a few instances, an antique map will have been offered for sale more than once over the years, meaning that there is the ability to evaluate prior sales as an indicator of value. In most instances, there are recent sales and current offerings which a dealer or collector can look to in order to provide guidance on valuation.
Over the past 20 years, maps have risen in value at a significant rate. At least one map dealer who has been in the trade over 30 years applies a 5% per year rule of thumb for the amount antique maps increase in value over time. One book seller has done several surveys of the increase in prices in books and maps, based upon results from famous sales in the 1960s, compared to his then current catalogue prices. Our observation is that for most items, a 5% to 15% per year range has probably been the norm for the past 30+ years.
This broad rule is made up of many segments. Certain maps have very mature and efficient markets. Maps by Blaeu, Ortelius, Hondius, Mercator and the other highly collected maps from prior to 1700 have been prized by collectors for many decades. The market is relatively mature and market prices are based upon decades of selling prices. For the less rare maps in these categories, prices are not likely to rise quickly in general, but should continue to appreciate. By contrast, for areas which are gaining significant collecting interest, such as regional 18th and 19th Century maps, there are areas which may experience significant increases in value in the next several decades. As collectors increasingly look for rare and specialized items in their areas of interest, relatively under-appreciated themes become increasingly collected. Because pricing is largely a function of supply and demand, newly interesting areas see strong increases in value, as more collectors get interested in these new areas.
In the internet era of map collecting, there are some new factors which are relevant. Twenty years ago, there were relatively few dealers and only a few large map and book fairs each year. Dealers relied on occasional visits to their shops and mailing illustrated catalogues and lists for offering maps to out of town clientele. Many relatively common maps could appear to be rare. If a map collector only saw one example of a map every tenth dealer catalogue and only received 5 catalogues per year, the map would seem rare. On the other hand, a walk through the London Map Fair in June of the same year might have revealed 5 copies of the map for sale in the same room. Limited and inefficient information meant that pricing information was also less efficient.
Now, collectors can go on line and see multiple examples of even relatively scarce maps on line in a given year. This provides much more pricing information and allows sellers throughout the world to offer their maps for sale to the whole world, via the internet. The tradition of provincial dealers, runners and pickers who supplied high end dealers has significantly declined and the tradition of American dealers going to Europe to buy maps from these smaller dealers, runners and pickers has also declined significantly. The monthly London Map Fair has died, as American and European dealers no longer needed a central point of distribution to sell to the trade. In recent years, the top European dealers have recognized that so much material has moved from Europe to America that much of the best shopping is now in the United States.
One new phenomenon is the prevalence of comparison price shopping on the web. While competition is a healthy thing, comparison price shopping can be very misleading. First, the condition of antique maps is always different. The cheapest example on the market may be a bargain or it may be a poor copy and overpriced. This factor cannot be overlooked. Moreover, not all dealers describe antique maps correctly. Some omit important condition problems. Some incorrectly date or describe maps. We have also seen an increased reliance upon copying other dealer descriptions. While this is not inherently evil, many less knowledgeable dealers make significant cataloguing errors. The edition or condition of a map can play a significant role in valuing a map.
Another misleading element of the modern market is that not all dealers have in stock the maps they are offering for sale. Some list items with the intention of locating them if they get a purchase inquiry. While this practice is not prevalent, it does tend to skew the information available to collectors.
Antique maps have all the hallmarks of an investment grade antiquity. There is a limited supply of antique maps, which grows scarcer each year. The number of collectors continues to increase each year and the amount of material grows increasingly scarce, especially since there are many public and private institutions actively forming collections and even more collectors who are buying with the intention of donating their collection to institutions. Increasing demand and decreasing supply can only mean one thing, rising prices.
While some dealers try to de-emphasize the investment value of maps, it cannot be disputed that there are a number of people who earn a living buying and selling antique maps, and many of these people are not dealers with open shops and websites. This group of investors is very active in the market, constantly looking for new material and often traveling extensively to find the material throughout the world. While the purchase and sale of antique maps is a financial transaction for these investors, they are also being compensated for their labor. Most collectors do not have the time or wish to spend the energy actively looking for maps which they can immediately re-sell.
For most collectors, investing in antique maps is a long term proposition. The first and foremost part of investing in maps for most collectors is buying antique maps which will be enjoyed and appreciated, and putting in sufficient time and energy to learning about the material. An active collection being formed by a passionate collector provides a great deal of satisfaction, the sort which cannot be measured in monetary terms. At the same time, the passionate collector is buying objects of value. Accordingly, they should be suitably stored and displayed, in order to protect the value of the investment.
For a collector who is also interested in the investment value of antique maps, there will likely be a financial reward as well, albeit long term. Antique maps appreciate in value over time. A collection formed more than 10 years ago is likely to have appreciated significantly in value. Moreover, an astute collector who is active in the market for antique maps will, with time, come to know when items are relatively under-priced. Some collectors actively purchase duplicates and triplicates of maps because they believe the item is undervalued or under priced. In some instances, they immediately re-sell or trade the map to a dealer or another collector. Others simply buy and hold.
In recent years, the number of "investor collectors" has increased significantly. Many of these collectors are buying trophy items and displaying them at home or in offices, with the expectation that when the time comes, they have invested in an appreciating asset. We expect that antique maps and atlases will increasingly be viewed as an investment grade antiquity and that prices will only increase over time. For long term collectors, antique maps can be an excellent investment and provide a sound financial return, which augments the joy of collecting.
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