Thursday, February 21, 2008

Secrets to Collecting Antique Maps

Dumpdiggers collect old maps, rich in history. We believe that antique maps are a good investment as, generally speaking, they are still undiscovered among collectibles, which means they are also undervalued.

The wisdom in this post is distilled from an old book called Antique Maps - A Collector's Handbook by Carl Moreland and David Bannister, and from a a terrific new blog called Map The Universe.

What’s a Cartouche?
Dumpdiggers believes the market for antique maps will grow stronger in the next five years as more scholars, collectors and interior decorators realize that these prints have an important historical value, and they look great in the home. The maps were necessary for the discovery of the known world, and were made beautiful with cartouches, which are the decorations found in the corners of old maps. New literature will soon emerge exploring this unique art form. Click on the picture above to study the art in more detail.

Maps are primary sources of information and they preserve political anecdotes, cartographical misconceptions and stories of scientific progress. But the number one reason these items are going to spike in price is because… Old maps look great under glass on white walls in new condos. Yes and old maps look especially fine in a hallway where someone might stand and sip chardonnay while perusing their many details. Old maps on walls is a huge home decorating trend in urban condo living.

Buying Maps? Beware of Internet Auctions.

Antique maps on eBay tend to be cheap, but that’s because there’s more risk here and hundreds of fakes. Unless you are VERY knowledgeable, you may buy a reproduction which has been falsely advertised as an original work. The secret is to look for dealers who are also reputable members of associations like, Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America , and or the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers or the International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association .

Because the market is still so depressed, investors can actually obtain a decent ‘hallway sized’ antique map for around $200. However a better good investment might be something that’s bought today for around $1000 and graded ‘fine’ or ‘very fine’.

Maps of the United States of America are more expensive than other parts of the world thanks to a strong American market for their own history and maps of their own country. In general, American maps tend to be the most desirable and the most expensive. Early American maps of Chicago, and British maps of New England colonies, and Spanish maps of Florida and New Mexico are in particularly high demand.

Antique Maps are graded by condition. Much like old books, maps are graded from "Fine," the best grade, to "Very Good" and "Good," and anything below "Good" would have major problems described in blunt remarks like ‘Burnt’ or ‘Molded’. Such maps can still fetch thousands of dollars depending on the importance of the cartography.

Buy Maps Slowly
When buying an expensive antique map you might inquire about a one year guarantee of authenticity – this gives you twelve months to consult with experts. Respectable map dealers will let you return the map in that time period if you are not absolutely satisfied with your purchase.

Frame Maps Carefully
Only use frame shops with experience in archival framing. Materials touching your map should be acid-free and the glass should filter UV light, especially if you are going to hang your prize anywhere near a sunny window.

How to Take Care of Framed Maps
Whenever possible antiquarian maps and prints should be backed and mounted with acid-free card. It is advisable to avoid direct sunlight with all prints and maps but especially those with original colour. Damp conditions should be avoided at all costs and any signs of damp should be dealt with by a paper conservator immediately. It is recommended that unframed maps and prints should be stored in archival wallets.

The Best of the Best
A fine example of a top-of-the-line American collectible map, Johann Baptist HOMANN’s Virginia, Marylandia et Carolina in America Septentrionali. Britannorum Industria Excultae Amsterdam. 1729. Colored. 19 inches X 23 inches is rare and precious.

This map shows the east coast of America from New York to Cape Fear, North Carolina. It includes both Chesapeake & Delaware Bays & shows depth soundings along the entire coastal regions & into the Bays & New York Harbor. Locates all principal counties, harbors, capes, rivers, & lakes in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina & New Jersey. Shows small block plan of Philadelphia & locates Baltimore & Baltemore County. Many Indian Territories are depicted inland. As the map shows German settlements including Governor Alexander Spotswood's German Colony at Germana on the Rapidan River, it was thought that the map was intended to promote German immigration to America in the early 18th century. As the depth soundings indicate, the map may have been used aboard ships bringing the immigrants over to the New World. The map was first published by Johann Baptist Homann (1664-1724) in Nurnberg in 1714 & later in a number of different atlases with this example being published by R & J. Ottens in Amsterdam in 1729 in “Atlas Maior Cum Generales Omnium Totius Orbis Regnorum.” Title in lower right is surrounded by a large & highly decorative cartouche depicting a ship's captain bartering with Indians surrounded by native vegetation & exotic animals. An armorial motif on a stone plinth is drawn in the background.


Neil Richard said...

That last map is pretty nice. I can almost see where I live.

Cape Ann Auction said...

What a great and informative article.
I love the fact that you gave a bunch of reasons that people collect maps for other than historic value.

I try to promote that type of thinking on my antiques appraisal and article site.

As a licensed estate auctioneer, I come across a lot of paper and have noticed lately that many people have started asking for old maps at just about every one of my live auctions.

I have a question. Do you think there will be a demand for large beautiful maps that are not very old yet?

Good Luck

JP said...

Very informative piece on map collecting. It's something I've wanted to get into, however, I feel overwhelmed at times by the idea of actually doing it.

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