Map Quest: Vintage Collections for All Time Explore the enduring allure (and investment value) of vintage cartography.
1/7 World map in two hemispheres by Willem Blaeu A hand-coloured, mid-17th-century map by the great Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu depicts a world recognisably our own—but surrounded by vivid images of ancient wonders and heavenly bodies, including scantily clad figures representing the elements and the seasons.
2/7 1658 map of the Americas by Nicholas Janzoon Visscher Map collectors are generally intrigued by history and geography. Some credit a fascination with the Age of Exploration, the globe-charting era from the mid-1400s to the early 1600s, when maps were keys to great wealth and empire. During this period, cartographers rediscovered Ptolemy’s long-forgotten maps from the second century AD and began refining and correcting them.
3/7 Asia in the 15th and 16th centuries Daniel Crouch, a top London map dealer, explains, “There are precious few indigenous maps of Brazil, India or China—the first because there was little printing there until the 19th century, the second because the majority of the surveying was carried out by the British, and the third because most printed material was destroyed after China cut itself off from the rest of the world at the beginning of the 18th century.”
4/7 View of Seymour, Connecticut. Drawn and published by O.H. Bailey and Co., Boston, 1879 Many map collectors gravitate to areas of personal interest—a specific region or period, their home city or state, a country where they holiday or do business. Still others are interested in speculative cartography. Philip Curtis, proprietor of The Map House in London, says, “Find a subject that interests you, a geographical or historical focus, then buy the very best you can.”
5/7 Cape Roman Shoals, South Carolina. 1853 U.S. Coastal Survey Maps closest to their original condition are the most valuable. Dealers grade maps on a range of criteria, including age, rarity, size, historical value and decorative qualities. The most sought-after types—maps of the world, of the Americas and of major cities—tend to cost more, but plenty of cartographic territory remains to be claimed.
6/7 Waldseemüller map from 1507 In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller created the first known map to show North and South America separate from Asia, and to use the name “America” (after Italian voyager Amerigo Vespucci). The only surviving copy, purchased for US$10 million in 2003, is the most expensive map ever sold. Dubbed “America’s birth certificate,” it’s prominently displayed at the Library of Congress, home of the world’s largest map collection.
7/7 Medieval depiction of the Ecumene. 1842, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver Early maps were costly, high-status objects, badges of affluence and worldliness. Their makers, from Ptolemy to Mercator to a Colonial surveyor named Washington, were men of wide learning. So, too, were those who bought them, from nobles and merchants to English diarist and cartophile Samuel Pepys.
Think of maps as the original analogue devices, symbolic records of 3-D reality. From ancient times they’ve been vital for wayfinding and warfare, trade and treasure. Now anyone with a smartphone can summon maps out of the ether, yet vintage maps still exert a timeless appeal. Windows to the past, they conjure the world as it was, or was imagined to be. And imagination, based on myth, fable and wishful thinking, frequently came into play. Medieval maps—often oriented east, toward Jerusalem—were rife with fantastic creatures, such as dragons, griffons and dog-headed men, as well as nonexistent islands and other fanciful features. Mapmakers enlivened oceans with sailing ships and sea monsters. Elaborately engraved vignettes and cartouches (title frames) added interest. Today, collectors delight in the decorative flourishes as well as stubborn misconceptions that persisted for centuries, even as maps became more accurate. No wonder they view antique maps as art.
Delve into the world of antique maps and survey the catalogues of these vintage map dealers:
• Antiques of the Orient, Singapore • Barry Ruderman, La Jolla, California • Cohen & Taliaferro, New York • The Old Print Shop, New York • Daniel Crouch, London • Philip Curtis, The Map House, London Plan Your Visit
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