Collecting Original Maps

May 07, 2020

Collecting Original Maps

So you’re looking to collect antique maps, but you’re not sure where to start. Whether you’ve already found a few smaller pieces, or are completely new to the scene, these tips and tricks will help you delve deeper into the world of antique map collecting. 

Maps are unique and fun items to collect. Whether they’re large world maps or small folding pocket maps, originally designed for the traveler on-the-go, antique maps hold secrets of history in their folds. Maps can be a unique collecting focus, and fit well into collections of general history memorabilia, like a Civil War collection or an 18th century French collection. Maps can also be stand-alone pieces that you buy simply when the look and feel is right. Whether you’re buying to accent a home office or are the avid searcher, on the hunt for your next great piece; we can help you navigate the waters of antique maps like a pro.

Buy what you like

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: collecting is all about you. Buy maps that you want to look at! Whether you’re interested in buying maps for an investment opportunity or purely for the fun of it, search for pieces that you truly find interesting and fun to look at. 

Embrace nostalgia. For many, maps that show a hometown over different periods in time are the most fun. You’ll be able to track exactly when your town was founded, just how it was named and spelled, and all of the routes (or lack thereof) that people used to get there.  Follow the evolution of your city and country and see just how much it has changed. Maps showing a favorite destination, a significant location from your past, or a collection of places that you wish to travel to are absolutely worth collecting.

Many collectors are interested in the age of exploration and use this as the driving factor in finding old maps. During a time when much of the world was unknown, these maps are often quite experimental and unique, and show an interesting perspective. Because people were exploring more and more, maps of this period quickly became outdated as explorers discovered new lands and claimed more territory.

See them as investments

More and more people are turning to the fine art world for investment opportunities, especially now in this intense and unclear climate of COVID-19. Antique maps can be some of the most interesting to collect, and ensure that they will continue to increase in value over time. The key to seeing a return on your investment is to start off with pieces that are well researched and come with lengthy letters of authenticity (like ours!). 

Then, you’ll need to ensure that the maps maintain the best quality and condition possible, making sure that no further damage comes to the pieces. The longer you hold onto a map, the better, as people who try to turn a profit in the first couple of years after purchasing don’t normally see more than a small 10% profit margin, if any. As time goes on, fewer and fewer maps are available, some being lost forever due to unforeseen circumstances, and the better chance you have to capitalize on your investment. 

Do your research, and get searching

It’s always a good idea to learn the most that you can about each cartographer and specific city’s plan design to understand a map. It’s also usually safe to say that an older map will hold more value over time. This is simply because there is a likelihood that there are far fewer of them out there. Older maps also tend to be ornately detailed, from elaborate cartouches or compass rose designs, to even unique illustrations like sea monsters and ships detailed in the waters.

Older maps allow us to revel in just how much the world has changed over time. Geographically, you’ll find differences in country territories and state boundaries. You’ll also notice just how much perceptions have changed, and how cartographers saw the world in the age of mapmaking.

1847 “World at One View” Hand-Colored Wall Map by Ensign & Thayer

That being said, when you do delve deeper into the collecting world, make sure that you go in with a clear understanding of what you’re looking for. Maps can have tricky publication histories, which is part of what makes them so interesting and fun. The story behind the publication history is usually what makes a map so rare. Boschke’s Topographical Map of the District of Columbia is exceedingly rare as the most detailed and extensive map produced at the turn of the Civil War. Boschke’s work was the only example available when war broke out that would show the Union the details of the land needed to maintain a proper advantage. The U.S. government called for the seizure of Boschke’s map, before they even paid him a dime, and kept the original plates for their own use. Nowadays, there are so few examples of this original printing, making this a “holy grail” map for any D.C. collector or map collector in general.

Embrace them as artifacts that need to be preserved

Most things that people collect are antiquities, and should be treated as such. Most rare books (if they are in good condition) are quite self-maintained with hardcover bindings that ensure that they won’t just crumble and deteriorate if treated right. However, most rare maps, when you stumble upon them at a thrift store or garage sale, need a lot of tending to and attention to ensure that they will maintain their ornate detail and original style. This is when we highly recommend that collectors buy items that have been artfully framed according to conservation standards, or that they have access to do so when needed. Buying from reputable sellers ensures that these pieces have been stored properly up until you get your hands on it.

All of our maps are framed according to conservation standards, with acid free mats and UV protective glass. This ensures that the map you so heavily invested in will maintain its lovely original detail. 

Secondly, maps deserve quality placement in your home or office. That means no dingy basements or haphazard displays over the bathroom sink; these maps should be treated as priced art possessions, no matter how much you spent on it. Proper storage of these maps will insure that you retain the best buy-back price for your investment.

Understanding the condition of each piece is key. Remember that these are artifacts, and thus, general wear is just a part of the game. Many maps that were used as folding, travel pocket maps, or maps that were rolled on wooden rollers, will have fold lines. Depending on how often the maps were used, the folding and losses along the fold lines can range from minimal to extreme. Take your time to assess the condition of the item, and find out if any of these issues impact the overall design and feel of the piece. 

For older and more rare examples, you may just be happy to get your hands on an original whenever possible, so the condition shouldn’t weigh too heavily in your decision. Sometimes, the pieces that were originally produced on cheap, thin paper, were intended for short-term use and thus most likely weren’t taken care of very well. However, these oftentimes become more and more rare as quality examples dwindle on the market; researching rarity will play a part in your assessment of the condition that you should be looking for.

Get started

Get started on your map collection by choosing a focus (time period, location, style, cartographer, etc), doing your research, and contacting the experts. One of the best things new collectors can do is to reach out to experts in the field. Our team of professionals can help answer your questions about the world of collecting and will help you find your first acquisition. Our company guarantee ensures confidence in your purchase. We also offer a buy back program, so if any time down the road your collecting focus shifts or you find yourself wanting to upgrade some older pieces, bring your item back to us and put the money towards a new acquisition. We're here to answer your questions: Contact us.


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