Tips for prospective map collectors
This page offers information on the different
aspects of Map collection.
Types of Collections - Factors Affecting Map value - How Condition Affects Value - Map Colouring - How to Detect
Reproductions - Storage - Reference Materials
Most collectors have a theme for their collections. Often this
is a geographic area, usually the one in which they live or are
otherwise familiar with, or something else such as the earliest of
world maps after the discovery of the New World. Others specialize
in a feature such as California shown as an island, or other
figments of imagination. Sometimes, people collect examples of many
cartographers or a single cartographer. Others might be interested
in exploration or highly decorative maps or perhaps maps related to
events such as the Civil War or industries such as railroads or
even maps of places they lived or visited. As in other fields, there
are many directions in which to build a collection.
Many factors can affect value. The following are some of those
factors. As a rule: the more of these important qualities possessed
by the map, the greater its value.
1. Region Depicted. There are more collectors of maps of some
regions than others, affecting the size of the market, and thus the
value of maps of those areas. For instance, world maps have a
universal appeal. Among nations there are sizable numbers of
collectors for maps of the United States, Great Britain, Germany,
Australia and Canada and increasingly Japan and China. Within the
United States some of the larger states such as Texas, California
and Florida have a lot of interest, but it is the earliest maps of any
state or region that are in demand. Some areas that have small
populations, but that are vacation destinations such as Bermuda,
Malta and some of the islands of the West Indies are popular. Areas
that are more remote or with smaller less affluent populations have
less demand and are often very decorative and well priced.
2. Historical importance. Some maps, particularly those of
explorers, are the earliest to depict an area or feature. Other
maps might depict an important battle or similar event. Other
examples may be imagined geography such as California as an island.
Generally the closer such maps date to the event the more
importance and thus value they have.
3. Size. Generally the larger the map the more opportunity for
detail and decoration. Such maps also display well so they are
usually more valuable than smaller maps of the same area or event.
Some maps are very large and difficult to display, reducing their
4. Rarity. Some maps were issued in small numbers and are
relatively rare. If other conditions that enhance value, are
present the map is further enhanced by rarity, but rarity alone
does not create value.
5. Age. For similar maps, older is generally the most
valuable, but age alone does not determine value, as some very early
maps of regions of relatively little interest have relatively
little value. Age, like rarity, is more an enhancement of
6. Aesthetic qualities. Some early maps were enhanced with large
cartouches, sea monsters , ships and other decorative additions.
Such maps display well and thus have greater value. Colour and
condition also affect value.
Ideally, an old map should be in as close a condition to the
original as possible. If the original owner put the map aside and
rarely consulted it, and preserved it well, the map can be in "as
new" condition, but such circumstances are rare. The following are
some of the usual defects that occur.
1. Stains. Stains come from outside influences or might result
from the aging process. Outside stains might be water, coffee or
similar liquid, or even wax, are things that can fall on the map in the
course of use. Even dust and dirt or soiled fingers can soil a map.
Older paper usually is of such quality that it deteriorates only
slightly with age, but since about 1820 cheaper paper has been used
and this can quickly deteriorate. Browning or oxidation of the paper
usually appears at the edge or along the crease where it is exposed
to air. Foxing or mildew spots also occurs. A skilled paper
conservator can often reduce or eliminate these problems but not
2. Tears. These occur through use. Large maps were often folded
and are weak at the folds. Other maps were folded into a binding
and often tear at the fold. Atlas maps often have a centerfold that
is vulnerable to tearing. As a rule the more visible a tear is in
the image the greater the problem. Again, a skilled paper
conservator can often reduce or eliminate these problems.
3. Margins. It is desirable to have a margin on each side of at
least a quarter inch on each side if for no other reason to enable
framing to occur. Some maps were not published with such margins or
they have been trimmed. Such trimming reduces value. A "false
margin" can sometime be added for aesthetic or practical
4. Creases. The crease on the centerfold or other fold that
occurred when the map was issued can often be flattened or reduced.
If this is done and they are not obtrusive it does not affect
value, as all examples of the same map would have similar creases.
Other creases resulting from mishandling affect value to the extent
that they interfere with he appearance of the map.
5. Backing. Maps have often been dry mounted or glued to another
surface. This can often reduce value a great deal as the glue or
backing can contain substances that make the map susceptible to
wear, discolouration or other deterioration. A skilled paper
conservator can often remove the map and reduce the side
Sometime folded maps have deteriorated to such an extent that
they are professionally rebacked with tissue or rice paper. This
usually enhances value compared to a map that needs
1. Contemporary Colour. Colouring varies with old maps. When
they were produced some maps were fully coloured at the time, some
were partly coloured, some were coloured in outline, and many not
coloured at all. When maps were coloured at or close to the time of
production it is referred to as contemporary colour as it is
contemporary to the printing of the map. Maps were originally
coloured to enhance appearance and readability. Generally three or
four colours (green, pink, orange and yellow) distinguished
political subdivisions, black was used for names, red coloured
cathedrals or other buildings distinguish large cities and blue
stands for water.
2. Modern Colour. Often older maps issued without colour have
colour added in whole or in part. Any colour added long after the
map was issued is referred to as modern colour. Modern colour can
be skillfully applied or less so but it usually is in outline and
may or may not be historically correct. If it is skillfully applied
and historically correct it is often difficult to distinguish from
contemporary colour. If you are in doubt you can ask a map dealer.
Usually they can distinguish between the two.
3. Pros and Cons. Most dealers and collectors agree that
contemporary full colour is best and that bad modern colour is
undesirable, but after that there is substantial lack of agreement.
Many uncoloured maps are much more attractive with skillfully
applied modern colour. A few collectors prefer maps only as
originally issued coloured or not but most dealers agree that
skillful modern colour enhances interest and thus value of many
maps. It is very much an individual collectors choice.
Very few maps have been deliberately faked to deceive, but some
have been reproduced, and occasionally they are confused with the
original. There are some obvious signs that they are
1. Size. Reproductions are usually larger or smaller than the
original. If you can determine the size of the original map
comparisons are easily made.
2. Folds and plate marks. Older maps were often produced by a
copperplate, and then folded at least once into a volume. These
marks are obvious on the original and usually still physically
present. On a reproduction they can often be seen but they are flat
3. Colour. Most early maps were coloured by hand and brush
strokes can often be discerned. Reproductions usually use printed
halftones and the small dot patterns can be seen with a magnifying
4. Legends. Reproductions that are not intended to deceive
usually identify themselves with fine print that includes modern
dates or printing houses.
5. Paper. Early paper is made with a high rag content. Chain
marks, watermarks and similar features can be seen in the bright
light. Reproductions on modern paper lack such features.
6. Aging Process. Old paper usually looks old. The edges will be
slightly worn and perhaps soiled. When in doubt most experienced
map dealers can identify reproductions without difficulty
Most early maps were produced using handmade rag paper. By
holding an original map up to the light you will see the chain
& wire marks, or the impression of the grid that the pulp was
pressed onto to dry. Watermarks can also sometimes be seen in the
paper. Secondly, the texture of handmade rag paper is slightly
rough to the touch. Run your fingers over it lightly and you'll
feel the texture, but don't rub your fingers over the image, as oils
from the fingers can be destructive to the engraving. Thirdly, a
plate mark is usually evident around the perimeter of the map
image. This is the impression made by the edge of the copperplate
itself. As reproductions have been mostly produced using
lithographic processes, and on commercial grade paper, the
appearance of the image is flat and smooth to the touch. Under
magnification, printed dots appear over the surface. There are no
plate marks or, incised lines, on the image.
Museums keep their storage areas at an optimum temperature of
around 70 degrees F and relative humidity of 50%. If conditions
cannot be kept to this ideal (and historic houses, for example,
often are not air conditioned), avoiding extremes, such as the very
high heat in an attic, and avoiding major fluctuations, such as an
unheated building that gets cold in the winter but hot in the
summer, should help from a preservation standpoint. If it's always
warm and humid that's better than warm and humid, then cold and
dry, then warm and humid again.
It always makes sense to keep any work on paper out of direct
sunlight and use UV filtering glas. Check periodically for signs of
foxing or mold, as that is one of the common problems with paper
and high humidity.
Then there are some interesting products out: Fuji Silysia Chemical
Ltd. has a line of products called Art-sorb, which is supposed to
absorb and desorb moisture depending on the climate changes and
protect the artwork. It comes in various forms including sheets.
Their number is (800) 795-9742 and they are in Oregon, USA.
If you want to consult an conservator; The American Institute for
Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works gives Referrals.
They're in Washington, DC, at (202) 232-6636.
1. Books. No single book tells everything there is to know about
map collecting. Libraries often have books on cartography and some
are offered by large book dealers or map dealers. Some
good reference books are offered for sale on this Web site.
Many reference books are rare and seldom are on the market. Since
they each have a different emphasis their value varies.
2. Dealer catalogues. Most larger dealers issue catalogues of
material. There are often well documented and useful. Occasionally
back issues of catalogues appear at used book stores but dealers
often have back issues that are available for collectors.
3. Map Societies and networking. Many large cities have map societies
and local inquiries will usually locate them. Also, map collectors
can sometimes be located on the World Wide Web.
Our best advice is to buy a map or two you find interesting. Try
to learn about the map. Who published it how and when? What
information does it contain that is interesting? Why? What is
omitted? The collector would be surprised how much can be learned
from this approach.