Collecting Maps and Charts EARLY MAPS By the start of the 19th century, cartography was already an exact science, but maps still displayed delightful,


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Collecting & Caring for Maps


 By the start of the 19th century, cartography was already an exact science, but maps still displayed delightful, old-fashioned features such as sea monsters

 Every aspect of a map's design tells us something of the age when it was made: the lettering, the decorative borders and cartouches, the compass roses, the uncharted uncharted filled with sea monsters and sailing ships, the vignettes of picturesque scenery and surveyors wielding their dividers.

Hendrik Hondius the Elder - Antique Map of the World
Antique Map of the World
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Gerardo Mercatore - Map World-Antique Paper 1500s
Map World-Antique Paper 1500s
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John Speed - British County Maps
British County Maps
John Speed

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 By Regency times these devices were outmoded but were often included for decorative effect.

 Modern map-making in Europe probably began in the 15th century.  The advent of woodblock printing meant that maps could be reproduced in some numbers.

 In the 16th century, woodblocks were replaced by copperplate engravings, a technique which let mapmakers reproduce greater detail.

JOHN SPEED, Map-maker

 Two rival Dutchmen, Blaeu and Jansson, published atlases of Great Britain in 1645 and 1646 respectively. Their books were based on the work of the great British map-maker, John Speed, whose Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was first printed in 1611.  He also published Counties of Britain: A Tudor Atlas

 Speed's fame rests on the beautiful design of his maps, which usually contain an inset of the principal town and are decorated with the coats of arms of distinguished local families.

 Speed's information came from earlier surveys, notably those of Christopher Saxton, whose atlas had been published in 1579.  Saxton and Speed had an enormous influence on subsequent mapping of British counties and their own works were reprinted up until 1770.


 An ingenious innovation in the 17th century was the system of strip road maps used in John Ogilby's Britannia, published in 1675.

 Although antique in style, these maps are similar to the route maps in any modern atlas, but with far greater topographical detail. Ogilby's idea was taken up by several 18th-century publishers, notably John Senex.

 Changes to the landscape of Britain in the 18th century meant that new editions of county maps road books
and appeared more frequently. Increased tourism created a market for updated pocket-sized travel guides.

 In the 19th century there were significant developments in map-making, particularly in the field of printing.  The government formed the Ordnance Survey, which took over the task of surveying the country, and the old style cartographer, who might be his own surveyor, engraver and publisher, disappeared.


 Before buying a map it is important to check that it is genuinely old print.  Attractive maps, especially British county maps, have been reproduced many times by modern publishers, whose name should be clearly printed on each sheet.

 Often when a map has been framed, the publisher's name is cut off or concealed.  If possible check what kind of print it is; whether it it a lithograph or an intaglio print for example.

 Intaglio prints can be recognised by the way the ink stands out in slight relief from the surface of the paper and the 'plate mark' where the paper was pressed against the engraved copper plate.

 However the plate mark was trimmed from maps in atlases and has often been trimmed from framed maps.


 The best preserved maps are often those that have been kept bound in book form.

  An atlas, if in good condition, is likely to be extremely valuable.  Many old atlases have been broken up because dealers have hoped to make more money by selling the maps individually.  Atlases were also broken up so the maps could be coloured.

  There are collectors who insist the colouring should be contemporary with the printing of the map, but others consider that this does not matter so long as the colouring is done well.  Some collectors prefer the purity of uncoloured maps.

 Dating a map exactly can be difficult because plates often remained in use, changing hands and having additions and corrections made to them for 100 years or more.

 Fortunately, 18th century copyright laws on prints were quite strict, so most publishers were scrupulous about reissues of old maps and would change the publisher's name and the date accordingly.


 While a great many maps were made to be framed or kept in a library portfolio, others were for daily use.  Ship's charts, in particular, are likely to have suffered from folding and tearing.

 Maps can be flattened by applying a warm iron to the back, after covering it with a cloth or blotting paper.

 A tear can be mended by realigning the fibred on either side and carefully taping it together from the back, using tape designed for the repair of books and paper.
If in doubt, always ask an expert restorer.


 The prices paid for maps depends chiefly on their rarity and condition but demand is also a powerful factor.  In Britain, nostalgia for an idyllic rural past maintains a huge demand for picturesque county maps.

  Luckily such maps were produced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in large numbers and are still quite common.

 Other countries, such as France, are less obsessed with this aspect of the past, and French maps of the same period can be cheaper.

  Similarly, maps relating to more mundane subjects, like town planning, can often be found at bargain prices.

Antique Map Wall Art

Counties of Britain:
A Tudor Atlas

by John Speed

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