| Sheila Howell

Antique Maps: Tips for Collectors

Cartography, Greek for papyrus or sheet of paper, is the art and science of making maps.

Cartography is the discipline dealing with the conception, production, dissemination and study of maps. Cartography is also about representation – the map. This means that cartography is the whole process of mapping.

International Cartographic Association

Starting with cave drawings, maps were critical communication tools for travel and commerce. They communicated geography, weather, navigation, history and science. Historians and collectors value the work of a skilled cartographer for both their scientific and artistic contributions. 

Beginner's Tips for Collecting Maps 

People collect maps for many reasons. Starting a map collection can be done at many price points, based on the collector's goals and budget. When starting a map collection, there are some basic points to consider:

1. Age
Most centuries-old maps that have survived were preserved because they were in an atlas. Very old maps are typically more valuable, therefore there are many antique map reproductions or forgeries. Is an antique map authentic, or a reproduction? Map expert Chris Lane uses a loop to inspect antique maps. By looking at a map through his pocket-sized magnifying lens he can see one of the tell-tale signs of a photo-reproduction: a matrix of little dots that make up the image.

2. Coloring
Cartographers used different methods and standards to color their maps. Some had no color at all, others were fully colored, while others only had outlines or specific regions colored. According to Paulus Swaen,"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 originally issued in colour, 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."

3. Region Depicted
Map expert Julian Wilson says the first map that depicts a territory will be deemed to be more important than later maps. 

4. Condition
The overall condition of an antique map impacts its value and With ancient paper, a certain amount of discoloration and aging is expected. Stains, folds and tears on the edges of the map have less impact than damage to the area being depicted. 

5. Cartographer
Most maps made before the 18th century were copper engravings. As paper-making and cartographer's tools became more advanced, maps became easier to make and therefore more available. Maps by 19th-century mapmakers such as Tallis, Colton and Mitchell are more affordable because there are more of them. 

Antique maps tell the story of a specific time and place. People collect maps for many reasons:

  • to reflect their ancestry
  • as art
  • historical interest
  • souvenirs of their travels
  • as an investment 

Decorating with Antique Maps   

Decorating With Antique MapsAntique maps lend beauty and history to any decor, whether it's traditional, contemporary or modern. They can be displayed in many different styles and locations in the home. The detail and craftsmanship in antique maps bring pleasure to both historians and design aficionados.   

People want their homes to reflect their unique personality and individuality, and not look like cookie-cutter replicas of their friends' homes. Antique maps are unique, colorful and give personality and depth to a room. When displayed as art, they express the owner's interests and aesthetic. 

22 Karat Goldleaf Framed Map of Napolean's Empire 1811

22 Karat Goldleaf Framed Map of Napolean's Empire 1811 

This oversized map of Napoleon’s Empire at the time of 1811 was published in London. The cartographer is J. Wlyd and features charts of the French department to the left. It is hand colored. The map has not only France but naturally also large areas of Western Europe. The map was printed in 1839 and is approximately 23.5” by 38” unframed. 

We have used glare reducing Museum Glass and archival matting and backing in the framing. Map of Napoleon's Empire frame has a 1-1/8” traditional scoop drawing frame with a NeoClassic shell applique in the corners. It is hand-leafed in 22 karat gold leaf with ochre painted sides. 

Date Printed: 1839

Image Size: approximately H 23.5” x W 38”; framed: H 30" x W 44"

Type: Antique early 19th-century atlas map with original hand coloring

Artist/Cartographer/Engraver: J Wlyd


Antique Map of Island of Cayenne 

Antique Map of Island of Cayenne