The great joy of antiquing is that it allows you to own your very own little piece of history with a unique story. Few antiques embody this ethos quite as well as antique maps. Antique maps are more than beautiful pieces of valuable cartographic wall art, they act as windows into other times and places. Consequently, old maps make for a wonderful addition to any home. However, the art of antique map collecting can be complicated to newcomers so today our experts here at the Old & New Shop are telling you everything you need to know before purchasing an antique map!
What is an Antique Map?
An “antique map” is any map printed more than 100 years ago. Antique maps were printed using one of three methods depending on their exact age: wooden block printing, copper and steel engraving, and surface printing (lithography). The earliest maps were generally printed from a wooden block cut in relief with the printed area standing out from the rest of the map and then inked usually without any color. However, copper and steel engraving-based maps are from the vast majority of antique maps that have survived to the modern day. Copper engraving-based maps emerged in the 1500s and were popular until steel replaced them in the early 1800s. In this printing process, a reversed version of the map’s image was cut into a metal plate, inked, and then placed with a sheet of paper in a press. The ink in the grooves would then produce the image of the map. Lithography emerged in the early 1800s as well allowing map makers to draw their maps directly onto a specially prepared stone (ending the need for engravers) this method used color but created maps with a fuzzy quality. By the 1880s modern machine lithography and printing methods took over the industry.
Building an Antique Map Collection
If you are looking to start collecting antique maps as a hobby it is best to build a personal theme for your collection. A map collection can be meaningful in many ways. A collection can showcase your home state/city/country/region, document your travels, trace your family tree, or spark your curiosity about a particular historical era. No matter what theme you pick it is also important to act as a proper steward for your collection to protect the maps for the next generation. You should handle your maps with care (never holding them by the edges of the paper) and you should store them in ways that will protect them from sunlight and humidity such as in a professional frame or in clear archival sleeves.
How to Tell if a Map is a Genuine
The fact that antique maps are no longer being produced lends them an inherent rarity and therefore value. However, anyone considering purchasing an antique map needs to consider the possibility that the map they intend to purchase could be a facsimile, reproduction, or fake. It is also important to understand these three terms. A facsimile is meant to be an exact copy of an original antique map that is not meant to trick would-be map buyers. Facsimiles are expensive to produce so they are fairly rare and typically only copy very famous important maps. They can be identified easily because somewhere on the image a disclaimer will be printed in modern typeface stating the company that created the facsimile and the date the facsimile was printed. A reproduction is a copy of an antique map produced for commemorative, decorative, or educational purposes and not to deceive would-be map buyers. Reproductions are much more common than facsimiles, or fakes because they are mass-produced to be sold in museum gift shops and on the internet for low prices. Reproductions can be identified as reproductions if they are printed on modern paper or if they have folds, creases, or tears that are simply photographically reproduced and printed on the map and do not reflect actual damage to the paper. Finally, a fake is an attempt to make so exact a facsimile of a map, that can be passed off as an original to an unsuspecting buyer. It is difficult and time-consuming to forge an old map, so convincing fakes are few and far between, and buyers are not likely to encounter one if they are buying a map from a reputable source. It is, however, always advisable to have a map appraised for its value by independent experts before final purchase to help determine the map’s authenticity and value.
Collecting Antique Maps
If you find an antique map (or any other antique) and want to have the item appraised please reach out to the Old & New Shop for help!