November 11, 2016 2 min read

In contemporary times, antique map collecting has become a remarkably popular and rewarding hobby with avid collectors choosing a specific region, period or cartographer as a guideline.

Although well-preserved and authentically dated maps have an intrinsic monetary value, they are also aesthetically pleasing and intriguing exhibits that reflect a snapshot of fading history.

The value of antique maps

Antique maps, prepared by early printing processes and coloured by hand, largely originate from hand crafted, illustrated books and atlases published over the centuries, where they are carefully removed and preserved for generations of collectors to come. Each map is therefore considered an original and priceless treasure.

The real value, however, is in rare maps that have cartographical curiosities or misconceptions and these can range from the highly illustrated satirical maps of 19th century Europe with the nations depicted in human or animal form, or maps of North America that repeated the mistake of depicting California as separate from the mainland for at least 100 years!

Collectible items from the 16th to the 19th century include sea charts, geographical and celestial maps as well as miniature maps that are sold as a single broadsheet or bound in an Atlas.

History of map making

Although ancient man probably scratched his geographical surroundings in the sand, the first known map was discovered in around 6000 BC on a wall in Turkey. The Romans and Greeks developed the process with Ptolemy producing his ‘La Geografia’ in around 150 AD, a map that provided the basis for future cartography for over a 1000 years!

A map making timeline

  • The invention of printing techniques in 15th century Europe accelerated the process of map making with technology making it possible to produce multiple copies for the first time in history.
  • The 16th century witnessed a surge in surveying equipment and methods, improving the art and accuracy of map making.
  • The advancement of printing techniques through the ages ensured that the quality of maps improved all the time. The 17th century was dominated by xylography map reproductions, a relief printing technique where the image of the map was engraved onto copper plates.
  • Artists using lithography, a printing method that uses simple chemical processes to create an image, was the new map making innovation in the early 1800’s and by the end of the 19th century the map making process was mechanised, with maps shedding their decorative features, becoming entirely factual.

Mark Wright
Mark Wright

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