January 19, 2022
Some antique maps were issued in small numbers

For cartographers collectors and lovers of antique cartography

The map market, due to the abrupt slowdown experienced by almost all antique markets following the financial crisis of almost a decade ago, has slowed down a lot compared to the past. There is now a strong interest and a lot of demand only for a limited range of antique maps, partially excluding the rarest finds in favor of more common maps.

There is much to discover when faced with antique maps, things not obvious unless one has the expert eye of a cartographer or an avid collector.

Most collectors have a theme for their antique map collections. Often it’s a geographic area, usually one they live in or are familiar with, or something else universally interesting, such as the first of the world’s maps after the discovery of the New World. But when you want to start a collection of antique maps you also have to deal with what are the factors that affect (and determine) their value. Let’s see what they are.

What determines the value of ancient maps

Many factors can affect the value of antique maps. As a rule, the more of these qualities the map possesses, the greater its value.

1. Region represented

There are more collectors of antique maps from some regions than others, which affects the size of the market and therefore the value of maps from those areas. For example, maps of the world have universal appeal. Among nations there are a substantial number of map collectors from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, and Canada, and increasingly Japan and China.

Antique map of the North American colonies
Ancient Map of North American Colonies and Arrangement of Revolutionary War Forces (1765)

Some areas that have small populations but are vacation destinations such as Bermuda, Malta, and some of the West Indian Islands, which makes antique maps of these areas very popular. Areas that are more remote or have smaller, less affluent populations have less demand and are often very decorative and well priced.

2. Historical Significance

Some antique maps, particularly explorers’ maps, are the first to represent an area or historical event. Other maps may represent an important battle or similar event. The closer such maps are to the event, the greater their importance and thus the value they have.

3. Size

Generally, the larger the map, the greater the chances that it will be rich in details and decorations, so they are usually more valuable than smaller maps.

World's map
The larger the antique map the more it is worth

4. Rarity

Some ancient maps were issued in small quantities and are therefore relatively rare. If other value-enhancing conditions are present, the map is further enhanced by rarity, but rarity alone does not create value!

5. Age

For similar maps, the oldest is generally the most valuable, but age alone does not determine value since some very old maps of remote regions are of little interest and thus have relatively low value. 

6. Aesthetic qualities

Some of the earliest maps were enhanced with large cartouches, sea monsters, ships, and other decorative additions. Such early maps when well maintained have a high value. So in this case the color and condition also affect the value.

The condition of old maps, why reproductions are made and the two most dangerous enemies

Ideally an old map, when reproduced, should be as close to the original as possible. If the original owner set the map aside and consulted it infrequently and kept it well, the original map itself may be “as good as new,” but such circumstances are rare. This is why it is often preferred to make copies.

Top 10 astonishing old maps

In fact, old maps naturally have some defects that should be considered when purchasing them. First of all, there are the stains. The stains come from outside influences or could come from an induced aging process. It could be water, coffee or similar liquids, or even wax – all of which can fall on the map in the course of its use. Dust and dirt (or the consultant’s dirty fingers) can also affect the state of an ancient map. Creases and wrinkles come next.

They are phenomena that occur through use. Large maps were often folded and are obviously weaker in their folds. Other maps were folded in a binding and often tore near the fold. However, the crease on the center portion or another fold that occurred when the map was issued can be flattened or reduced through restoration tricks. If this process is conducted properly and the changes are not intrusive, it will not affect the value of antique maps.

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