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Antique World Map

Antique World maps can be dated back to the Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations. Today these are prized by collectors all over the world.

Map making and the representation of the surface features of man's environment can be traced as far back as the pre-Christian era. The earliest discovered specimens closest to maps are the Babylonian maps drawn on clay tablets. Indigenous peoples also used to draw local and regional maps on cloth, bark of trees, or animal skin using indigenous techniques. Then came the ancient Egyptians who used ancient hieroglyphics to draw maps. These early experiments with rudimentary map-making notwithstanding, serious efforts to draw maps on a world scale began only with the ancient Greeks and their efforts to understand the shape and size of the then known world. One path-breaking cartographic innovation in the ancient world was the world map by Ptolemy. Ptolemy's world map influenced many early maps and map-making techniques in the ancient world for several centuries to come.

Some of the ancient world maps that survived are considered antique pieces today and are prized by collectors all over the world. Among the various antique maps, the antique world maps are the ones that enjoy the most universal appeal. There are several characteristics that enhance the value of an antique world map. Thematically speaking, some of the most popular antique world maps are those representing the world at the time of the early explorations and discoveries. The size of an antique world map is also important as larger the map greater is the scope to represent details. Some antique world maps were produced in few numbers and even fewer antique maps survive today. The rarity associated with a world antique map also enhances it value among collectors.

Another related characteristic that enhances the value of an antique world map is its age or date of production; the earlier the better. Collectors also increasingly consider aesthetic qualities of antique world maps. Some of the highly sought after antique world maps are ones illustrated by mythological and mythical creatures like sea monsters and spirits, marine instruments like anchors, and ships. The color and physical conditions also impact on the value of an antique world map. While some collectors prefer antique maps that have been considerably restored and their physical conditions improved with the use of modern techniques and colors, there are others who prefer them as they are found with stains, yellowing paper and other marks and signs of antiquity. It is in the latter characteristics wherein lies the charm of an antique world map.

What are Antique Maps?
Antique Maps

Antique Maps

As a generally accepted notion, maps prepared between the 15th and late 19th centuries are considered antique. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but they are few and far in between.

The period was so chosen because it was during this time that the world saw the most vigorous cultural developments ever. No one is unaware of the far too numerous expeditions by various explorers, who set out to chart the world and claim new territories.

Imagine the excitement on board a ship about to set sail: there were new cultures to be encountered; new challenges to be overcome; new forms of wealth; and of course, the dangerous but exciting prospect of never being able to make it back home. It was adventure at its height, a time when the quest for new knowledge was at its pinnacle.

These people explored practically the whole globe, and gave rise to conditions that defined our present-day world. They created the history, sociology, and even the fate, of the world we live in. And they recorded their aspirations, discoveries, and disappointments in the most comprehensive and compact medium imaginable - maps!

Antique Maps in Today's World
No serious study of the world history can ignore antique maps. They are more than mere pieces of paper from a very old time: they represent the development of the human civilization, and capture the spirit of exploration and acquisition.

Human beings are always fascinated with acquiring and preserving knowledge, a propensity that has given rise to modern advancements and complex social groups. Along the way, maps have been of great help in archiving knowledge for the later generations.

Little could the seafarers and explorers of the past have imagined that their creations would live on to fascinate people even hundreds of years in the future. As we set out to understand the development of the world, the historical accounts by the various chroniclers feel incomplete without the beautiful maps they created.

Today, antique maps are a source of pleasure to researchers, students and map collectors alike. Even the layman can be assured of an enlightening and rewarding time by studying these artifacts of the antiquity.

Where to Look for Antique Maps?

Ah, so your interest is piqued by the various beautiful antique maps. Well, it was inevitable! Now, surely you are itching to lay your hands on some and start your own personal collection. Here are some of the sources you can begin with:
  • Unofficial collectors:

    You can begin by approaching people who are well-known in their circles for collecting antique maps. These people will be part of a small but elite group, and might be quite difficult to trace. However, the rewards can be many, as they are usually more generous than large, organized collectors. A good start might be historians, geographers, public figures, government employees, etc.
  • Map Fairs:

    In many parts of US and Europe, fairs organized for map lovers are a common sight. It is a veritable paradise for those looking to buy, sell or talk about maps. If you get really lucky, someone might be selling off his entire collection at very low prices. Search in your local listings and see if there are any regular fairs.
  • Dealers:

    There are specialists who make a living out of facilitating buying and selling of rare maps. They are envied for their wide knowledge and connections. They mostly deal with rich clients having specific interests, so if you are just starting out, it might be a difficult option for you.
  • Online Collections:

    There are many online collections who routinely look for good antique maps and put them up for sale. You can browse through their catalogue at your leisure. If one of them looks good to you, make sure you pay them a personal visit if possible, and savor first-hand what stole your heart while on the website.
  • Map Societies:

    These are groups belonging to a specific geographical location, and seek to promote and advance all types of map-related activities. They usually have more than their share of map-crazy people, and joining such a society can open up a whole world for you.

How to Identify an Original Rare Map

Once you start scouring these sources, you will find that there are more than enough antique maps available. Looks like the early explorers were a busy lot! If you finally get to examine an antique map, how do you make sure it is not a reproduction?
While there are some general guidelines, it must be noted that the difference becomes less perceptible the more recent a map is. In any case, here's how you can do a quick examination of a map to determine its antique value:
  • Check for the overall texture and tone. An antique map is more or less faded in look, and will have a yellowish tone. Just browse through any online collection and you'll know what they look like.
  • Touch the map, if you are allowed to. But be careful, antique maps can be very delicate! An antique map will be rough to the touch, and you can feel the finer veins of the rag paper with your fingertips. A facsimile, on the other hand, will usually be printed on commercial-grade paper and will be smooth as butter.
  • Check the map against the light. In an antique map, you can see the wire marks and the grid used to prepare the paper. This is unlike the paper produced by modern-day lithographic processes.
  • Near the edges of the antique map, you can see marks of the plate used to secure the paper. Another important feature is that these marks will not be uniform in nature.

Once again, please remember that while these guidelines are a good start, they don't provide a foolproof method of examination. If you are new to map collecting, it would be a good idea to buy them from a reputed online collection.

How to Value an Antique Map

So you think you would very much like to own that exquisite-looking antique map? Go ahead, there are fewer more delightful things in the world! But if you are new to the game, and happen to be buying a map with no preset price, how do you arrive at a good guess?

Sadly, it's easier said than done. A lot of factors go into setting the price of something, and it's easy to find items that are ridiculously overrated or underrated. However, does it mean that the tyro has nothing to do but grope in the dark? Not so! The following parameters are a rough guide to assessing the value of an antique map:
  • Region:

    A local antique map of, let's say, Texas, would generally capture very little interest elsewhere in the world. Therefore, if you have a special interest in that area, the map will have a higher value for you.
  • Relation to History:

    Maps that are related to major events in history would naturally be more valued. For instance, maps related to the Thirty Years' War or the American Civil War will be highly valued over a survey map by some architect. But again, these issues are highly relative and the assessment is a delicate matter.
  • Exclusivity: If the map has many surviving contemporaries, it is likely not to be valued very highly. Moreover, certain maps were so valued that they saw excellent duplications being released in the market. The more exclusive a map is, the more valued it becomes.
  • Size:

    Larger maps are, as a general rule, likely to be valued more, as they have more detail and were used for important purposes. But if a map is very large, it will become difficult to handle and display, thereby likely reducing its value.
  • Colors and Plotting:

    The maps that have more colors and were plotted meticulously are more valued. This is especially true of some versions of the world map.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it must be emphasized once again that these measures are highly subjective. It is very likely that a map may have none of these qualities and still be very valuable.

Wear and Tear of an Antique Map

Antique maps are often consulted - sometimes for knowledge, and mostly for pleasure. Therefore, to say that you will be able to find an antique map in perfect condition, would be a lie. An antique map will always have wear and tear, but it is important to learn what kind of and how much wear is tolerable.
  • Creases: Creases are quite common in maps. It is likely that the map was folded when it was first published or stored. However, these creases should not be more than a couple. Also, note that it possible to work on a map and smoothen the creases quite a lot. If you come across a map whose look is being marred by creases, rest assured it won't be valued highly.
  • Tears: A map grows weak at the fold over time. So much so that it might come apart if it is not preserved properly. Make sure that the tear is not too worse when you buy an antique map. Also, the smaller maps are not expected to have any noticeable tear.
  • Margins:

    Margins are important in antique maps, as they can be used to frame the map or preserve in some other way. But some antique maps were not created with a view of long-term preservation, and hence lack original margins. Many map buyers assess this negatively on the map's value.
  • Stains:

    While it is okay for a map to undergo a yellowing effect with age, stains of dirt, coffee, or something similar are very disappointing. Also, a map that gets touched too often gets ruined in the process - the oils from the fingers have a detrimental effect on the paper and colors.

God forbid if a serious map collector were ever to let his maps get stained. The burden on his conscience would be just too much to handle! Read the next section and save yourself from this cardinal sin.

Storing Antique Maps Safely

If you own an antique map by now, or even plan to, it's your moral duty to ensure this beautiful piece of history doesn't get destroyed. What could be worse than finding out that your most-loved possession is no more, all because of a slight negligence?

To store an antique map safely, atmospheric conditions play a vital role. Of course an ordinary map collector can't rival the museums that regulate the temperature the year round and keep the air free of any humidity. But this does not mean nothing can be done. One of the best things you can do is store the map in such a place that doesn't see very large temperature and humidity variations. Avoiding extremes and fluctuations is the key. How exactly you do that is up to you, but one good thing would be to keep away direct sunlight and not have any windows open in that room.

The air the map material comes in contact with is important. Even moderate amounts of humidity can cause the map to catch mold. And if it does, there would be nothing to do but repent. There are certain very good chemicals that can be used to cover the map surface and minimize the effects of humidity.

Lastly, you'd be happy to know that there are certain people whose profession is to keep maps in a good shape. They are known as conservators. It might be a good idea to consult a conservator and get some advice specific to your storing area.

Whetting Your Appetite

Since all these things are going to take some time to settle down, you might be getting restless in the meantime. Why not search for online map collections and gloat over the miniature treasures? It will give you a good overview of what the maps look like-and maybe even what they feel like-as well as connect you to the many online groups interested in maps.

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