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Collecting Antique Maps - A Beginner's Guide

California wasn’t always attached to the west coast of the North American continent. It used to be an island. At least, that’s what mapmakers, mostly European, believed for about 100 years, from around 1650 to 1750. So that’s how they drew it on their maps.
The “Island of California,” as it is commonly called, is just one of the innumerable collecting niches that are possible in the increasingly popular field of antique map collecting.

Antique map collecting is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, which is perhaps one reason why there is such an enormous amount of material, from the affordable to the prohibitively expensive, in circulation today. Two reasons for the popularity of antique map collecting are that antique maps appeal to a broad spectrum of people (for a variety of reasons) and they make very attractive framed pieces that can be enjoyed by many.

The wide range of antique maps available today means that a novice can easily enter the field, although hopefully armed with a little caution and common sense. The best place to begin is with some reading. Two excellent books for the beginning collector are Collecting Old Maps by Francis J. Manasek, and Collecting Antique Maps: An Introduction to the History of Cartography, by Jonathan Potter. Both are available by visiting VintageMaps.Com at http://www.vintagemaps.com

Armed with a little guidance from these excellent books, the new collector is likely to focus on a particular niche within the map collecting field. This is an important step, since it is by narrowing the focus that a beginner is able to most quickly gain the necessary expertise for successful, and enjoyable, collecting. However, the new collector should also take some time to look around before jumping into a chosen area. There are as many collecting “areas” as there are collectors, and a little time and effort spent exploring the field may lead to surprising and unique choices.

What can a person expect to pay for an antique map? The price range is as wide, or wider, than almost every other field of antique collecting. Perfectly acceptable antique maps can be had for as little as $50. For those with a deep pocket, rare or hard-to-find maps can easily run into five or six figures. With the relatively low cost of entry, antique map collecting is an ideal choice for many individuals, combining wide opportunity for research and learning (history, geography, art, engraving, printing, politics, to name but a few) with the opportunity to display one’s prizes in an attractive way. And for those who truly “catch the bug,” antique map collecting can become a passion that is limited only by the imagination.

About the Author

Neil Street is the owner of VintageMaps.Com, which he founded in 1997. His website, an online destination for the antique map and antique print enthusiast, is at http://www.vintagemaps.com Send email to ncstreet@vintagemaps.com He can also be reached at (203)762-3474.

Neil Street