Land Ho! Antique Maps
Used for Centuries to Navigate Routes Over Earth and Sea, Antique Maps Now Attract a host of Collectors--and a Few Thieves
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98
The gentleman's pedigree was impeccable--but the antique maps stuffed under his sweater were stolen.
Fitzhugh Lee Opie, a great-great-grandnephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was nabbed by a detective at the Library of Congress as he left the building on March 7, 1992, with two mid-nineteenth-century Pacific Railroad Survey maps swiped from the library's map collection.
The stolen maps (and two old military books from the library later found in Opie's car) were valued at $1,200. Opie, once an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, and a well-known antiquarian dealer in that city's elegant Old Town section, had been stealing from the library for 10 years, according to prosecutors. He got six months in prison, plus placement of his name on a different kind of social registry--that of bandits, gentlemanly or otherwise, who have bestowed a backhanded tribute on the growing popularity and value of antique maps: they steal them.
Until the early 1970s, the world of antique map collecting was a fairly circumscribed one, an esoteric realm best known to historians, librarians and a small cadre of collectors--mostly men--who sometimes called their passion "cartomania." By the middle of the '70s, however, obsessive devotion to the work of cartographers began to spread. The intensifying interest was spurred by the
shrewd marketing of a few dealers who recognized that these beautifully engraved remnants of ages past and lost worlds would have enormous appeal for corporations with offices to adorn, investors with capital to spare, and collectors who realized that some astonishingly lovely antiques were available for modest sums.
"When I'm playful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales." --Mark Twain (Life on the Mississippi, 1883)
Although map collecting still is considered largely the province of men, surely typical of the new generation of map collectors is a savvy young stockbroker for an investment bank in Hong Kong, Ailsa R. Cuthbert, 34, who already has accumulated "loads of maps," most of them dating from 1550 to 1750, after just five years in the hobby. Like many collectors, she began by reading books about maps, roamed through dealer galleries and shops, became friendly with other map collectors, and now concentrates on a few areas, typically regions that have a personal meaning for her. The majority of her maps are of Asia, where she has lived for 19 years, but she also has one of Edinburgh, where she was born, and a sea chart of the United Kingdom.
"I like the sense of discovery about them," says Cuthbert, "the transition of a place through time, and also the references to history, if they have a cartouche [title drawing] depicting costumes or other things from daily life at that time." Cuthbert is willing to spend up to $3,000 for a map--"more if I am feeling rich, or if it is an especially good piece," she says. She still is surprised that "you don't need to spend much more than $10,000 to get almost museum [-quality] stuff."
The vast majority of antique maps remain far more affordable, with many 300- and even 400-year-old items going for a few hundred dollars or less. That is lure enough for the 20,000 or so collectors who subscribe to Mercator's World, a bimonthly magazine devoted to the multifaceted aspects of map collecting, and the untold number of more casual collectors who poke around print and map-dealer shops.
"You don't have to be in Wall Street to buy maps; you could be a farmer," says Kenneth M. Newman, 71, owner of New York's The Old Print Shop Inc., which is celebrating its centennial this year. Although prices have "taken off in the past 15 to 20 years," he says, many high-quality maps from the eighteenth century (a prime period) still fall into the $800 to $10,000 range.
"They've always lagged tremendously [behind] the prices in [other] antiques, paintings, jewelry, boats, mink coats, cigars--anything you can think of," says W. Graham Arader III, 47, an exuberant, brash, extremely articulate fine arts entrepreneur whose aggressive marketing skills have made him one of today's top dealers in antique maps. At last January's Winter Antiques Show in New York's Seventh Regiment Armory (where he says 80 percent of his business has been generated over the years), Arader had approximately $1 million worth of maps for sale. While catalogues from Arader's seven galleries (in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas and California) feature maps that run as high as $350,000, he maintains a client list of some 4,000 customers that begins with those who have spent as little as $1,000 in his shops.
It is the escalating value of especially rare and desirable maps, however, that has turned the once-sleepy map market into a booming business that shows no sign of slowing down--and has transformed some previously respectable professionals into pilferers.
In its March 1997 issue, Money magazine featured a "Hot Stuff" story on map collecting, dubbing it "a new way to double your money." The magazine noted that a 15-inch-by-13-inch 1853 map of San Diego that sold for $60 in 1991 is worth more than twice that today, while the first map to call our continent "America," printed in Rome in 1507, has gone from $80,000 a decade ago to $135,000 now. Arader recalls that when he began selling maps in 1971, a classic 1635 map of America engraved and printed by the renowned seventeenth-century Dutch mapmaker Willem Blaeu sold for just $200 to $300. Now it fetches $12,000 to $13,000. The Old Print Shop's Newman muses: "As with everything else, [the price of maps] has moved along. I have to remind myself that the subway was a nickel in 1946."
Who are the people willing to pay Arader $15,000, say, for an 1810 map of the Southwest United States based on the explorations of a Lt. Zebulon Pike (of Pike's Peak fame), or $350,000 for four sixteenth-century Venetian wall maps of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia? Newman's assurances notwithstanding, you can guess the answer: Wall Streeters. "What do they say, there are going to be 2,000 people that get $5 million bonuses or more on Wall Street?" Arader observed last December, just before the mammoth Christmas bonuses were doled out in the big brokerage houses. "Those are the people."
As a consequence, potential thefts such as Opie's have become a major concern for scholarly repositories previously unaccustomed to large-scale larceny. Once proud of the open access to their treasures, libraries and universities are having to rethink security procedures and institute tighter controls. Among the gentlemen crooks purloining maps have been Andrew P. Antippas, a professor of English at Tulane University, who pleaded guilty in 1978 to stealing five rare maps from Yale University, and Robert M. "Skeet" Willingham Jr., the head of special collections at the University of Georgia, who was convicted in 1988 of stealing rare maps, books and documents from his own library.
The most spectacular case thus far involved a map dealer, albeit one with a questionable background. On December 7, 1995, Jennifer Bryan, a curator for the Maryland Historical Society, was doing research inside the elegant, 117-year-old cast-iron and gold-leafed stacks of the George Peabody Library of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when she grew suspicious about the movements of a supposed fellow researcher nearby. He was Gilbert Joseph Bland Jr., a 47-year-old dealer in rare maps from Tamarac, Florida. Bryan alerted library security personnel, who confronted Bland, only to have him bolt from the building. Chased several blocks, he tossed a notebook into some bushes before he was cornered. Retrieving the notebook, the security officers found three maps worth about $2,000 inside, sliced from a valuable 1763 book, The General History of the Late War by John Entick. Bland had used a phony University of Florida ID card bearing the name James Perry to gain access to the Peabody stacks. After questioning by the security officials and Baltimore police, Bland offered to pay $700 to restore the damaged book, and the police advised the library to let him go.
In his haste to leave, however, Bland left behind his notebook. Looking it over, Peabody director of security Donald Pfouts found a chilling list of rare maps, along with the names of major libraries that had them. Hastily surveying their own collection, Peabody officials found that a dozen more eighteenth-century maps were missing from other books that Bland had requested on a previous visit. Hopkins alerted other university libraries. Distressing reports began coming in that "James Perry" had really made the rounds: in all, 18 institutions, including the universities of Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Brown, Delaware, Chicago, Northwestern, Washington State and Florida, had been visited by Bland. The sixteenth- to eighteenth-century books he had asked to see now were missing maps. They had become the stock of his increasingly active trade in antique maps.
Not surprisingly, FBI agents found that Bland--whose record included arrests on charges of possessing a stolen car and defrauding the federal government in an unemployment compensation scheme--had abruptly emptied and closed his small shop, Antique Maps and Collectibles, leaving a cryptic note for his landlord. It simply read: "See you later." The FBI, however, managed to track Bland down in Coral Springs, Florida, where he surrendered on Jan. 2, 1996.
After a month of bargaining, Bland told police where he had stashed his booty, a storage locker in Palm Beach Gardens that contained approximately 150 antique maps. The maps, together with 100 others that were recovered from Bland's clients throughout the United States, were worth an estimated half-million dollars. Plea bargains in federal and several state courts netted him an order to pay $70,000 in restitution for damages, along with prison terms on which he ultimately served 17 months. In the view of many of his victims, it was an appallingly light sentence. "He was violating the trust of practically every community in the country, committing crimes against our his-tory," Hopkins' Pfouts told writer Miles Harvey of Outside magazine.
The map thieves represent a glaring exception in a pursuit long dominated by knowledgeable, cultivated collectors and trustworthy, devoted dealers who trade in documents they revere more for their reflection of past glories than their potential for future profits.
"I think if you're going to buy a map as an investment, you ought to buy the S&P Index instead," W. Graham Arader says with a touch of sarcasm. "People who buy maps to make money lose; people who buy maps for passion make a fortune.
"If you let passion rule your decisions, you will always be followed by like-passioned people later, who will pay you much more for your maps. If you buy maps for investments, you will be followed by other, cheap people who are looking for maps as investments and will niggle you down. So you'll collect in a category that investors collect in, and you'll make all the classic mistakes that nonpassionate map collectors make. If you want to go into maps as an investment, don't. If you want to go into maps because you passionately love them, you'll definitely make money."
"Journey over all the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue of traveling, without suffering the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst." --Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote, 1615)
The desire to make maps may be inherent in humankind. Clearly, people have always wanted to show how to get from one place to another on land and how to navigate the seas. They felt compelled to show potential travelers where rivers had to be crossed, where mountains posed barriers, what the place they lived in looked like. They were intensely interested, understandably, in the planet they inhabited. In essence, curiosity, commerce--and politics--compelled mapmakers and those who bought what they created. As the nations of Europe more meticulously surveyed their own realms and expanded their dominion over previously uncharted areas of the globe, they wanted maps of their new acquisitions and motherlands; their rivals also were interested in those maps, the better to determine the vulnerability of potential enemies in times of war.
While maps were meant to be used, they appear to have always intrigued collectors. "The interest in maps has been around for 500 years," says Arader. "There was a bishop in Spain who collected them in the fourteenth century!" The annals of mapmaking contain names only dimly remembered from high school or college history lessons, such as Ptolemy, the second-century Greek mathematician, astronomer and geographer whose theories on the Earth's size, oceans and land masses dominated mapmaking for centuries; and Gerard Mercator, a renowned sixteenth-century Flemish mathematician, instrument maker, cartographer and engraver whose "projection" charts of the world established a foundation that eventually enabled seafarers to navigate more accurately.
There are names that either are synonymous with maps (William H. Rand and Andrew McNally) or are not readily associated with them. The ranks of American cartographers and map printers include at least one Founding Father (Benjamin Franklin); the father of another (Peter Jefferson, Thomas's dad); and the "father of American geography," Jedidiah Morse, a Connecticut publisher of geographic books whose son, Samuel, created Morse code--that shatterer of distance.
American mapmaking's roster includes Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the eighteenth-century surveyors whose boundary line defined the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland--and in time became the cultural demarcation between the North and South. Also on the honor roll is John Charles Fremont, called "The Pathfinder" for his mapping of the Midwest and Far West in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1856, he became the Republican Party's first nominee for president. The party's second nominee, in 1860, had been a part-time surveyor in Sangamon County, Illinois, in the mid-1830s and had far more modest mapmaking skills. His name was Abraham Lincoln.
Misconceptions in mapmaking have had a mighty long shelf life--and mapmakers whose identities largely are unknown today coined names and concepts that had immense, enduring impact. For example, around 150 A.D., Ptolemy published an eight-volume book, Geographia, that contained a world map, 26 regional maps and many smaller ones. No original copies of this book or his maps survive, but maps based on Ptolemy's theories were the first to come off the Renaissance's printing presses, and his calculations of the circumference of the world influenced mapmakers and geographic thought well into the 1700s--indeed, long after many of them knew better.
Ptolemy's key accomplishment was the introduction of a formal grid of longitudinal and latitudinal lines, devised on the basis of astronomical observations and mathematical calculations. Yet as Lloyd A. Brown observed in his classic 1949 book, The Story of Maps, Ptolemy's text "was both a keystone and a millstone." Initially a breakthrough, it ultimately assumed an unwarranted status as dogma, preventing newer, better maps from being printed. Nevertheless, as map historian Tony Campbell observed, "Ptolemy's shortcomings were to be a positive advantage."
"By favoring the shortest of various Greek estimates of the circumference of the earth and thus arriving at a much reduced value for a degree of longitude," Campbell wrote in his 1987 book, The Earliest Printed Maps, "Ptolemy seriously understated the distance between western Europe and the supposed position of China. Columbus, who owned [a copy of] the 1478 edition of Ptolemy's classic, believed, or pretended to believe, that only...about 2,400 nautical miles...separated Lisbon from Cathay. Had Columbus realized that the true figure was nearer 10,000 nautical miles, it is conceivablehe would never have set out on his first, momentous voyage."
Ironically, while one mapmaker's mistake helped send Columbus on his way to the New World, it was another mapmaker's misguided beliefs that denied Columbus an honor that his discoveries merited.
Martin Waldseemüller, born in Germany around 1473, adopted the nom de plume of Ilacomylus, a Greek/Latin form of his name, when he became a cosmographer (an expert on the known universe) under the patronage of the Duke of Lorraine. The Duke was believed to have had a copy of a 1502 book, Mundus Novus ("The New World"), which detailed the voyages of the Florentine seafarer Amerigo Vespucci, who had followed in the wake of Columbus. Waldseemüller and his text writer, the poet Matthias Ringman, were so impressed with what Vespucci had done that in 1507 they published a new geographic book, Cosmographiae Introductio, which ignored the accomplishments of Columbus and instead labeled the new continent "America," in honor of Vespucci. Within a few years, Waldseemüller had second thoughts about whether Vespucci deserved the honor--but by then too many copies of Cosmographiae Introductio had been published and the name "America" had stuck.
"So geographers, in Afric maps/With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And over unhabitable downs/Place elephants for want of towns."--Jonathan Swift, 1733
Generally speaking, an "antique" map is one that is more than 100 years old. The earliest printed European maps were produced in the fifteenth century from wooden blocks on which the image was carved out in relief. By the early sixteenth century, the preferred printing method became engravings on copper plates, in which the image was cut in reverse. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, steel--a far more durable metal--replaced copper. Finer lines could be etched on steel and more maps could be printed from plates made of it. Most engraved maps after 1830 were etched on steel. Mapmakers also began using lithography, or drawings done directly on specially prepared stones, in the early 1800s. Modern machine lithographic printing technology was developed by the late nineteenth century. Maps could be made even more quickly and cheaply, but much of the earlier decorative quality now prized by many collectors disappeared in the process.
The period from the mid-1500s to the 1700s is the one that most interests deep-pocketed collectors, with the 1600s often called mapmaking's "Golden Age," an era when Dutch and Flemish cartographers turned out especially exquisite examples of the mapmaker's art.
Late-nineteenth-century maps also now fall into the more-than-100-years-old "antique" category--and are expected to begin rising in value. There even are devotees of those old oil company road maps that were given away at gas stations and stuffed into glove compartments between the 1920s and 1970s. Road Map Collectors of America, established only a few years ago, now has more than 300 members.
What entices most collectors, however, are not maps that were mass-produced to guide our way across the U.S.A., but those that were engraved by hand to record the centuries-long advance of human knowledge about the planet on which we live, the oceans we sail, the celestial bodies that have guided seafarers and mapmakers alike, and the towns and cities we built.
Collectors accumulate a familiarity with more than just geography. They pick up history; they develop an eye for engraving skills, colors and condition; they learn the names of cartographers, engravers and printers. They particularly prize maps that feature the misconceptions, mistakes and wild imaginings of the past: California depicted as an island (a belief that persisted for more than 100 years); sea monsters spouting above the waves and strange beasts lumbering over uncharted terrain; bizarre races as weird as any imagined aliens--people born with their heads set into their chests or ears large enough to sleep in.
As historian Stephen E. Ambrose has noted, even as brilliant a polymath as Thomas Jefferson, who in his day owned the world's largest library on cartography, geography and the natural history "of that awesome terra incognita west of the Mississippi," was not immune to beliefs now deemed absurd. He thought that prehistoric creatures such as the giant ground sloth still lived along the upper Missouri River; that a mile-long mountain of pure salt existed on the Great Plains; that the Missouri, the Columbia, the Colorado and the Rio Grande rivers all emanated from a single source; and that there likely was an all-water route, linked by a low portage across the western mountains, that went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In part it was to confirm or debunk these and other beliefs that Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark--two of this country's greatest early cartographers--on their epic expedition in 1803.
"We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this country. Those who come after us will fill up the canvas we begin," Jefferson wrote. Filling in that canvas took a long, long time. As late as 1867, a comprehensive summary of the geographical knowledge of the American West contains no reference to the Grand Canyon.
Despite the slow progress of geographic knowledge, mapmakers were never idle. There is a staggering variety of cartographic canvases available to collectors, who can choose from maps of the world, as well as globes, atlases, celestial and sea charts, town and city plans, miniature maps, even some extremely rare playing cards from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that feature maps of the counties of England and Wales--which, conveniently, number precisely 52.
The wisest advice to would-be collectors is to specialize in a particular subject, a certain region or a specific period, perhaps, or individual printers. Concentrating on one specialty will enable you to avoid being overwhelmed and allow you to gain sufficient knowledge about it to be able to recognize quality items when you see them and accurately judge whether the price tags properly reflect their value. "I recommend strongly that collectors focus," says Arader. "People who go scattering all over the place generally have scattering, silly kinds of collections."
In addition, only trade with reputable dealers, the kind who have been in business for a while and are known to their peers. The number of dealers in antique maps has remained surprisingly small. It still is a limited fraternity, an estimated 400 or 500 strong. Dozens list their wares on the Internet. Most are devoted to the hobby, but a few are in it for a quick buck. The good ones know who is reliable--and who is not. "It's a highly specialized field," says The Old Print Shop's Newman, who has been in the business since 1949.
Adds Arader: "The average collector should join a map-collecting society first. Whatever his budget for maps is going to be, he should spend it on reference books the first year and read."
Such advice is well-founded. The amount of arcane information about maps can be as daunting as their variety. The dating of specific maps, for example, provides an indication of the field's variability. As experts Carl Moreland and David Bannister explain in their book Antique Maps, one of the guides published by Christie's auction house, simply dating fifteenth-, sixteenth- or seventeenth-century maps is fraught with complications about which even specialists often differ. Frequently, a map may be listed with two dates--one in brackets to indicate when it first was issued; another date without brackets to indicate when that specific example of the map was printed.
In the maps trade, any print made from a particular woodblock or metal plate is deemed an "original," even if, as in the case of metal plates, a particular plate was used for more than a century (which was common); changes were made in it; and it passed from one printing house to another over the decades. Watermarks on the paper can be helpful in dating--but often mapmaking houses laid in huge stocks of paper and kept producing maps from particular batches for up to 40 or 50 years at a stretch. "Essentially, the purchaser has to rely on his own knowledge and the reputation of the seller," Moreland and Bannister advise. "If the impression is strong and clear, the map could be from an early edition; a weak impression probably would indicate the opposite."
Arader's major sources for antique maps are collectors, other dealers and museums that sell duplicates from their collections. When it comes to authentication, Arader says he checks "the paper, the ink, the watercolor, the plate mark, the folds in the paper, the oxidation of all of those previously mentioned things--you know, there are about 30 things you look at to determine whether a map's original. Learn as much about the field as you can before you spend your hard-earned money," he advises. "There's a lot of free information out there. Dealers will talk for days. So get [one] to start talking to you."
Antique maps come in a wide variety of sizes. Some could fill half a wall; others--exquisite sixteenth- and seventeenth-century miniatures that are just 3 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches--could fit into a wallet, albeit one that has been slimmed considerably to pay for them.
The basic sizes have specific names. Folio maps are those printed on a full sheet of paper measuring about 25 inches by 20 inches. Quarto maps are printed on one quarter of a sheet that generally measures 13 inches by 10 inches. Octavo maps are printed on one eighth of a sheet of paper measuring about 7 inches by 5 inches.
All of the early woodblock maps were printed in black and white, but mapmakers quickly learned that color sells. Soon they were advertising maps for sale as "colored or plain." Printed from engraved plates, the colored maps were hand-tinted before they were issued. Because it was tedious and costly to hand-color a lot of maps at a time, however, many of these maps were sold uncolored. The color schemes remained the same for centuries: estates, woods and forests were in green; hills were colored brown or black; rivers, lakes and seas were indigo.
The colorists had more leeway for creativity with the cartouches--the extravagant, complicated title drawings on many antique maps that give the name of the subject shown, the cartographer's name, sometimes a dedication, and perhaps an indication of scale. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, cartouches went through baroque and rococo phases, frequently featuring figures and scenes depicting the ambiance of the period and place. These often are splashed with a greater variety of hues, as are the depictions of ships, dolphins, mermaids, sea monsters or human figures; coloring also can be more vibrant on the maps' compass roses (indicating direction on the map).
Some antique map dealers contend that "later" or "modern" hand-coloring of previously black-and-white antique maps is acceptable--provided it is done properly and in the style of the original mapmakers of that period. Other dealers believe such modern embellishments are blasphemous and destroy the value of the maps. And forgeries are not unheard of. "There's a lot of new coloring that's going on," Arader warns. "And there are some very sophisticated Italians who will re-engrave maps, make copies. So you've got to be careful. You really should take your map to an expert before you buy it." As to whether color or black and white looks better (or is worth more), that is a personal preference.
Perhaps the most frequently asked--and difficult to answer--question about an antique map is: What's it worth? Sometimes even auction houses don't really know. In a 1996 article for Mercator's World, Vermont-based dealer F. J. Manasek recalled the time a few years earlier when an auction house relied on an out-of-date price guide to estimate the value of a "scarce" map. It listed the map as worth about $16,000 to $19,000--unaware that in two previous, private transactions between collectors, other examples of the same map had been sold for $40,000 and $70,000, respectively.
"There probably weren't a dozen people who knew of these transactions, but they affected profoundly the price of the map and made the public-knowledge price listed in the guide worse than worthless," Manasek wrote. (Fortunately for the auction house and seller, the bidders were of the few who knew the value--and bid accordingly.)
Manasek said that "age alone does not determine price" in the trade, noting that he owns "a stack of maps printed in the sixteenth century" that he sells for about $120 apiece. "These are genuine, authentic, guaranteed original maps. And there are some maps from the same period that fetch six-figure prices. What accounts for the disparity?"
In a nutshell, four key items determine a map's value: historical importance, beauty, condition and--last in Arader's estimation--rarity. "I would call [rarity] 'the refuge of the ignorant dealer,' the uneducated dealer who reaches for this word to suck an unwary collector into his grasp," he says. "If it's 'rare,' extremely rare, and it has no historical importance; [or] it's ugly; and it's been restored and it has no margins and there's a tear in it--who cares? Why would you want it? So 'rarity' is important [only] if the other three categories are [met]."
As to a map's historical significance, the potential collector wants to determine if the map in question is a "breakthrough map," as Manasek wrote in Mercator's World. He notes that this can be answered by asking: "Was it made by an important mapmaker? Does it show, for the first time, a radically different or improved image? Is it linked to political events, essentially a cartopolitical statement of significance?"
With respect to a map's "beauty"--well, that may be in the eye of the beholder, but certain standards apply, according to Arader: "Was the mapmaker talented? Did he make a beautiful map, with beautiful baroque, rococo, mannerist or Renaissance cartouches [or] designs? How well is the map engraved? How good is the calligraphy on the map? Is it good to look at?" Basically, the new collector has to "learn the aesthetic values" other map collectors prize, Arader says.
The condition of an antique map can affect its value, but given the fact that they are printed on such a fragile medium as paper, sometimes the mere fact that they still exist is amazing. Allowances can be made. "Minor repairs, such as neatly repaired centerfold splits, marginal tears or small wormholes, do not influence the value of a map to a very large extent," Manasek wrote. "But whole areas replaced in facsimile, replaced margins, loss of image by trimming, heavy staining or water damage all reduce the price of a map. In the present market, a heavily damaged and repaired Blaeu Americas may not be a bargain for $2,000. A superb example for $6,500 is."
If seventeenth-century Blaeu Americas aren't your cup of tea, there are other eras that are likely to yield good deals in antique maps. Many savvy collectors consider the nineteenth century a prime period in which to bargain-hunt. As a great age for inland exploration not only in the United States but in Africa and Australia, it was a time of enormous advances in geographical knowledge. There were tremendous changes in the mapmaking industry itself. And many maps of the period still remain reasonably priced--the "$100 maps" stuffed in the lower shelves of a dealer's cabinets.
While he thinks that many maps from the nineteenth century remain "a bargain," Arader says that "if I had to make a guess now, I think the biggest bargains will be the twentieth century--because in two, three years, the twentieth century is going to be no more. The way the interstate road system was developed, the way that the West was developed, the way that various parts of the country grew very, very fast; in other words, maps showing how quickly Florida, Texas and California grew in the twentieth century--it's an interesting story. So city plans or state plans or things really detailing the growth of those three states I think will be--are--major bargains."
As for those dubious collectors who hunt for "bargains" with a razor blade, haunting the dimly lit stacks of the nation's great research libraries in search of maps, the days of easy pickings may be over--at least at those institutions that take threats to their security seriously.
For example, the Library of Congress has responded vigorously not just to the loss of maps but to the theft or mutilation of hundreds of thousands of volumes. It has placed theft-detection tags in high-risk books, installed security cameras and electronic doors to limit entry to its stacks, instituted police patrols, and restricted the number of researchers allowed into the general collection.
At the Peabody Library--where Gilbert Bland was caught--surveillance cameras have been installed in the stacks and visitors no longer are allowed to "hide away in the alcoves," but now must look at rare books in a central area overseen by a monitor, says Cynthia Requardt of the Hopkins' library system's Division of Special Collections and Archives. Peabody was plundered of 27 maps--and got only 14 of them back. The others presumably were stolen during Bland's earlier "sweeps" of the library and sold before he was caught.
"Every library with which I have spoken has said they've tried to increase their security," says FBI Special Agent Gray Hill of the Charlottesville, Virginia, office. He has undertaken the difficult task of trying to reunite the maps that Bland stole with their owners. None of the maps bears any marks identifying it as the property of a particular institution (librarians get "sick at the idea" of stamping rare books with "Property of" notations, Hill says); and some of Bland's victims refuse to believe he sliced maps out of books in their collections--even after he told authorities he had. "Being in denial is nothing new to libraries," says Hill, who has returned more than 150 maps from Bland's booty but still has about 100 whose origins may never be determined.
Eileen Brady, a librarian at Washing-ton State University and editor of the quarterly Focus on Security, worries that too many libraries "believe 'it'll never happen to us,' and won't change their procedures. I don't think my colleagues learn anything. If you mention Gilbert Bland's name to people, you'd get a dumb response like 'Who's that?' The problem is it is only after the fact that they take security precautions."
Although Brady, like many of Bland's other victims, does not believe the thief spent enough time in prison, the federal law against thefts from museums and libraries has been strengthened, and prosecution of map thieves has been persistent. Now the FBI can become involved in a theft even if the stolen item does not cross state lines, provided it is more than 100 years old and worth more than $5,000.
"The FBI does a fantastic job of carefully and thoughtfully prosecuting the people who are stealing maps," says Arader. "It's not as big a problem as it was, because so many people have gone to jail. So people now realize--the little creeps that started doing this--that if they [try to] sell something to someone like Graham Arader, I will not stop until I've stuck you in the slammer."
Neil A. Grauer is a Baltimore writer and author of Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber (University of Nebraska Press).
FINDING YOUR WAY
Here are some tips in exploring the world of map collecting.
Associations of map collectors can be highly specialized. For example, there are associations of collectors who concentrate on the maps of specific states, regions, or cities. Among the more general associations of map collectors are:
International Map Collectors' Society
Contact: Jenny Harvey, 27 Landford Road
Putney, London, SW15 1AQ, UK
Road Map Collectors of America
Contact: Mark Adkinson, 5832 N.W. 62nd Terrace, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73122
Books on antique maps can be as specialized as the field itself. Good general reference volumes and guides (some of which may only be available in libraries) include:
Antique Map Price Record & Handbook
1997-98 edition ($46) Contact: Jon Rosenthal, Kimmel Publications, P.O. Box 12, Amherst, Massachusetts 01004; phone: (413) 256-8900
by Carl Moreland and David Bannister (1992, paperback, 326 pages, $24.95) Contact: Mercator's World Bookshop, phone: 800/840-3810
Collecting Old Maps
by F. J. Manasek (1998, 328 pages, $65 plus $4 for U.S. shipping)Contact: G.B.Manasek Inc., Box 1204, Norwich, Vermont 05055; phone: (802) 649-1722
The Story of Maps
by Lloyd A. Brown (1949, Little, Brown & Co., Boston) Out of print, although a Dover Press paperback came out in 1980, but is also no longer in print.
The W. Graham Arader III Grading System for Antique Maps
by W. Graham Arader Available for $225 from the W. Graham Arader III Gallery, 29 East 72nd Street, New York, New York 10021; phone:(212) 628-3668
Map-related books are also available through the British Library book shop, Great Russell Street, London WC 1, United Kingdom; phone: 011 171-412-7735
845 Willamette St., Eugene, Oregon 97401; phone: (800) 840-3810 in the United States, (541) 345-3800 in Canada. $39.95 in the United States for six issues a year, $49.95 in Canada, $59.95 in all other countries.
For a general on-line guide to map dealers, shops and businesses: http://www. concentric.net/~amdir/SpecMaps.html
Other helpful Web sites include: Beach Antique Maps & Prints (http://home. ican.net/~beach mp/faq.html); the History of Cartography site, compiled by Tony Campbell, map librarian, The British Library, London (http://ihr.sas.ac.uk/maps); Old Historic Maps & Prints (contact: Barry Lawrence Ruderman at http://www. raremaps.com); Mercator's World magazine (http://www.mercatormag.com); W. Graham Arader III Galleries, (http://www2.arader.com)
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