The Joy of Maps

Who knew a continent could have a birth certificate? Well, "America's Birth Certificate" is the unofficial name of the 1507 Martin Waldseemüller Map, the first to depict America as a continent and name it, and in effect redraw the world. In 2003 the Library of Congress paid $10 million for it, a record for a map. Then there's the famed John Mitchell Map—also known as the red line map—used to determine the shape of the United States during the 1783 peace treaty negotiations. Appraised at $27,000, it's one of just two copies; one is in the British Museum, the other is in the private collection of Murray Hudson, aka the Map Man, who owns the largest private cartographical collection in the world.

Though Hudson's Antique Maps, Globes, Books & Prints takes up most of tiny Halls, Tennessee, an hour-and-a-half drive from Memphis, and seven hours from Dallas and Chicago, collectors travel from all over to see Hudson's four shops filled with 24,000 or so maps, 760 globes, 6,700 books and 2,700 prints. And if you're willing to pay more for one than Hudson did, he'll probably sell it to you.

"The majority of people that collect maps have some sort of connection, a connection from any point of view," says Marti Griggs, who, with her husband Curt, publishes the online Antique Map Price Guide, a great place to start learning about map collecting. Their recent book Collecting Old Maps contains a chapter on spotting forgeries and fakes. "Curt and I started collecting because we were amazed we could hold something in our hands more than 400 years old," she adds. And they're affordable, too: collectors can find 15th or 16th century maps for $200, $300 to $4,000, labored over by renowned Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer or Van Dyke.

Hudson got into antique cartography in 1964, as he finished up a class in Oxford, England. While searching for gifts he walked into Sanders, a local print and map shop "thinking I was going to buy prints of cathedrals and English-looking countrysides," he says. "I saw the maps and I didn't buy a single picture. I bought 52 maps. It was love at first sight. They're just as addictive as the prints but have real places."

Hudson's fascinated with the Mississippi River, but he's a sucker for the unusual, like an early 20th century map of Germany that touts the nation's natural beauty. While the topographical features may still be largely intact, war and politics have redrawn the borders at least twice.

The Griggs' website is www.collectingoldmaps.com, and Hudson's is www.antiquemapsandglobes.com. And if you're willing to travel to Halls, Hudson is willing to give you a personal tour of his four-building complex. "I'm a great bullshitter," he says. "I recently went to a show and I did not sell a single, solitary thing. I might have talked myself out of it."

Visit antiquemapsandglobes.com and collectingoldmaps.com