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Antique Maps: Artistic History for Your Walls

Nov 09, 2010 05:47PM ● By Anonymous

Because the American countryside had not yet been thoroughly charted, maps from the Civil War often contain details hand-sketched on the spot showing battle sites and campgrounds.
Armies printed innumerable maps during World Wars I and II. During this era, battle maps were reproduced in newspapers and magazines and also sold as souvenirs to the general public.
Map collectors often have combined a love of history and art. Antique maps often contain wonderful design elements, draftsmanship, and elaborate ornamentation. In order to print several copies- early maps were produced as woodcuts or copper plate engravings, and many older maps were hand colored.

Maps are not only valued for their beauty, they also are valued for the information they contained. The military intelligence and commercial data depicted on some maps was considered priceless. Thus, maps with unique content have always commanded top dollar prices.

Gerard Mercator, Willem Blaeu, Abraham Ortelius, Nicolas Sannson and John Speed were 15th and 16th century European cartographers and geographers. Supported by influential and wealthy patrons, they were master craftsmen who produced richly detailed maps. Many of these maps have been reproduced and sold as decorative prints to hang in libraries and offices. But there are plenty of other types of antique maps to get a new collector started. So why not look for a genuine old map that ultimately will increase in value?

Maps began being produced in large quantities in the mid-19th century. Often these maps were bound in atlases, which have since been taken apart by dealers to be sold page by page at reasonable prices.

Maps of towns and villages were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Artists drew pictorial panoramas maps showing houses and stores as though seen from above that are included in some local or county atlases. Private mapmaking companies would sell town maps for $1 to $10, depending on the amount of copies printed, number of colors used in the printing process, and size of the map. For an additional charge, a local merchant or farmer could order an illustration of his store or farm to be included on the border of the map. Many of these atlases also contained pictures of mansions, prizewinning cattle, or prominent families.
Maps printed by the regional and state geological survey are also popular among collectors. Intricately lithographed in vibrant colors, they were published in response to the need for information regarding what lay underground. They identified the locations of exploitable minerals and also aided railroads in planning routes through rugged terrain.

One map still being used frequently today is the road map. Road maps were being made as early as the 17th century, but those published after automobiles became the dominant mode of transportation are the maps that can easily be found in almost every attic and garage.
Automobile companies published the first road maps and offered them as a free promotion. Oil firms then took the idea and started handing them out at gas stations. Road maps were free until the 1970s, when most firms began charging for them. Hundreds of thousands of road maps were printed, beginning in the 1920s, and they are collected more for their cover designs and period flavor than for their factual content.

Maps tell tales of travel and exploration. As the borders and names of nations change and the geography of the earth evolves, the maps of today will teach history to our descendents and become the antiques of tomorrow.