Buying antique maps with confidence.

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The purpose of this guide is to provide some basic tips for buying antique maps with confidence. It is particularly aimed at those new to map-collecting or those who are not collectors at all but who are making a one-off purchase as a unique gift or decorative piece.

For anyone who wishes to buy a genuine antique map there are a few basic things to look for.

1.       From the mid 16th century and throughout the 17th and most of the 18th centuries the vast majority of engraved maps were produced on copper plates which were inked and then applied to paper under pressure. Woodblock printing was an even earlier method and steel-engraved plates superseded copper plates in the 19th century. All of these processes left a ‘platemark’ which can be seen as a raised border around the edge of the printed area, usually less than 1cm outside the neatline (or printed border) of the map. Modern printing techniques do not leave a platemark.

 

2.       Most (although by no means all) maps were originally published within atlases or other travel writings so they often tend to have centrefold creases (providing they are double page maps). On the reverse of the centrefolds there are also often strips of paper or ‘guards’ attached to the map which are then bound into the atlas; often these guards are still present after maps are removed from their original publications (some may be closely trimmed to allow the map to lie flatter for display purposes).

 

3.       Following on from the previous point: if a map was originally printed as part of an atlas then it often had text on the reverse side. The majority of genuine maps by the famous names such as Munster, Ortelius, Mercator, Speed, Blaeu and Jansson and many other early printers tend to have text on the reverse. NB: non-text versions were produced but the point is that the presence of text on the reverse of a map helps to identify it as genuine (particularly when used in conjunction with the other methods discussed here).

 

4.       Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries maps were printed on hand laid paper. The paper was made by spreading a liquid pulp over chains and allowing it to dry. When held up to the light chain marks will be visible and the paper will inevitably have a slightly uneven texture. Watermarks may also be visible. Obviously buying online doesn’t allow such a close inspection of the paper but look out for expressions such as ‘hand-laid paper’ or ‘chain-laid paper’  in the item descriptions.

 

5.       Condition. Antique maps are by definition at least 100 years old and many of the most collectable date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although some incredibly pristine examples do exist you should expect to see some evidence of ageing. Things to look out for are: age-toning of the paper (obviously the less the better but a degree of light toning can provide reassurance); occasional creasing and light marginal soiling can also be evidence of handling and use through the centuries; there may be thinning or weakening of the paper in places (particularly around old fold creases); likewise small tears, wormholes and staining also suggest age (although once again the less the better).

 

6.       One final basic point to consider if you are unsure about whether a map is genuine or not  - ask the seller directly. Most will be very happy to help, advise and provide reassurance.

Hopefully this guide will be of value when evaluating whether a map is a genuine antique or not. Take some comfort in the fact that the vast majority of dealers in antique maps and prints are 100% genuine and look out for those that stress this point in their item descriptions.

I hope you very much enjoy browsing the large range of genuine antique maps and prints available in the Maps etcetera store.
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