Starting a Map Collection – buying the first map.

As a dealer, we frequently work with first time map buyers who are just starting their collections. Guiding new collectors on their first antique map purchase and helping new collectors to focus their interests is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an rare map dealer. While some first time map buyers are very focused right from the get go, others have only a vague idea of what they are interested in and what they are looking for.

The first thing we do is determine what is important to our collectors in a rare map or antique map. Most collectors prefer to build their collections around a theme. In this regard the possibilities are endless. Some popular focus areas are historical periods, geographic areas, a single cartographer, maps made for a certain purpose (say railroad maps), certain types of maps such as pocket maps or wall maps, map styles, etc. Thus, by asking the right questions before making a purchase, a collector can go a long way in narrowing the many options. We generally ask:

  • Are you interested in particular areas?
  • Are you interested in maps from a specific period?
  • Do you like elaborate decorative maps or simpler maps without decorative embellishment?
  • Do you want sea chart or a land-based map?
  • Are you interested in historic value, decorative value, or both?
  • Do you want it to be colored, black and white, or does it not matter?
  • Is your map collection an investment?
  • How large does it need to be, or does it not matter?
  • Is it important that the map names certain regions, towns, buildings or villages?
  • How important is it that the map is accurate ( many of the most valuable and interesting early maps are far from accurate )?
  • How important is condition?
  • Lastly, what is your budget?


Once these questions are addressed, we generally have a very good idea of exactly what a new collector might like to see. From this point, a good dealer or advisor can a suggest range specific maps that will interest a new buyer. Of course, once collectors start looking at actual maps, many find that their aesthetic ideas change and that their interests evolve in new interesting directions. This is part of the learning process and can be expected as a collector and collection matures.

Geographicus is always ready to help first time collectors and gift buyers choose the best map for their particular circumstances. Just call our customer service number for an expert (usually myself) who will be happy to assist you.

El Dorado, Manoa, Lake Parima, Patiti, and the “Lost City of Z”

1688 Coronelli Map of America

1688 Coronelli Map of America

Having just finished David Grann’s wonderful book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, which examines the obsessive hunt of Colonel P.H. Fawcett for a lost city in the Amazon, I felt compelled to write on the legend of El Dorado. This book is a wonderful read, offers some surprising insights, and is exceptionally well researched, we highly recommend it. Grann’s “Lost City of Z” focuses on Fawcett’s expeditions in the lower Xingu, a southern tributary of the Amazon. Here Fawcett believed he would discover a great lost city and indeed, modern archeologists are unearthing just such a site in this precise area. The modern day discoverer of these ruins is the archeologist Michael Heckenberger who had unearthed several great cities surrounded by massive moats and connected by gigantic arrow straight causeway-roads. Though now largely overgrown by the jungle and their once great populations vanished, such cities were indeed reported by the first Europeans to venture into the Amazon. It was long thought that the conditions in the Amazon were inimical to large populations and that the first conquistadors to travel the Amazon were simply lying. However, the truth is far more terrifying, for these first lonely explorers carried with them diseases and illnesses previously unknown to region and in the dark years that followed when few white men entered the Amazon, the great indigenous populations were all but wiped out.

By the time Fawcett began exploring the Amazon in early 20th century the legend and mythic quality of El Dorado was already firmly established. Thus when Fawcett started discovering these causeway-roads and pottery deposits in the middle of an area inhabited only by a few primitive seeming jungle tribes, the association with the mythical lost city of gold was natural. However, for centuries El Dorado had already been appearing on maps, though quite far from the lower Xingu. Instead most antique maps place El Dorado far to the north, on an island in the midst of a vase saline lake between the lower Orinoco River and the northern Amazon tributaries. How did it get there?

Map of the Amazon River System

Map of the Amazon River System

The legend of El Dorado, or “Golden Man”, seems to be an amalgamation of fact and fantasy. The legend, which describes a great king who is daily covered in gold dust so that he shines like a god before cleansing himself in a sacred lake, is in fact based on Chibcha rituals. The Chibcha, a tribe living in what is today part of Columbia, did exactly this, though not daily. By the time the Europeans had arrived, this practice seems to have been largely abandoned but it easy to imagine why Europeans, fresh from the conquest of Peru and Mexico, would be drawn to the idea.

However, we digress, the real culprit responsible for several hundred years of mapping “El Dorado” and “Lake Parime” in Guyana must be Sir Walter Raleigh, who explored this region in search of the legendary kingdom of gold in 1595. Raleigh was the first to connect “El Dorado” to the the land or city of “Manoa”. Raleigh does not visit the city of Manoa (which he believes is El Dorado) himself due to the onset of the rainy season, however he describes the city, based on indigenous accounts, as resting on a salt lake over 200 leagues long somewhere in what today must be Guyana, northern Brazil, or Southeastern Venezuela. Nor does Raleigh precisely locate Manoa, but his second, Captain Keymis, does provide directions in his own narrative:

it lieth southerly in the land, and from the mouth of it unto the head they pass in twenty days; then taking their pro-visions, they carry it on their shoulders one day’s journey; afterwards they return to their canoes, and bear them likewise to the side of a lake, which the Jaos call Roponowini, the Charibes Parime, which is of such bigness that they know no difference between it and the main sea. There be infinite numbers of canoes in this lake, and I suppose it is no other than that whereon Manoa standeth.

Back in Europe cartographer Hondius, reading Raleigh’s narrative and enchanted by the idea, added the Lake Parime to his 1599 map “Nieuwe Caerte van het Goudrycke Landt Guiana.” Most subsequent cartographers followed suit for the next 300 years or so.

This lake may indeed have some basis in fact. Sir Robert Schomburgk, studied this region from 1835 to 1844 and made this interesting note:

From the southern foot of the Pacaraima Range extended the great savannahs of the Rupununi, Takutu, and Rio Branco or Parima, which occupy about 14,400 square miles, their average height above the sea being from 350 to 400 feet. These savannahs are inundated during the rainy season, and afford at that period, with the exception of a short portage, a communication between the Rupununi and the Pirara, a tributary of the Mahu or Ireng, which falls into the Takutu, and the latter into the Rio Branco or Parima.

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of South America

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of South America

The annual inundation of this region thus opened what must have been an ancient and popular trade route from the Orinoco, to the Rio Branco and hence to the Amazon tributaries, the Solimoes, the Japura, and the Rio Negro. Thus when European explorers in the lower Orinoco during the rainy season saw Indian traders appear with gold jewelry and trade pieces, the connection to El Dorado seemed obvious. When asked where the gold came from, the local tribes could only answer “Manoa.”

As late as the 17th century the Manoas were a large and populous trading nation, lead by the dynamic King Ajuricaba, occupying the banks of the Rio Negro. It seems that the Manoas were very secretive of their trade routes – as all good traders must be – and jealously guarded their territory. There are records of trade arrangements between the Dutch in Guyana and “Manoa” dating to the late 16th century. The range of the Manoa trade network extended over a vast region from the “mouth of the Jupura up and down the Amazon to Quito and Para, from the Cayari to Santa Fe and the Upper Orinoco, from the Parima to the Essequibo and its sister rivers of the northern watershed of Guiana”. This may partially account for the extraordinary diverse regions where legends of Manoa can be heard.

1780 Bonne Map of Guyana

1780 Bonne Map of Guyana

But where did all the gold come from? This may be impossible to answer, but we can speculate. The first European to “see” Manoa was Juan Martinez c. 1542. Martinez was a munitions master under the conquistador Diego Ordas. Ordas was searching for El Dorado in lower Orinoco where he perished. Before his own death, which is itself mysterious, Ordas condemned Martinez to death as the culprit in an unfortunate munitions explosion. Martinez was to be tied up and set adrift in a boat upon the Amazon. Many consider what follows to be a complete fabrication on the part of Martinez, but I generally consider the habit of attributing of anomalous elements in early travel accounts to intentional falsification an easy solution to a complex issue. Martinez claims to have been picked up by Manoan traders in the region who, finding him unusual due to his skin tone, conveyed him, blindfolded, to their city. Here, Martinez describes a great city. Curiously, he also describes meeting the heir to the recently conquered Inca Empire. Given the discoveries of Heckenberger and the new understanding that, at least in the earliest days of South American exploration, that the Amazon was indeed a populous and well organized region, this story is completely reasonable. That the Manoans may have had traffic with the Incas, given their range in the western Amazon is almost a given. It would also allow them access to gold mining regions on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Martinez’s association of Manoa with the lost heir to Inca Empire also brings up the possibility that this was none other than the long lost refuge city of Pattiti – though this opens an entirely new can of worms.


Edmondson, George, “Early Relations of the Manoas with the Dutch, 1606-1732”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 82 (Apr., 1906), pp. 229-253. Edmondson, George, ” The Dutch on the Amazon and Negro in the Seventeenth Century. Part II.-Dutch Trade in the Basin of the Rio Negro,”The English Historical Review, Vol. 19, No. 73 (Jan., 1904), pp. 1-25. Von Hagen, Victor W., The Golden Man: The Quest for El Dorado (Farnborough, Saxon House, I974, 4.-25). Pp. xiii+338. Meggers, Betty J., “The Continuing Quest for El Dorado: Round Two”, Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 304-325. Raleigh, Sir Walter, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtifiul Empyre of Guiana. Grann, David, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, 2008.

Cayamay Lactus – Apocryphal Source of the five Great River Systems of Southeast Asia

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

For nearly four hundred years many maps of Asia, and particularly India and Southeast Asia, depicted an enormous lake far to the northeast of the Bay of Bengal. This lake, alternately called Chiamay, Chiam-may, Chian-nay, or Cayamay, is postulated to be the source of four to five of the great Southeast Asian river systems, the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Chao Phraya, the Bramaputra, and the Mekong. Today we know that the Lago de Chiamay is entirely non-existent, but where did this persistent myth come from?

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

The earliest reference to the Lago de Chiamay that we have been able to come across is the c. 1550 geographical study produced by Jao de Barros. Barros, who is not known to have traveled to the orient himself, compiled his geography from reports from Portugese explorers in the region, who themselves no doubt extracted many of their ideas about the remote interior of Asia from indigenous authorities. His most likely source for our purposes is most likely Fernao Mendez Pinto. Today the Barros geography is unfortunately lost, but some of its commentary survives via G. B. Ramusio and his 1554 edition of “Navigationi et viaggi”. While some have argued that Ramusio could not have possibly have had access to Barros’ commentary, as it had not been published at the time, Ramusio himself provides clear reference that he did in fact have an unpublished Barros manuscript. Ramusio includes several maps in his “Navigationi et viaggi” that were drawn around 1550 and depict the Lago.

Fernao Mendez Pinto, Barros most likely source and the lake’s supposed “discoverer”, is the only European who claims to have visited the lake itself. Pinto apparently discovered the lake in 1744. Generally speaking, while Barros was well respected in his day, Pinto is considered an unreliable geographer at best and at worse has been dubbed the “prince of fiction”. Why this is the case when he was without a doubt actually in Siam, may be explainable when his own sources are evaluated. Pinto may have heard about the lake in the Royal Court of Siam, one of the kings of which is said to have invaded Chiamay and captured many cities around it.

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

That Pinto derived much of his geography from local sources is highly likely. What he and his readers back in Europe may not have counted on is the presence of a mythical and semi-mythical Hindu-Buddhist geography overlaying the actual geography. Hindu and related Buddhist mythology consider Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal, in modern day Tibet, to be the spiritual source of four religiously and geographically important subcontinent rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Karnali, the Indus and the Sutlej. As the Hindu-Buddhist culture expanded into southeast Asia, these four rivers and their source lake were reassociated with local rivers such as the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Mekong, and the Chao Phraya.

From a European perspective, associating these rivers systems with one another and with a single source is an almost natural assumption. All five rivers bear a great deal of similarity. That is, all seem to originate from roughly the same area, all flow along roughly parallel courses, and all have enormous fluvial volume. Associating a great lake with said source is equally natural. Given the size and orientation of these river systems, one naturally speculates that the source lake itself must be enormous. Such speculation was not uncommon for map makers working in the 18th century and earlier. Cartographers, who rarely traveled the world themselves, had the difficult job of piecing together and interpreting various vague and often contradictory traveler’s accounts as well as reconciling such new information with accepted mappings.

Whatever the original source for the Lago de Chiamay may have been, it begins appearing on maps as early as the Gastaldi map of 1550 (though some speculate that this map was actually drawn a few years earlier). The Lago was embraced by Ortelius in his c. 1570 mappings of Asia and was eventually associated with various hopeful fantasies of a river passage through central Asia to the North Sea. Almost all subsequent mappings until the late 18th century included the Lago de Chiamay in various forms. Later, as explorers began to penetrate the region with greater regularity, Chiamatwas at various point associated with any lake discovered in the area, including Koko Nor (Qinghai Lake) in China and the actual Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. By the late 18th century the lake had moved far west of its original location and been reduced to a fraction of its original size. By the 19th century, it disappeared entirely.

The source of the name itself, “Chiamay” may be derived from Pinto’s original discovery of the lake in the records at the Royal court in Siam. Pinto was told of a royal raid to conquer and claim Chiang Mai, once the Capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

The city of Chaing Mai, now fully part of Thailand was founded in 1296 and was frequently invaded and conquered by both the Siamese and Burmese empires before being formally incorporated into the Siamese empire in the late 18th century. Though there is no lake near Chiang Mai, Pinto, who is not known for reliability, may have misinterpreted what he was told. The Lago de Chiamay is most likely the result of Pinto’s misunderstanding of stories from the royal court of Siam, misassociations regarding the Buddhist-Hindu mythology associated with Lake Manasarovar, and natural assumptions based upon the observable similarities of the great southeast Asian river systems.

Sven Hedin discusses this lake and its origins in great detail in his fascinating and well researched 1919 article, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”.


REF: Hedin, Sven, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 290-339. Carpentier, Jarl, Some Additional Remarks on Vol. 1 of Dr. Sven Hedin’s ‘Southern Tibet’, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 269-289

Lederer’s Lake, Desert, and Savanna – An Early Exploration of Carolina

1676 Speed Map of Carolina based on Lederer's Discoveries

1676 Speed Map of Carolina based on Lederer's Discoveries

The first serious mapping of the Carolina Colony’s interior was accomplished in the 1670s by the intrepid German explorer and physician John Lederer on the commission of Virginia Governor Berkley. Lord Berkley, like many Europeans at the time, believed that the Pacific could be reached by traveling westward from the Atlantic Coast no more than two weeks. Lederer was commissioned to find this path.

Pre-Lederer maps of Carolina tended to be vague at best, incorporating semi-fictional elements from both the De Bry – Le Monye map of Florida and the De Bry – White map of the Grand Banks. Lederer’s explorations changed all of this, describing the interior for both future explorers and for the map publishers in Europe. The mapping of Carolina was heavily influenced by Lederer’s work with elements of it appearing on maps of the region for the next 60 years.

Today Lederer’s explorations and discoveries are highly criticized and considered by some to be outright fabrications. The narrative of Lederer’s three journeys consists of no more than 35 short pages and a map drawn by the man himself. Nonetheless, the text expresses much of the man’s character. He is determined, brave, honest and humble. We must agree with his friend and compatriot, Sir William Talbot, who describes him as “a modest ingenious person and a pretty scholar.” Further, Lederer’s narrative and his map are sufficiently accurate on a number of counts, including the course of several important rivers, the orientation of the Appellation Mountains, the identification of certain mountain passes, and the placement American Indian villages, that there can be little doubt Lederer truly passed through this region. Why then, is his significant contribution to cartography so heavily criticized?

It comes down to three seemingly anomalous elements that appear both in Lederer ‘s narrative and in his map: the Deserta Arenosa, Ushery Lake, and a great savanna in the piedmont region. We will attempt to examine each of these both individually and in the context of his greater voyage.

Close up of the Arenosa Desert from John Speed's Map

Close up of the Arenosa Desert from John Speed's Map

The most easily tackled is the Deserta Arenosa. Lederer encounters this desert on the return portion of his second journey. He describes it as “a barren Sandy Desert where I suffered miserably for want of water; the heat of the summer having drunk all of the springs dry,” and he surely would have died there had he not “found a standing pool, which provident nature set round with shady oaks, to defend it from the ardor of the sun.”

The Sand Hills Region Outlined in Red

The Sand Hills Region Outlined in Red

To us this seems to be a not-inaccurate description of the Sand Hill region during a dry summer. And indeed, by comparing our example map from 1676 with a modern detailing the Sand Hills region, we can easily see that the Arenosa directly overlays the Sand Hills.

Lederer’s description of a large savanna has long been one of the strongest attacks used against him. Lederer encounters the savanna on his third journey and describes it thusly:

These Savannae are low grounds at the foot of the Apalataeans, which all the Winter, Spring, and part of the Summer lie under snow or water, when the snow is dissolved, which falls down from the Maintains commonly about the beginning of June, and then their verdure is wonderful pleasant to the eye, especially of such as having traveled through the shade of the vast Forest, come out of a clear and open skie.

By the late 18th and early 19th century much of this savanna had largely disappeared. Many 19th and 20th century historians were locked into the convention that, prior to settlement by white man, that the region was covered by a vast primeval forest. This could not be farther from the truth. The historian, William Henry Foote describes this area as it existed in before 1750,

Extensive tracts of county between the Yadkin and the Catawba, now waving with thrifty forests, then were covered with tall grass, with scarce a bush or shrub, looking at first view as if immense grazing farms had been at once abandoned, the houses disappearing, and the abundant grass luxuriating in its native wildness and beauty, the wild herds wandering at pleasure, and nature rejoicing in undisturbed quietness.

We also know from historic records and fossil evidence that buffalo once wandered in this region on a short time before it was settled by colonials. The map scholar Cummings also supports this view, “It is certainly probable that before the forest land was denuded and the top soil washed away, the Piedmont may have had marshy sections, which have since largely disappeared”. In this light, the savanna described by Lederer, if anything is the strongest evidence to his veracity, rather than the opposite.

The lake that Lederer calls Ushery is possibly his most enduring legacy as well his most damning. We must first remember that Lederer did not invent this lake – it had in fact been on maps of the region for over 100 years!

Lederer's Savanna

Lederer's Savanna

Our earlier blog post on the “Great Sweet Water Lake of the Southeast” discusses and explains the history of this lake in more detail. Lederer claims to have not only discovered the lake, but to have actually sampled its waters. Lederer’s validation of this lake kept it on maps of the region well into the 1780s!

Now why? Lederer, as a learned man, would no doubt have been familiar with the many maps issued prior to his expedition, aware of, and even expecting to discover the Lactus Aquae Dulce. No doubt had Lederer returned and not discovered the lake, his explorations would have been more highly criticized in his time and may never have found their way into the cartographic corpus. Many have suggested that Lederer was conscious of this and simply added the lake to his narrative in order to validate the greater substance of his work. We find this supposition highly contrary to the humble and truthful character appearing elsewhere in the narrative.

Still others suggest that Lederer actually turned back without seeing the lake and then added the lake based upon a misinterpretation of American Indian descriptions of the wave-like undulations of the Blue Ridge mountains. This is plausible especially given that Lederer makes a similar mistake elsewhere with regard to the land of the Rickohockans “who dwell westward of the Apalataean Mountains, are seated upon a land, as they term it, of great waves (the Blue Ridge Mountains), by which I suppose they mean the seashore.” While we do believe this idea has merit, it again strikes us as odd and against Lederer’s character to lie.

Lake Ushery renamed after Lord Ashley by John Ogilby.

Lake Ushery renamed after Lord Ashley by John Ogilby.

More likely Lake Ushery is a case of “seek and ye shall find”. That is, since Lederer no doubt expected to discover the lake, it was easier to interpret what he did find as what he expected to see. Lyman Carrier explores this idea in his excellent analysis of Lederer’s travels. Carrier maps Lederer’s lake in either the Yadkin or Catawba Valley. Lyman writes, “Had the rivers been obstructed by beaver dames or debris, or had the channels through some of their gorges not been cut to their present levels, large areas of flooded land would have resulted.” While this may seem farfetched, we feel that the expectation of a lake combined with the discovery of a large flooded area, may have led to easy misinterpretation.

In general we find Lederer’s narrative to be truthful if limited in its scope. The errors that he did make are easily understood given the trials he faced. He had no reliable way to measure distance, no shared language with his American Indian guides, and only limited experience as a cartographer or surveyor. Moreover, it was nearly 50 years before other explorers contributed significantly to the knowledge of this region. For lack of contrary information from other explores, Lederer’s errors, which are surprisingly few, enjoyed considerable longevity.


REF: Carrier, L.,”The Veracity of John Lederer”, William and Mary Quarterly, Series II, Vol. 19, No. 4, p. 435 – 445. Talbot, W., The Discoveries of John Lederer…, 1672. Cumming, W., “Geographical Misconceptions of the Southeast in the Cartography of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 4., pp. 476-492. Cunz, Dieter, “John Lederer: Significance and Evaluation”, The William and Mary Quarterly, Series II, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 175-185. The North Carolina State Archives, MC.150.1676s;MARS Id: Phillips (America), p. 817. Cumming, W. P., The Southeast in Early Maps, #77. Goss, J., The Mapping of North America, Three Centuries of Map-Making 1500-1860, 41. Foote, W. H., Sketches of North Carolina, historical and biographical, 1847, p. 180.

The Confederate Territory of “Arrizona” (Arizona)

1862 Johnson's Map of the American Southwest

1862 Johnson's Map of the American Southwest

In 1861 “Arrizona” was an alternate name for the lands added to the New Mexico territory by the 1854 Gadsden Purchase. With only a small population and minimal political influence this region was largely ignored by the New Mexico territorial government in distant Sante Fe. Bandits, hostile American Indian tribes, and outlaws ran rampant as only token effort was made by the New Mexico territorial government to police the region. The loosely organized inhabitants of southern New Mexico, or Arizona as it was being called, sent several appeals to Washington D.C. to be granted independent territorial status, but its low population caused the request to be repeatedly denied. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Arizonans saw an opportunity to appeal to an alternate body for the political needs of the region and through their lot in with the secessionist southern states. Around this time the Union began to withdraw troops from the region in fear that Sante Fe would be attacked by Confederate soldiers operating out of Texas. In Texas itself Col. John Robert Baylor, recognizing a strategic opportunity, led his troops into Southern Arizona. In a series of brilliant tactical maneuvers, Baylor defeated the much larger Union garrison and seized Fort Fillmore and Messilla. Shortly thereafter Baylor declared himself Territorial Governor of the Confederate Territory of Arizona including “all that portion of New Mexico lying south of the thirty-fourth parallel of north latitude.”

Johnson's 1866 Map of the Southwest

Johnson's 1866 Map of the Southwest

The Confederate Territory of Arizona lasted less than a year before it was seized by the Union Army and dismantled in favor of the current configuration with the Arizona – New Mexico border situated along a north-south axis. Some have suggested that the current border between Arizona and New Mexico was chosen for no other reason than that it differed from the Confederate border. However, it is far more likely that this border was influenced by the prospect of a Southern Pacific railroad route. If the Confederate boundaries had remained the railroad would have would have run only through Arizona, thus denying New Mexico the political and business opportunities that would have inevitably followed. A longitudinal border, however, allowed both territories to be enriched by the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Related Posts: The Proposed Routes of the Pacific Railroad in Antique Maps

How are value and price of antique or rare maps determined?

There are numerous factors which affect the value of antique maps – all those you might suspect and many you might not. Like most antiques, antique map prices are usually governed by factors of rarity, condition, desirability, and aesthetics. The best maps have high rankings in all of these areas, however, it is not uncommon for one factor to dominate all others.

For example, take these two equally fine maps: an 1849 Mitchell’s Map of Texas is not particularly more rare than an 1849 Mitchell’s map of Switzerland, however, the first may sell for as much as 1000 USD while the second will rarely sell for more than 150 USD. This happens because maps of Texas are highly desirable and have a large collector base while maps of Switzerland, particularly American maps, are difficult to sell. Conversely, that same 1000 USD map of Texas may be rendered all but worthless by a hugely disfiguring dampstain and unprofessional backing on wood or cardboard.

Other factors unique to antique maps can also hugely affect value. Maps that fall into this category include maps that depict special regions of the world at important, brief or transitional moments. Two excellent examples are maps that depict Australia as New Holland and maps that depict Texas as an independent republic (c. 1863 to 1845). Cartographic errors are also factors that can increase the value of an antique map. Some of these include the depiction of California as an Island (c. 1600 to 1720), the indication of a huge lake in the Carolinas, the Mountains of the Moon in Africa, assumed Northwest Passages, and the presence of certain mythical geographical features such as Aurora Island (near the Falklands) or El Dorado in the Amazon.

How the map was printed and presented also factors heavily in value. Generally speaking there are three was to present flat maps: atlas maps, folding maps pocket or case maps, and wall maps.

  • Atlas maps are the most common and are generally speaking the least valuable. Most atlas maps are in very good condition due to the fact that they have been bound between protective covers for most of the lives. However, there are several problems common to atlas maps. Most were issued with a centerfold and this commonly exhibits wear, damage, and discoloration. Atlas maps, especially those at the beginning and ends of the atlas, also frequently suffer from soiling, creasing due to improper folding and earmarking, and water stains due to storage in damp unfavorable conditions.
  • Folding maps include maps that were folded into books, case maps, and pocket maps. Maps that were folded into histories, travel guides, and specialty books are the most common type of folding map. These are often reissues of atlas maps that have been printed on thinner paper or slightly modified to deliver the book’s message. Pocket or Case maps are independently issued maps and are, in most cases, far more valuable than atlas maps or standard folding maps. These maps are usually folded into cases for easy transport. They are often printed on very thin paper were sometimes split into sections and mounted on linen for easy folding and unfolding. Though often in rough condition due to the rigors of their use and the stresses of being folding for hundreds of years, these maps are frequently much larger and more valuable than their atlas counterparts.
  • Wall maps are enormous maps usually produced for presentation or classroom settings. Most are stored rolled on large wooden dowels. A good wall map can fetch a very high price but is often very difficult to sell as its size alone makes it a specialty item. Also, because of the production techniques and storage problems common to wall maps, they often suffer severe damage and almost always require professional restoration prior to being placed on the market. Good restoration can add quite a bit to the total value of an antique wall map.


In addition to the factors above, map connoisseurs are fortunate to have access to roughly thirty years of auction history and dealer catalogs through various subscription based services. Many dealers, such as ourselves, also provide a range of fee based appraisal services.

Related Products:
Basic Antique Map Appraisal

Antique Map of the Week: 1768 Holland / Jeffreys Map of New York and New Jersey

1768 Holland Jeffreys Map of New York & New Jersey

1768 Holland Jeffreys Map of New York & New Jersey

The Provinces of NEW YORK and NEW JERSEY with part of PENSILVANIA, and the Governments of TROIS RIVIERES, and MONTREAL. A first issue first edition example of a seminal map. This is a rare and unusual version of the 1768 first edition of Holland and Jefferys seminal map of New York and New Jersey. Depicts the important trade corridor between New York and Montreal, specifically detailing from Delaware Bay northward including parts of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Long Island, New York Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont as well as the Iroquois League, the Trois Rivieres territories and Montreal, as far as Lac St. Pierre in modern day Quebec. Lower right quadrant features a pictorial title cartouche showing the Hudson River.

This extraordinary map is unusual on many levels in addition to its status as the first edition first state of an extremely rare and important map. Unlike most examples, this map is in an independent issue and has no suggestion that it may have been bound into an atlas. Instead it is linen backed in wall map format. Secondly, though most examples of this map, even other first editions, show the New York-New Jersey border much where it is today, our example was colorized to show the line running considerably south of its currently location – a rarity which can be seen in only three other known examples. While we would not describe this as a different state, as the essential engraving is the same as was used in other 1868 editions, the difference in coloration is fascinating, unusual, and bears attention. This requires a bit of explanation:

Much of the cartography for this map was derived from the work of surveyor Samuel Holland produced in his roles as New York – New Jersey boundary commissioner and later as “Surveyor of the Northern District” for the Board of Trade which governed the crown colonies in America. As this map was being prepared a fierce legal battle raged between the colonies of New York and New Jersey regarding the position of their western border.

The dispute between the New York and New Jersey regarding their western border was long standing and complex. New Jersey contended that its northern border accorded with the findings of a survey issued in 1719, which extended the border northward as far as Station Point, well north of the current line. New York, on the other hand, contended for a southerly border based upon surveys performed in 1686. The Board of Trade commissioned Samuel Holland to create a map of this disputed region. Holland’s work resulted in a manuscript map , now lost, that was submitted to the Board of Trade in England. Holland, who favored New York, argued that the original crown charter defining the New York and New Jersey border was based upon intersecting lines referencing a branching of the Delaware River and the old divide between East and West Jersey. This would put much of what is today northern New Jersey firmly in New York. The dispute was finally settled in 1768 by agreement to a compromised line roughly where it stands today – note 1768 is the same year that Jefferys engraved this map.

In his role as Geographer to the King, Jefferys would have had access to the Holland maps which were prepared for the Board of Trade and sent to London. It is likely that Jefferys used these materials, along with the works of Evans and Colden to compile this much grander map. As the official Royal Geographer, Jefferys would not have been required to ask permission to use any of these materials and indeed, as Powell suggests, it is likely that the “Name of Capt. Holland is put, without his Knowledge or Consent”.

Most likely, Jefferys ordered the peculiar coloration of this map, which follows the southern border NY-NJ border following recommendations in Holland’s notes. Holland advocated for the southerly border that we see colorized here. Probably this is a preliminary state of the map, printed sometime early in 1768, before the compromise boundary was formalized. We have been able to identify only three other examples of this map with the same New York-New Jersey border coloration. One example rests in the Library at Harvard University, another is located in the New York Public Library in New York, and a final example in the New York State Library in Albany. Other examples of the first edition, including those held by the Library of Congress follow the line of the 1868 compromised border.

Holland’s work is also evident in the detailing of New York’s land grants to Vermont and the excellent detail offered in the Albany area.

Notes forts and military installations along the Hudson and elsewhere. Though surprisingly accurate in reference to the heavily populated part of New York and New Jersey, accuracy falls off considerably in the west and in the American Indian regions to the North. Jefferys also notes the influence of other cartographers including Evans, Bond, Morris, and of course Holland.

In the years to follow this important map would go through several subsequent revisions and reissues. The most notable later version is the 1775 Sayer and Bennett atlas issue of the map, which is somewhat common. Our issue, the first state of the 1768 first edition, has not appeared on the market in the last 30 years.

The original owner of this map, whose bookplate is on the verso, appears to have been William Lyon of New Haven Connecticut. In 1775 Lyon was a Lieutenant in the Continental Army who is recorded as serving in Boston. A gravestone near New Haven Connecticut bears his name and the rank of colonel. It is conceivable that Lyon examined this very map to plan strategies during his time of service with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

For More Information:

Allen, David Y., “Comparing Eighteenth-Century Map of New York State Using Digital Imagery”,

Schwarz, Philip J., The Jarring Interests New York’s Boundary Makers, 1664-1776 p. 133 – 190.

Tooley, R. V. The Mapping of America, #44. Library of Congress, G3800 1768 .H6 Vault (1868 edition).

New York Public Library, Map Div. 97-6176 [LHS 815], Map Div. 01-5334 (similar NJ-NY border).

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 502; Phillips 1196. McCorkle (#768.3, 775.6, 776.13).

Sellers & van Ee (#1039-40, 1042-43, 1045-46).

Ristow, Walter W., American Maps and Mapmakers, page 52.

Baraku Villages in Old Japanese Maps – and Google Earth

c. 1850 Map of Edo or Tokyo

c. 1850 Map of Edo or Tokyo

Google has recently been the subject of a major backlash from the Japanese government, Burakumin equal rights groups, and the Japanese Press regarding its addition of a collection of rare 18th and 19th century Japanese maps of Tokyo or Edo to the Google Earth service. The Burakumin are a social minority group labeled as “outcasts” under old Japanese caste system. This system, which dates to the early days of the feudal shogun era, identified the Burakumin as “untouchable” due to their employment in death related professions such as gravediggers, undertakers, embalmers and leather workers. Burakumin were believed to have been “tainted by death” and thus unlucky. Though the caste system was legally abolished in 1871, Japan is a deeply traditional society and discrimination remains an issue to this day. The remarkable Japanese family registry or Koseki makes it easy for companies and individuals to track families back over 100 years, thus identifying the modern descendents of the Buraku. Today many large and prominent Japanese corporations actively discriminate against the descendents of Burakumin. Further, residents known to reside in old Buraku districts in the massive Tokyo urban zone are similarly discriminated against.

When Google added a collection of stunning woodblock maps from the Berkley Collection to its Google Earth project by overlaying them with modern satellite views, the locations of several previously unremarked Buraku villages came to light. Some are located in high profile and wealthy central neighborhoods, such as the “Eta” village just a few blocks from the Asakusa district. Residents fear that the satellite overlays and relative availability on this information on Google Earth will enflame a new wave discriminatory activities against the Buraku.

Berkley, Google, and prominent map collector David Rumsey, whose combined efforts are responsible for the Google Earth images, responded by editing out many of the references to Buraku villages, but publicly stated that they would be willing to reinstate them as historical documents. Personally, I agree, these maps are historically important and reflect a reality of life in feudal Japan. Modern discrimination against Buraku villages and those who are descended from the Burakumin is a contemporary issue and must consequently be dealt with in contemporary ways. Hiding or obscuring history does little to solve or resolve modern prejudices.

Over the years we have had the privilege of owning many stunning Japanese woodblock maps of Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, Kyoto, and many other important Japanese cities. These maps are masterful constructions of unparalleled beauty and should available for everyone to appreciate.

Related Maps:



The Proposed Routes of the Pacific Railroad in Antique Maps

Johnson's 1866 Map of the Southwest

Johnson's 1866 Map of the Southwest

Many mid 19th century maps of the American west show several “proposed routes” for a transcontinental Pacific Railroad. The challenge was in finding a practical and economical route through or around the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Sierra Nevada Range. The development of the Pacific Railroad was fraught with challenges relating to slavery, politics, geography and gigantic egos. The powers at the time were keenly aware of the wealth and prosperity that would follow the Railroad. The powerful Illinois senator Stephan Douglas who famously lost his presidential bid to Abraham Lincoln advocated for a northern route via Chicago. On the other side of the debate, Mississippi plantation owner and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis advocated for a southern route from Vicksburg Mississippi roughly following the 32nd parallel. Other powers advocated for a extreme northerly route roughly following the Canadian border and terminating near Seattle, Washington. Still others pushed for a more central route. In 1853 the government ordered several expeditions and eventually five potential routes were surveyed:

  1. The Stevens Route: Governor Isaac Stevens was a brave, handsome, and egotistical West Point valedictorian with a distinguished military record in the Mexican American War. He was a fierce advocate of Franklin Pierce’s presidential campaign and following the victorious election, was awarded for his support by being named Governor of the newly created Washington Territory. As a veteran of the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Survey, Stevens was keenly aware of the pressing need of a transcontinental railroad to unite the rapidly expanding nation. As he traveled westward toward Olympia, Washington, the seat of this territorial government, Stevens surveyed what he believed was the best and most practical route for the Pacific Railroad. Starting from St. Paul Minnesota, Stevens surveyed and proposed a route that roughly followed 47th – 49th parallels westward to terminated at the Puget Sound. He boasted that the harsh winter conditions of the northern territories would “not present the slightest impediment to the passage of railroad trains”. To this the expedition’s naturalist George Stuckley responded, responded, “A road might be built over the tops of the Himalayan mountains – but no reasonable man would undertake it.” Though the Stevens route appears on many early maps, it was not seriously entertained by any respective party other than Stevens himself. Following Steven’s death in 1862 during the Civil War Battle of Chantilly, the campaign for a far northern route lost it only champion and consequently its momentum.
  2. The Whipple Route: Amiel Weeks Whipple was an American Military Engineer, West Point graduate, and U.S. Coast Survey veteran. Whipple was commissioned to explore a possible route for the transcontinental Pacific Railway along the 35th Parallel. Leaving from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Whipple surveyed a route that passed through modern day Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Arizona before crossing the Mojave Desert and terminating at San Bernardino. Despite Whipple’s assertion that, “there is not a doubt remaining that for construction of a railway the route we have passed over is not only practicable but in many respects eminently advantageous,” this route never attained popularity due to lack of serious support by the political luminaries of the period. Like Stevens, Whipple died while serving as Brigadier General in the Civil War.
  3. The Parke-Pope Route: An extreme southerly route for the Pacific Railroad running along the 32nd parallel and terminating in San Diego was always a strong contender. Under the Presidency of Franklin Pierce and advocated by Jefferson Davis, the feasibility of this route strongly influenced the Gadsden Purchase. The route was finally surveyed by Lieutenant John G. Parke and Captain John Pope. Starting from opposite extremes Parke and Pope worked toward each other and finally met near El Paso. Parke, starting from San Diego surveyed a route that roughly corresponded to the southern U.S. Mail route, passing south of the Salton Basin and crossing the Colorado River at Fort Yuma then heading east to Tucson and Fort Fillmore, and onwards to El Paso. Pope Started at Fort Belknap, Texas, crossed the Staked Plain and the Guadeloupe Mountain to meet Park near El Paso. Though highly feasible and supported by powerful government leaders, the outbreak of the American Civil War and the comparative poverty of the Confederacy put a halt to plans for the southernmost route. However, years after the fact, in 1877, this railroad, called the Southern Pacific, did materialize.
    1855 Gunnison-Beckwith Survey

    1855 Gunnison-Beckwith Survey

  4. The Gunnison Route: In 1853 the Corps of Topographic Engineers was commissioned by Congress to identify a central route. Led by Captain John W. Gunnison, with Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith as his assistant commander, the expedition set off on May 3rd of 1953 from St. Louis, Missouri. The expedition roughly followed the 38th parallel and the route traversed by “The Pathfinder” John Fremont in the 1830s. Gunnison pushed the expedition through Kansas and Colorado well into the land claimed by the Ute Nation. Near Lake Sevier Gunnison’s camp was attacked by Ute Warriors who believed that a transcontinental railroad would infringe upon their sovereignty. Gunnison and most of his men were killed. Gunnison’s wife advocated the belief that the Ute Warriors were encouraged by Bringham Young and several militant Mormon settlers in the region. Having camped elsewhere, Gunnison’s second E.G. Beckwith, took command of the remaining expedition and retreated to Salt Lake City, where they spent the winter.
  5. The Beckwith Route: E. G. Beckwith, continuing westward from Salt Lake City in 1854, surveyed a route across the Great Basin, passing south of the Mud Lakes, to the Sierra Nevada Mountains which he crossed at “Beckwith’s Pass” thus descending into the Sacramento Valley. Beckwith composed a series of reports on this proposed route ultimately offering three variants. The northernmost route crosses the Green River near Black’s Fork and continues past Fort Bridger (now Wyoming) and along the Weber River to Ogden City where it turns south. The middle route leaves the Wasatch Mountains via Timpanogas Canyon. The southernmost route runs westward from the Oquirrh Mountains. The northernmost route, which was advocated by Beckwith in his report, was chosen and it is roughly along this path that the transcontinental railroad was eventually built.

Following the expeditions the decision regarding ultimate route of the Pacific Railroad was deadlocked in congress between the southern states, who preferred the Parke-Pope route, and the northern states, who advocated for a central route. The issue was finally decided by the outbreak of the American Civil War. The Confederacy, lacking the finances and industry of the north, was not in a position to pursue their dream of a southerly Pacific Railroad. The Union on the other hand quickly pushed forward with their plans for a railroad roughly along the Gunnison-Beckwith route. The Pacific Railroad officially opened in 1867.

Related Maps:

REF: Golay, M. and Bowman, J. S., North American Exploration, p. 371-2.