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.
Basic Antique Map Appraisal