I have an Antique Map to Sell. What Are My Options?

About a few times a week we get a phone call or an email from someone who has maps, prints, atlases, globes, or other related material to sell. They typically want to know three things, what their items are worth? how much they can get for them? and what is the best method for themselves?

There are a few options for selling antique maps. You may sell outright to a maps dealer, or you may consign you maps to a dealer or auction house. There is also the option to donate to a non-profit and/or institution. Let's take a look at all the options and note their advantages, and disadvantages.

Sell to a Dealer 

This is a good option if you need the money or do not care to wait for the money to come in. Often times dealers will make offers to buy somewhere between 30% and 60% or their expected retail list price. This range is determined by how valuable and saleable the map is at the time of purchase.

  • For example, 20th century maps of various states do not carry much collector's value or aesthetic appeal may take a long time to sell, therefore one should expect to get a lower percentage of the estimated retail value. Conversely, if someone has an important, rare, and well-sought-after map of the world, major city, or an important event in history, they should expect to get the higher percentage of the total value.

One thing to keep in mind when selling to a dealer is that they are a business that is taking on financial risk and selling maps requires a lot of expertise, work, time, and effort. In some cases maps will take years to sell and the dealer incurs additional costs along the way in terms of storing, insuring, and shipping the maps to a from the various fairs we attend throughout the year. In the end, any particular map may not sell until several years after being purchased purchased and sometimes at a wholesale rate, no more than 10% above what the dealer initially paid.

For all these reasons, try not to be offended or put-off if you are offered as much as 60% less than what you see a similar map listed for on eBay or a competitors site. Just because it something is listed for a certain amount, doesn't mean it will sell at that price.

Consigning you Map(s)

The next option is to consign the map and this can be broken into two parts, consigning to a dealer and consigning to an auction house. In both cases, they should not expect to get paid out right away. Payment can take months if not years as you are waiting on the dealer or auction to sell your map(s) before getting paid.

Consigning to a Dealer

As a dealer, I typically suggest the consignment route if the owner has either a single or a few maps of considerable value or a very large collection of maps. The rate I will typically operate is 20% - 40% of the final sale price of the map(s). We recently sold a single map for $65,000 at a rate of 20%. This worked well for both parties because the owner got the most money out of their item and we got a worthwhile payout without having to put any money down to purchase the map. This map took a little over a year to eventually sell.

We had another client who had a large number of maps in a collection they inherited. The maps were not of great importance or value and the owners were not in a hurry to collect payment. This option worked for both parties as we were properly compensated for all the work involved with researching, describing, imaging, listing, selling, packing, and shipping their maps and they received steady payments over the course of a few years until their collection was entirely sold off.

Consigning to an Auction House

The alternative option for consignment is through an auction house. Depending on the company, you can expect auction houses to take a seller's commission of anywhere from 15% - 30%. They will also charge a buyer's premium (added fee to the buyer) of that same range. Not always, but in most cases, maps tend to sell for less at auction than they do through the retail market. Additionally, someone who consigns to an auction doesn't always have much say in how their items are listed and what else is being sold in that same auction. This can result in several maps being offered as a bulk lot or other more important and valuable items taking much of the spotlight and in many cases, the money from bidders.

Donating to a Non-Profit or Institution

The last option is to donate you maps to a library, institution, or non-profit organization. Even though we are talking "donation," this too can have financial benefits in the form of a tax write-off. The amount one would receive in a tax write-off is typically far less than what you would receive through the other options, but if the money is of less importance than the feeling of doing something good, this may be the best option for you. You would still need an official appraisal from a licensed professional which will carry some cost, but that too can be deducted from your tax return. 

  • According to Schwab Charitable: "For art gifts to donor-advised funds and other public charities that do not meet the related use requirements, you may deduct the lesser of cost basis or fair market value up to 50% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for cost basis and 30% for fair market value, and you may carry the deduction over for up to five years." Click here for more information from Schwab Charitable. 

Contact Us

If you have any maps, globes, prints, posters, or books that you are looking to sell, feel free to contact us via email at info@nwcartographic.com or by phone at (312) 496 - 3622. We are more than happy to help you figure out the best option for selling your map(s).

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