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Top 10 Questions on Buying, Owning, and Selling Antique Maps

As professional antique map and print dealers, we get a lot of questions about maps on a weekly basis. Some are quite unusual, other are very common. In this blog post, Sammy Berk of New World Cartographic lists and answers the ten most commonly asked questions he has received over the 10+ years he has been active in the business.

Have a read and you may find you question or a good one you haven't though of answered below. If you still have a question regarding antique maps, prints, globes, atlases, or this history of cartography, just contact us and we'd be happy to get back to you in a timely manner.

Question 1: What kind of maps does New World Cartographic sell?

Answer: We deal in all maps made between the early 1500s and late 20th century. From small woodblock engravings, to large wall maps, geologic maps, city plans, pictorial maps, war propaganda, maps showing newly discovered lands as well as mythological and false lakes, islands, and cities. Much of the last 500 years of history has been documented with maps and we sell them all!
Variety of Maps Sold at New World Cartographic

Question 2: How do I know if an old map is real or authentic?

Answer: There are certain things to look for, which can vary by the type of map you have and the time it was made. One thing to examine is the paper. Does it look and feel like modern paper? Is there anything on the back or is it plain white?

Many maps that were made from copper plate and steel engravings have a plate impression in the paper around the map image. Does your map have one and if so, can you feel it? Additionally, many maps were printed for atlases and have a centerfold. If your map has a centerfold, make sure you can feel it. If you can see it, but it is smooth to the touch, then it is just a printed image of a centerfold and the map is fake.

Anatomy of map - Venice

Lastly, consider where and with whom you are purchasing an antique map. You are far more likely to get an authentic map from an established business that has a physical location than from a travelling flea market, estate sale, or an "old map vendor" at a bazaar in Istanbul. Yes, we have seen many fake maps from street vendors in Turkey and other countries. If you are buying from someone that specializes in maps and has an established business, in almost every case, their reputation is worth far more than the money they get from selling fake maps.

Question 3: How do I take care of an original antique or vintage map? 

Answer: As long as you keep the map in a room that stays at a reasonable temperature and is not too humid or dry, you will be fine. Consider owning a humidifier for rooms in cold locations that run the heat all winter long. The same goes for owning a dehumidifier in locations that are hot and humid. In short, what is comfortable for you is usually comfortable for your maps.
Also, while many people choose to frame their maps, others take an alternative approach by preserving their old maps in mylar or archival sleeves and storing them in a flat file cabinet or any table with a large drawer. The benefits of archival sleeves include the ability to store many maps in a small space and the ability to research and explore your map more easily with a magnifying glass on a desk or table as opposed to standing on a ladder with your nose pressed up to the glass of a framed map above a fireplace (true story for a long time collector / customer).


Question 4: How do I properly frame an antique map or print?

Answer: With regards to framing, most framers these days use non-acidic mat board and backing boards when framing, but you should always ask, just to be certain. Some framers may offer UV protectant glass, but as long as you do not hang the map on a wall that gets direct sunlight, you should be fine. Additionally, UV protectant glass does not fully protect the map from direct sunlight. One type of glass I recommend is non-reflective glass. This ensures that when you hand the map in your dining room and step back to look at it, you are not just looking at a reflection of a chandelier in the room.

Framing and Antique Map

Questions 5: Are antique maps affordable? What makes a map valuable?

Answer: Yes, anyone can afford an antique map of their own, but not everyone can afford any map they want. Maps are offered for sale here at New World Cartographic for as little at $5 and as much as $100k+. Maps don't simply derive their value from their age, therefor one can get an antique map from as early as the 16th century for less than $250. Most of our material falls in the range of $150 - $2,500, but if you are on a tight budget, we recommend checking our our selection of maps for $250 and under.

In general, we find that maps can be valued by asking a few questions. Is the map rare? Is the map important or does it have historical significance? What area is shown in the map and during what time period? A map of California at the start of the gold rush is generally of more value than one from twenty years later. Is the map pleasing to the eye? Not all maps will hit on each criteria, but they are always something that should be considered when trying to assess a map's value. For specific numbers, look of past auction records and what the same map or similar maps are being offered for on the open market.

Question 6: What sort of maps should I collect? 

Answer: Collect what interests you personally. This may be an area you like to travel, something to honor your family ancestry, or maybe a historical event or timer period of which you are an enthusiast. In the end, you have to find what you are collecting enjoyable. Our suggestion is to browse a few websites or better yet, make a visit to a local map dealer. Let your eyes and intellect sample the options before making your first purchase. See what draws you in the most.

Deciding on what antique map to buy

Question 7: Are old maps a good financial investment?

Answer: We will never sell a map as an investment as we are not investment advisors. With that being said, many people that bought maps in the 1980s and 1990s have made a profit selling their maps decades later. Others have not. Maps do not gain value with age, but interest from collectors. Some styles, time periods, and subject matter of maps can get hot for several years, while others don't garner the interest and attention, they once did in years past.

Our advice is to buy what you like because you like it and if someday you turn a profit from selling it, consider it a bonus. Most people that golf spend thousands on that hobby, but never earn a big payday like the pros.

Question 8: Do maps make for a good or unique gift?

Answer: ABSOLUTELY! Whether it is a map of where someone is from, their favorite vacation destination, the location of a wedding, a time period or subject matter of interest, or displays an artistic style to their liking, the right map for anyone makes a fantastic gift. We have sold maps that were gifts for a wide variety of occasions, including a birthday, Christmas or Chanukah present, graduation, wedding, anniversary (first year is paper), Valentine's Day, or simply a surprise gift to let that person know how much you care. Few people ever expect to get an antique or vintage map as a present and there is truly a perfect map out there for anyone and everyone.

Sammy Berk of New World Cartographic holding a map that sold as a gift.Question 9: What about kids? Are there good maps for kids? How early should I consider getting my child interested in maps, cartography, geography, and history?

Answer: Most kids love maps and there are a number of great options for kids. Many kids are good visual learners, so pictorial maps that use imagery to convey information is a great option for starting kids on maps. Taking from experience with my kids, I think ages 4 - 6 is the earliest time to consider buying them their own map.

Of course, we do not want their maps to get damaged, so consider storing them in a sealed mylar sleeve and using the map as an opportunity to teaching them about caring for something old, special, and fragile. You can also securely mount a framed map on the wall with plexiglass as opposed to traditional glass. If you are still worried about your kids destroying a historic map, consider buying a fine print reproduction. There are a number of great options provided by our sister company the Vintage Map Shop, Inc.

Land of Make Believe - A great map for kids

Question 10: I have a map or map collection to sell. What are my options for selling my old, rare, antique maps?

Answer: 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.
Selling directly to a dealer will typically get our less money, but an immediate payout. Selling through a dealer by way of consignment will typically get you the larges payout, but it may take a long time, in some instances several years. Consigning your maps to an auction house will take some time, and you will know the exact date of the auction, but the results and you ultimate payout is somewhat of an unknown. The hammer price can be low or high, but usually never higher than if the item was sold through a dealer. 

We go over all three options, their advantages, and disadvantages in greater detail in another blog titled "I Have an Antique Map to Sell, What Are My Options?"

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 decide on the best option for selling your map(s).

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  • I’m looking to sell my 1600s map/engraving. Copper engraving, hand colored in outline and wash when published. Highly decorative map of ‘Rheinland Pfalz’ equipped with decorative engraved borders showing city views, costumes of representations of nobles, citizens and farmers and coat of arms. Among the engraved city views we find Mainz, Frankfurt a. Main, Speyer, Heidelberg and Worms. Further the ‘Heidelberger Fass’ and other small views among these Wolf Fontain, Heyligenberg, Kloster Neuburg, etc. Verso blank without text. Minor creasing or mendings at the centre-fold. Top and bottom margins slightly narrow to the engraved borderline, else in very good condition.

    Bibliographic Details:
    Title: Palatinatus Rheni Nova, et Accurata …
    Publisher: Nicolaus Ioannis Piscator, Amsterdam
    Publication Date: 1630
    17½ by 21¾ inches

  • I have a certified antique map of the Western Hemisphere dating to 1636. It has been properly framed and I am interested in selling it. Kindly advise best option, thank you.

    Lyla Elliott
  • I have 2 very old maps that I am looking to sell. They are of the US before we had all 52 states. Whom should I contact to see what I can do with them.

    Thank you

    Vera Southard

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