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Antique Maps - Information about production progress, coloring, sizing and how to care and display

A Brief Primer

antique map Antique maps are maps printed more than 100 years ago. The earliest maps were usually printed from wood which had been cut in relief (the printed area standing out from the rest) and then inked. Steel and copper engravings form the majority of antique maps that are found today. In this process the image was cut, backwards, into the metal plate which was then inked and pressed onto paper.

Production Process

Copper was in use from the early 1500s until about 1820. Steel was introduced in the early 1800s and soon replaced copper. Lines in steel could be made much more fine than in copper. Also, more copies could be made with a steel plate because it was harder than copper. Nearly all engraved maps dated after 1825 were produced on steel.

Surface printing or lithography also started in the early 1800s and allowed the mapmaker to draw directly on to a specially prepared stone. Because no engraver was needed this was cheaper and faster but most lithographic maps had printing that was not as sharp as engravings. By the late 1880s machine printing was becoming the dominant process and maps gave up much of their aesthetic element.

Coloring and Sizes

color antique map Many antique maps were hand-colored, but some were intended not to be. The richness of early coloring is difficult to duplicate in the present. Maps with original coloring, called contemporary color, are quite desirable to find. Modern coloring is sometimes applied, but many collectors insist that a map should remain in its original state. Usually four colors (green, yellow, orange, and pink) were used to distinguish political divisions.

Antique maps come in all sizes but there are three most common sizes:
Octavo refers to maps printed on one eighth of a sheet, usually about 5" by 6".
Quarto is the size printed on one quarter of a sheet, generally about 10" by 12".
Folio means maps have been printed on a full sheet, measuring about 20" by 24".

What is it Worth?

Most dealers of antique maps are known for their integrity but when buying always look for a reliable and established dealer. As a guide, you may want to consult the Antique Map Price Record & Handbook by Jon K. Rosenthal.

Being paper items, antique maps are subject to tears, creases, browning, and color fading. Remember, these maps were intended to be used and may have traveled distant lands and oceans. Obviously the more defects an item has the less it's worth. But, one must factor in the age and rarity of the piece. The rarer and older it is, the less weight should be given to its condition. The Antique Map Price Record & Handbook provides guidelines on rating the condition of maps.

The Care and Display of Antique Maps

If tape is necessary, do not use any kind of tape except archival, acid-free tape. Although not all old maps were produced on acid-free paper, keeping them in an acid-free environment will help their longevity. Rematting and reframing often help preserve a map's condition. A map should be handled with both hands to give adequate support and to prevent creasing and tearing.

Maps should never be exposed to direct sunlight. The use of UV filtering glass or Plexiglas is highly recommended to minimize fading. Always avoid storing or displaying maps in extremes of temperature and humidity.

For more information on antique maps, click here.

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