2015-06-26 10:38:34

Maps are two-dimensional visual representations of the Earth, featuring geographical features and territorial borders.

They can show the entire planet, a particular continent, an individual country or a single city, and vary in detail from the simple outline of countries to the smallest geographic detail of an ordinance survey map.


The history of nations, empires and mankind’s view of the world can be traced through maps, and many collectors view them as important historical documents to be collected and preserved. Others collect them as works of art, due to their aesthetic appeal.

They can also be important aides to archaeologists and historians, and are collected by some as vital tools in the study of history, geography and geology.

Collectors often focus their collection on a particular type or style of map. Some of these categories include:

  • Area: some collectors focus on maps of a particular area. Changes made throughout history can offer both geographical knowledge and an insight into the social development of the area.
  • Mapmaker: a collector might chose to concentrate on the work of a particular mapmaker, or might look for one example from a variety of different mapmakers. These could be selected for their historical importance or for their particular styles of presentation.
  • Period: Certain styles and features are often typical of specific periods in mapmaking. Woodblock maps of the sixteenth century are distinctive, as are the finely engraved copperplate maps of the Dutch “Golden Age of Cartography”.
  • Historical significance: Maps can be identified as the first to show certain features whether discoveries, the establishment of national boundaries, the founding of new settlements, and so on.
  • Displaying particular features: Maps which depict California as an island have always been popular, as are those showing the discovery of Australia or the American mid-west. Others displaying such features as sea monsters, battle scenes, or with figured borders are also highly sought-after.


'Earliest map'

The earliest geographical representation ever found is a 9-ft long wall-painting found in 1963 in a prehistoric site in Anatolia, which is dated between about 6100 and 6300 BC. The painting depicts a town plan featuring eighty 'buildings' with a volcano, possibly erupting, in the background.

Both the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians mapped out their surroundings on papyrus and clay tablets, and records show that the first map of the world was compiled by Anaximander of the School of Philosophy at Miletus in around the sixth century B.C.

The theory of a spherical world also emerged during the age of the ancient Greeks, based on the theories of Pythagoras, Plato, Herodotus and Aristotle.

Roman Empire

The most famous geographer of the Roman Empire was Claudius Ptolemy (A.D 90 – A.D 168), a Greek mathematician who lived in Egypt.

His eight-volume work ‘Geographia’ featured a world map along with other regional maps, but only the text of his work has survived. His calculations, however, were based on those by earlier geographers such as Marinus of Tyre (c. AD 120), Eratosthenes and Posidonius, and presented a rather distorted view of the world which went on to influence geographical thought until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Middle Ages

From the 7th to the 14th century there is little evidence of map-making development in Western Europe, as the Middle Ages saw a return to religious fanaticism over scientific thought and the revival of the flat Earth theory.

Many maps of this era are known as T-O Maps, showing the world with East at the top surrounded by a circular ocean (the letter 0) and the three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, being separated by the arms of the T representing the Mediterranean, the river Nile to the South and the river Don flowing into the Black Sea to the North.


The Renaissance ushered in a new age of discovery, and the 15th century saw geographical knowledge expand rapidly as the great voyages of Columbus, Magellan and Henry the Navigator opened up new worlds. The theories of Ptolemy were quickly discarded, and this new knowledge combined with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg meant maps could be produced in large numbers and the newly-developing geometrical survey methods made them far more accurate.

One of history’s most celebrated cartographers, the Flemish geographer Gerard Mercator, produced his first groundbreaking map in 1569, and his three-part Atlas was printed in Amsterdam between 1585 and 1595. Maps based on Ptolemy’s work continued to be printed alongside newer maps, until 1570 when the Ortelius Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, composed entirely of contemporary maps, was published in Antwerp.

Maps in the 17th century

As trading routes expanded across the globe during the 17th century (spearheaded by Dutch shipping companies and navigators), Amsterdam became the centre of developing cartography. The market was dominated by the two major publishing houses Blaeu and Jansson, whose beautifully engraved maps are some of the finest ever produced in terms of artistry.

In England John Speed’s Atlas of 1610 featured detailed town plans, hundreds of boundaries and descriptive texts that proved so popular it remained in print through various editions until the end of the 18th century.

Roads were incorporated into maps on a county level in 1675 by John Ogilby, and his ‘Britannia’ showed post roads in great detail which quickly became a standard practice. The early 18th century saw a great expansion in the London map publishing trade, with notable names such as John Senex, Robert Sayer, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, John Rocque, Thomas Jefferys and John Cary all producing maps of increasing quality and accuracy.

The Atlas National, 1789

It was, however, the French who developed groundbreaking techniques during this period, using astronomical observations and triangulation to complete a survey of France known as the Atlas National in 1789 (produced by Cesar Francois Cassini). Collaborations between the French and the British led to the founding of the Ordinance Survey Office in England in 1791, and the age of detailed utilitarian, functional maps was truly born.

World’s most expensive map

The most expensive map ever sold is the Waldseemüller Map of the world, created by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507.

It is believed to be the first European world map to display America, and the first to predict an ocean (the Pacific) between America and the Eurasian landmass for the first time.

The map, which is the only copy known to exist, was purchased by the United States Library of Congress in 2001 from a private collector in Germany for a record U.S. $10 million, making it the most expensive map in the world.

Types and notable map makers

Main article: List of types of map
Main article: List of notable map makers

Trade terms

Main article: List of map collecting terms

Other notable maps

Main article: List of notable maps

Notable map collections and collectors

Main article: List of notable map collections
Main article: List of notable map collectors

Map dealers

Main article: List of map dealers

Map clubs and societies

Main article: List of map clubs and societies

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