An EBTH Guide to Vintage & Antique Maps

Are you interested in the intersection of art, design, and history? If so, vintage and antique maps could be the perfect items to collect.
These attractive pieces of history are easy to find and are often surprisingly affordable depending on how rare they are, when they were made, and how well they’ve been preserved. Maps have been in existence for thousands of years, and there’s a lot to know before you start your collection. Join EBTH to learn some basics that’ll help you head down the road to a successful map-collecting journey.

When in the World?

Your map collection doesn’t have to follow specific rules; you can simply collect what’s most appealing to you. However, there are some advantages to focusing on specific types of maps. For example, if you decide to collect maps of Europe, Africa, or the entire globe from different periods in time, you’ll notice shifts in landmass shapes and locations but also in political boundaries and other details. Looking at maps depicting the same location but from different time periods can give you a picture of just how much our world can change over time.

Maps dating back to the Age of Exploration, which spanned roughly from the 1600s–1800s CE, are a particularly interesting glimpse into the way people saw the world. Even maps from 30 years ago show different borders and features from what you’d see on a modern map. If your goal in collecting maps is to see changes over time, assemble examples from many different time periods.

An EBTH Guide to Vintage & Antique Maps
An EBTH Guide to Vintage & Antique Maps

Broadsheet vs. Atlas vs. Folding Maps: Choosing a Format

It also helps to consider your goals for display or storage. Because maps are typically printed or drawn on paper, vellum, or other natural materials that eventually decompose, it’s important to store and preserve your antique and vintage maps with care. This can mean framing maps for display, but if you choose to do so, you’ll want to invest in careful framing with acid-free, archival-quality materials to prevent discoloration and fading.

The method of display or storage you choose will likely depend on the type of map you have. Antique maps—those that are at least 100 years old—are most likely to come in either a poster-style sheet known as a broadsheet or in a bound atlas. Vintage maps are typically found in the same formats, but some, especially those depicting highways, may come in folding styles.

Folding maps are often quite delicate due to wear and tear around the creases, which can also obscure some of the map’s content. You can frame and display broadsheets, pages from atlases, and folding maps relatively easily. Framing can be a good way of preserving delicate folding maps that aren’t holding together well in their current state.

Different Map Types

Whether bound in an atlas or rolled up as a broadsheet, each individual map you’ll find was made for a specific purpose. Political maps, for example, depict the borders of continents, countries, states/provinces, or cities, while physical maps depict landscape features such as rivers, mountains, forests, and deserts. Political maps often use bright colors to differentiate the distinct man-made boundaries depicted on the map, while physical maps usually use natural colors like blue, brown, yellow, green, and white to give a full picture of the physical landscape of an area.

Maps can also get much more technical; topographical maps use contour lines to illustrate elevation, and you’ll have to understand what those contour lines represent to read the map effectively. On the other hand, maps can be drawn with artistic or even whimsical or humorous intent. From political cartoons to native plants of a certain geographic area or landmarks that make specific places famous, you can find different kinds of these fun maps to collect and display to keep your collection focused on design and illustration rather than history, geography, or politics.

An EBTH Guide to Vintage & Antique Maps

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