Frequently Asked Questions on Rare Maps of the World

What qualifies a map as rare?

A difficult question to answer briefly, but obviously its age and the number of copies issued tend to both be important factors. During the 16th to 18th centuries, important and iconic maps would be reprinted, modified, and copied in a plethora of ways. This means that while one version of a given map may be relatively common, another almost identical version may have much greater value. Ultimately, the question of rarity – especially as it relates to value – is about what the map depicts and how often it can be acquired on the open market. High interest areas combined with a low frequency of offerings will almost always signify rarity.

How do I know if my map is real?

This can sometimes be hard even for professionals to assess. It depends very much on the type of printing used. For maps, the most common printing methods are woodblock prints, copper- or steel-plate etchings, and lithographs. These two types are relatively easy to recognize, even for the untrained eye. A plate etching is exactly that: a motif etched into a copper or steel plate that is then pressed onto paper. The paper usually has to be of a certain thickness and quality to handle this, and so the printing process will leave an impression on the actual paper. In most cases, the impression is both visible to the naked eye and can also be felt by running your fingertips over it. When it comes to discerning a lithograph from a later off-set print, the best way is to use a strong magnifying glass and look at the coloring. If the applied color consists of numerous tiny dots, it is an offset; lithographed color will appear as a more coherent blob.

How do I know if my map has any value?

Well, if it has a title or other large text on it, the best way is to copy this carefully and google it. Most maps are multiples, meaning they have been produced in many copies, and so chances are that some collection, dealer, or auction house somewhere has handled it. This may just give you a first impression though, as some maps exist in many different states, which range considerably in value, while other maps may only be in collections that understandably have no focus on monetary value.

Maps speak to us about how humanity’s understanding of the world progressed. But they are also testimonies to how we wanted to perceive the world. In that regard, there are some maps that are enormously attractive because they changed the way we look at the world, while others are attractive because they reflect a single cartographer’s vision. It is hard to say which resonates more significantly on the market. If your map has age, is authentic, and does not figure a hundred times on Ebay for $20, chances are it might be worth something. Bear in mind, that it is only the rarest maps that are very valuable, so even if you find something that looks like it comes with a high price tag, this may not always be the case. If you are in doubt, do not hesitate to contact us. We are more than happy to provide you with a free and non-binding assessment.

Are we interested in anything in particular?

Well, as stated above, we are interested in anything we believe we can sell. That said, Neatline does have great expertise in a number of areas and will usually have strong client rolodexes to match them. This means that should you have a rare and high-value map in one of the categories that Neatline specializes in, we can most likely facilitate a quick, discrete, and direct sale to a collector or institution. Among our many areas of expertise the following stand out: San Francisco, California, the American West, Colonial America, the Railroads, the Northwest Passage, early exploration and mapping, and the scientific mapping of the Middle East. Head to this page to learn more about selling a map.

I am still confused, what should I do?

Don’t worry. Maps have us confused and confounded all the time too. If you are in doubt as to your next move, remember that we are here to help. Give us a call or drop us a line and we will try to advise you to the best of our ability. Doing so is free and will not obligate you in any way.