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This is a good question, the answer to which is evolving. It used to be that “antique” meant more than 100 years old. But a recent surge in popularity for 20th century maps has transformed the market somewhat and shown that maps published as recently as the 1990s can be quite rare and collectible.

In general, though, we can say that an antique map is a map produced sometime from the late 15th to the mid-20th century, not published on a mass scale.

Look, we get it. Antique maps can be expensive and they aren’t exactly a life’s necessity. But let me make the case for why collecting maps can be an enriching and fascinating pursuit.

Antiques hold an imaginative power of association through their history. With age, they gather a story from the times and places they have been. A map published in 18th century France, like a piece of authentic Louis XV furniture, has a history: it has survived revolutions and wars as well as the every-day dangers of accident and decay.

Antique maps are evocative. We must try to imagine the story of each individual map — how it survived for decades or centuries, the different hands through which it passed, and the dangers it survived. These dangers, of course, have destroyed many original works from the past, contributing to the rarity of those that survive.

Objects can also carry imaginative power from their associations in time and place. This association, of course, could involve something dramatic — like a baseball that happens to be part of a historic play. But for antique maps, the association is likely to be more straightforward (although no less powerful): where we grew up, have lived or traveled, or a particular passion in history or literature.

A person interested in, for example, Victorian England, may wish to acquire artifacts of that age. Such personal interests combine well with collecting because the collectible objects are more meaningful to the collector, and because the associated knowledge helps the collector make better choices about what is worth collecting.

In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin famously argued that each original work of art had an “aura” — an authenticity related to its time and place. Benjamin was interested in separating original works from reproductions. It is precisely this aura and authenticity that makes antiques special. A reproduction has none of the “aura” of the original work, none of its imaginative power.

Yes. Historically, in the antique map trade, certificates of authenticity were not offered, except on request. Most antique map dealers do not automatically offer certificates of authenticity. However, all reputable dealers will provide a certificate of authenticity upon request.

Neatline uses a standard system for grading the condition of maps and atlases:

  • Fine suggests that the map is flawless and in essentially perfect original condition. We use the fine designation very rarely. To earn this grade, the map must be a beautiful example of a map with no flaws.
  • VG+ means that the map has only the most minor defects. A small amount of marginal soiling, a bit of reinforcement to a centerfold or minor marginal tear or some similar defect at most.
  • VG means the map has minor defects. These may range from minor soiling and foxing to a well repaired tear or very minor facsimile work.
  • VG- suggests a relatively significant defect, including a fairly serious tear, staining, soiling etc. The map is all present and still in a collectable condition.
  • Good suggests loss of image, significant soiling or damage, but still worthy of consideration for a collector.
  • Poor suggests that there is significant loss of image, burn marks or other factors which significantly detract from the map.

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