As collector interest continues to grow for scientific antiques,
more are coming to market. This includes globes, maps and scientific
Once, only museums were auction bidders when these items
made an occasional auction appearance. Today, the generation
that works and plays with new technology, from computers to Ipods,
has turned to collecting early scientific discoveries. Their
growing popularity has resulted not only in specialized auctions,
but more auction and antique show specialists.
Globes and maps are popular since they can be decorative
as well as historic. Consider that globe bases were made in the
most popular furniture styles of the day; Sheraton to late Victorian
and beyond into Arts and Crafts.
Early globes were never made in quantity. A pair of globes
in 19th century America were as expensive as a sofa made by Duncan
Phyfe. These days, the earliest and rarest can cost in the thousands
of dollars. You may be surprised that there are many types that
include terrestrial and celestial, some as small as three inches
The golden age of globes is before 1840 when they were printed
by hand. From the late 18th to the 19th centuries , major years
of geographical and celestial discovery and change, they were
ever changing. Equally collectible are early catalogues advertising
globes and other scientific instruments. A rarity would be a
catalogue printed in 1848 by Benjamin Pike of New York,
complete with drawings.
Have you passed up a potentially antique globe because it
appeared to be 20th century? When examining globes, remember
they were updated over the years. Therefore, changes were periodically
made on their papers, called "gores". These came in
sets of 12 and were in spherical shapes. They were pasted over
the old data and lacquered. There may be a difference between
the dates on the terrestrial and celestial parts. Since there
were more geographic than heavenly changes, the date on the terrestrial
part will tell you the age, if there is a date.
Globes made in the 18th and 19th centuries had a core of
wood, covered with plaster. The data was printed from engraved
plates, pasted on the plaster and painted with water colors then
There are globe novelties to add to a collection. They include
pocket globes. These measure 2 ½" to 3". The
celestial "gores" were placed inside.
For beginning collectors, there are 20th century globes that
keep going up in value, but still priced in the hundreds. Even
the mass produced school globes of the 19th to mid 20th century
are considered collectible.
maps have long fascinated collectors. When they come to auction
bidding can be fierce. Among the most expensive, regardless of
age, are old maps with quaint drawings of dolphins, griffins
and ships. Often sea fights and pirates were added to fill in
uncharted area. Maps of voyages depicting historic ships bring
top dollar at auctions and shops. Even maps in damaged condition
of "laid down"(glued to a backing) can find a buyer.
Since prices are lower for less than mint condition maps, they
offer a good opportunity.
Other ways to begin an affordable collection could include
specializing in something close to home: your state, city or
Don't pass up map pages in old Atlases or a book containing
them, even in poor condition. The inside can be a treasure trove
of over a dozen insert maps or foldout maps.
Before you start ripping out the pages, check with a dealer
or collector to learn if the Atlas has more value intact. For
instance, you wouldn't want to cannibalize a copy of Kiloton's
General Atlas, c.1857, with its 170 steel plate maps, valued
at around $3,000.
There are many types of maps to collect. They include road,
military, marine, railroad and celestial.
Old navigation charts of specific voyages are a related category.
Especially collectible are those documenting a famous ship or
Learn the terms such as border, scales, cartouche and legend.
Cartouche, for instance, is a decorative box or panel that contains
the title of the map and other information. Some are very decorative.
The legend uses symbols to show the location of government buildings,
churches and navigational symbols, etc. Another term, heraldry,
illustrates coats of arms, flags and banners of early countries
Unfortunately, maps have been faked and artificially aged.
Many of those historic maps you see displayed in offices and
restaurants may have been made "yesterday" and artificially
aged. Examples of phony aging include burns, candle wax and wine
stains on browned paper. Other times these so-called "antique"
maps are new reproductions aged with weak tea and even cigarette
ashes. Placed in old frames, they can easily fool a beginning
Before spending big money take a strong magnifying glass
and look in the corners for copyright dating. People tend to
look at what is supposed to be an old map, but overlook a 20th
If possible, where big money is involved, ask the dealer
to let you examine the map
out of the frame. It could even be a cardboard print. Pay attention
to auction descriptions when they say "not examined out
of frame." Even if it is on vellum, used several hundred
years ago, that's no guarantee of age, It, as well as paper or
parchment, may have been artificially aged. Holes and spots of
dirt may be clues to faking. Afterall, maps have always been
prized and kept in good condition when possible.
A spinoff collectible would be scientific instruments. They
were often finely engraved with the name of the maker and date.
Most desirable would be those made of various metals from bronze
to silver. Some were inlaid with silver. Great care was used
not only in the calibration of measurements and angles, but in
Since every country made scientific instruments, they can
be found anywhere. However, serious collectors advise that the
finest are sold either by a few specialist dealers in London
and Paris. That isn't to say you can't make a discovery at an
estate or even a garage sale.
Research in these categories is a must. The Internet offers
helpful reference from specialty dealers. Check auction houses,
such as Skinners, for catalogues offering maps, globes and scientific
instruments at specialty sales.
Photo 1: Antique George III pedestal globe, mounted
in Chippendale stand. Photo courtesy of The Old Print Shop, New
Photo 2: Map of modern world c 1588, by Sebastian
Munster. Photo courtesy of Barry Lawrence Ruderman,
Antique Maps, La Jolia, CA, email@example.com
Photo 3: Americae Nova Tabula, printed c 1640, by
Wllem J. Blaeu. Photo courtesy of The Old Print Shop,
, New York, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anne Gilbert has been self-syndicating
her column "The Antique Detective" and special art
and antique features since 1983. She has authored nine books
on the subject. "The Antique Detective" appears in
the Chicago Sun Times, Palm Beach Post, Patriot Ledger and many
other newspapers. Over the years, she has appeared on network
television and has also been an appraiser for major museums and