The Antique Detective
The Antique Detective
Old globes and maps reflect our changing world
By Anne Gilbert
As collector interest continues to grow for scientific antiques, more are coming to market. This includes globes, maps and scientific instruments.
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 high.
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 varnished.
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.
Early 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 country.
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 historic voyages.
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 and governments.
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 collector.
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 century copyright.
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 their decoration.
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 York,
Photo 2: Map of modern world c 1588, by Sebastian Munster. Photo courtesy of Barry Lawrence Ruderman, Antique Maps, La Jolia, CA,
Photo 3: Americae Nova Tabula, printed c 1640, by Wllem J. Blaeu. Photo courtesy of The Old Print Shop, , New York,
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 private individuals.
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