“Rules and models destroy genius and art.”
On Taste, William Hazlitt (1778–1830)
The history of antique map dealing over the last 40 or so years is a fine story, filled with beautiful objects, important historical artifacts, colorful brokers, great trades, rapacious dealing and theft, but also the emergence of a unique asset class.
Let me give you a brief, entirely true account of that story.
Maps hardly existed prior to the Renaissance and the beginning of printing. There may have been medieval or ancient maps but very, very few still exist. More likely, before the advent of printing, people found their way across large distances by going from town to town, picking up local guides on the way. The maps that emerge with printing in the 15th century tended to be elaborate affairs—part geography, part art, part history (since the maps were full of historical/cultural details) and part fiction (since large elements of the world were still unknown to men). Mapmaking continued as a high art form, perhaps reaching its zenith with the Dutch map makers of the 16th and 17th centuries, the era that produced the greatest of them including Mercator, Ortelius, Adrichom or Blaeu. But their era of glory was not to last. By the late 19th century, maps were becoming ...