Expert guide to collecting maps

Map expert Tim BryarsWith the London Map Fair running this coming weekend, June 8 and 9, organiser and dealer Tim Bryars of Bryars & Bryars shares his expertise on where to begin in the world of collecting and buying antique maps.

Tim says, “Antique maps have been an absorbing interest for most of my working life. More likely to be rooted in trade, war, politics and propaganda than wayfinding, they are frequently strikingly designed or beautifully printed even when made for the most functional purposes, they are always evocative of a time or place, and I find them endlessly fascinating.”

Tim offers the following advice to new collectors

  • Too much emphasis can be put on theming a collection. Acquiring antique maps is supposed to be fun, so there’s no need to bind yourself up too tightly in a self-imposed straitjacket which stops you buying nice things when you see them.
Harry Beck's London Underground mao
A map of London Underground designed by Harry Beck
  • Having said that, an accumulation of maps is much more satisfying when there is an underlying narrative or structure, however broad or personal. Getting the right balance takes some thought.
  • Find something that is attainable. For example, collecting early world maps requires deep pockets these days. Although there are always plenty of examples in the marketplace, every potential collector is on the map – somewhere – and there is a correspondingly broad appeal.
  • A collection of maps of the beautiful but tiny Scottish islands of Rum, Eigg and Muck would be affordable but small, complete before there is any danger of running out of wall-space.
Buzz Aldrin signed lunar map
A lunar map signed by astronaut Buzz Aldrin
  • Fields such as London Transport mapping remain popular as they offer strong design, sufficient rarity to add the thrill of the chase and pleasure of discovery, and a huge range of material to choose from, some worth thousands of pounds but with plenty still available for less than £100.
  • Before buying your first map (because we all keep our first map) read up on the subject, talk to expert dealers and collectors and handle as much material as possible. It’s worth getting a feel for colour, condition and rarity before taking the plunge
  • There are plenty of people who will help you– the world of rare maps is pretty collegiate. The annual London Map Fair is a great place to start, and there are a number of map shops which are open all year round.
A 1683 map of London by Frederick De Wit, a Dutch mapmaker who is unlike ever to have set foot in the city
A 1683 map of London by Frederick De Wit, a Dutch mapmaker who is unlike ever to have set foot in the city
  • When you do get your wallet out, stick to what you like rather than what you assume will increase in value, and always buy the best quality you can. You’ll enjoy the maps more, and it shows in the end!
  • Finally, I’ve seldom met anyone with regrets about maps they bought. Most stories I hear in my shop are about the maps which got away.
  • If you haven’t done so already, discover the joy of maps.

The London Map Fair is Europe’s largest antique map fair and runs on June 8 & 9 at the Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR. Saturday opening 12-7, Sunday opening 10-6.

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