Illuminated maps in rare books

by Admin on November 9, 2012 · Art of the book, Exploration, World History and Government

Doncker's chart of the Asian seas

Over recent years, books of any period decorated with maps, particularly aged maps, have achieved a prominence of ever-increasing popularity. Although the majority of the best-selling books with maps fall under the traditional definition of ‘antique,’ a number of twentieth and late nineteenth century publications are seeing a fascinating growth in collector interest.

Over the last 40 years the map trade has changed tremendously, reflecting the changed economic trend and the shift from the institutional, to the private collector coming into vogue.  As institutional budgets begun to shrink with the notable exception being academia, private investors have predominantly become more active.  On the supply side, we have seen some major changes also. There are certainly fewer antiquarian map and book shops around the world due to the cost of maintaining such outlets, while at the same time the Internet has created an alternative channel for selling and providing a convenient way to search for and establish a first level of contact with a dealer. Moreover, recent history suggests that fewer atlases or books containing valuable maps are being split for sale as individual collector items, a practice that used to be source for most of the individual maps available for sale.

For the beginner collector, the area of coverage can be overwhelming. The majority of historic and antique map collectors, curators or enthusiasts seeking the most treasured maps are likely to zero in on publications between the 16th and 18th centuries, preferably by Dutch cartographers. During that time, the Netherlands had a thriving map production and publishing industry, with cartographers such as Johannes Blaeu and Abraham Ortelius, and Dutch atlas publishers such as Gerard Mercator and Hondius & Janssonius, governing the production offering of the Dutch cartography industry. The Golden Age of Dutch cartography, as it came to be known, is full of spectacular Dutch sea charts, or “Pascaartes”,  such as :

–          Blaeu’s chart of the Atlantic – one of the most important maps published in the seventeenth century and one of the earliest Mercator publications which is considered to be the first on the projection for North America.

–          Pieter and Johannes Blaeu’s chart of Europe – one of the last maps to bear the Blaeu family imprint and a highlight of the mapmaker’s artistic aspect.

–          Doncker’s chart of Asia with beautiful vignettes by Johannes Leupenius – one of the few charts of the Asian seas printed in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, and one of the earliest to show the Dutch discoveries on the west coast of Australia.

One of the greatest treasures from the Golden Age of Dutch cartography is the 19-volume  Atlas van Hadrianus Relandus at the Meermanno-Westreenianum Museum in The Hague. Dirk Jansz  van Santen illuminated and gilded the most prestigious printed works of his time in an exceptionally beauteous and brilliant manner. Rarely ever do maps colored in van Santen’s hand come up for sale. Rarer still are maps offered that can be ascribed to him with certainty, as he did not sign the works that he illuminated.

Doncker's chart of Asia

Even though our Rare Book Sale Monitor does not currently track sales of atlases or maps exclusively, the price changes are primarily captured indirectly in the category of Exploration as well as the grouping of Military, World History and Government. The price index is based on actual sale prices of the world’s most frequently traded and higher valued books from either retail or at auction. It provides the rare book collector with a barometer that is broken down by genre as well as by some of the most important authors of all time. Unfortunately for the map collector the indirect genre association and the author breakdown exhibit little to no correlation to any of the important carto-bibliographies or literature containing maps, as well as atlases traded.


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