Investing on a Shoestring – Maps

This is another installment of a series on shoestring investment options. (See the first post here, on silver.) You can be involved on a large scale, but small, regular investments are more easily accomplished. Please note: I am a certified personal property appraiser — but not a professional investment counselor. These are my takes on the subject, albeit backed up with research and expert opinions. Invest at your own risk.

Today’s home dec trends often feature personalized, eclectic items that not only express favorite interests, but origins. You can take advantage of this via a route that’s often overlooked by others: antique maps.

It isn’t just because they look interesting. Maps, provided they’re chosen carefully with an eye to their long-term desirability, can be one of the most reliable antiques to increase in value. (A good overall view on this is here.) Case in point:

old map

Abraham Ortelius’ Maris Pacifici (or map of the Pacific Ocean), printed in 1589. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) Ortelius was a Flemish cartographer whose maps often include wonderful images: sea monsters, icebergs, and in the case of this map, a galleon under full sail!

Ortelius maps have literally skyrocketed in a recent years, in great part because they’re interesting graphically, as well as geographically. Even lesser-known maps have increased considerably in value. Kevin Brown, of Geographicus Antique Maps, remembered bidding at a New York auction, about 2007, for a copy of Ortelius’ map of Iceland, not exactly a hot property, in more ways than one. Brown planned to bid $2500 — about what Iceland maps had been selling for post-2000. To his amazement, the map sold for $10,000! Since then, Ortelius originals (and they’re more common than you might think) have been selling for multiples of that once-‘shocking’ $10,000.

Trends do come and go in cartography. Texas maps, though they remain popular, have decreased some in value, according to Brown…but interest in maps of Chinese, and especially Russian cities, are on the rise. A careful study of auctions and maps for sale should help the savvy collector see what’s currently hot — and what isn’t.

Generally, the more rare the map, the better chances it will increase in value, according to Brown: “Many maps are very popular because of their historic or aesthetic value and maintain consistent high prices despite being commonly (obviously this is a relative term) available. Such maps do increase in value over time, but the number of such pieces on the market keeps the price increase slow and steady.”
If you’re considering investing in maps, remember:

*Study, study, study. Books and sale catalogs will help teach you the history of cartography, introduce you to rare examples, and help narrow down possibilities for investing. Spend time wandering auction sites to hone your eye for quality, as well as establish general values. (Ebay is also an excellent place to do this — but don’t let yourself get caught up bidding until you’ve had time to study the general market.)

*Damaged atlases or geography books, antique magazines or other periodicals can be cheap sources of maps. Although some parts will be unusable, pages can often be salvaged. Please note: I do NOT advocate breaking up perfectly good antique atlases, though there are plenty of people out there who will not hesitate, if they can make a buck doing it. Respect the publication — once you destroy it, it will never be the same.

*Buy better-quality maps that are more rare. “Unique or one of a kind maps…can command a premium and will almost inevitably increase in value dramatically over a relatively short period of time,” says Brown.

*Buy with an eye for the future. Reasonably-priced maps of famous areas, or with graphic motifs, may be modestly priced now, but will grow increasingly more rare in coming years.

*Look for maps with historical associations. George Washington’s plantation, Civil War battle sites, California Gold Rush sites, Washington, D.C. — all will appeal to certain types of collectors. But don’t neglect maps of everyday towns, either, if you can find them in excellent condition, and for the right price. I know a collector who paid quite happily for pages of an 1876 atlas that showed the small Michigan township where she grew up. She would not give these up for anything.

*Buy what you like. (Bonus if the map can be framed or displayed effectively!) If the map’s age, graphics or size appeal to you, odds are good that it will interest another collector, as well. And if it doesn’t — you have a piece you will enjoy living with.

*Consider using an experienced dealer as a go-between. You may have to pay a commission, but the dealer’s knowledge and experience may net a lower price, as well as keep you from purchasing a fake or more common piece.

Framed and displayed, old maps add an intriguing look to your living space. (No direct heat or light, as well as conservation-style framing, helps preserve their color and condition for the future.) Few investments can open your world, while showing it to you at the same time!

This post is by staff writer Cindy Brick. Cindy has several published books and many published articles on a variety of subjects. You can visit her business website at CindyBrick.com or visit her personal blog.

6 thoughts on “Investing on a Shoestring – Maps”

  1. If you are interested in investing in Antique Maps have a look at historicalcartography.com.au they have a good range of interesting, reasonably priced Antique Maps

  2. Thomas, you’d be amazed at how little you actually need in $$ to invest in maps…provided that you’ve done some studying and aren’t just buying hogwild. I’ve only been paying attention to this area for four or five years, and have seen some of the more popular maps double, triple or quadruple in value! You can’t get that kind of return on the stock market, or anywhere else, too often.
    Thanks for writing, and sharing May there be wonderful pieces of ‘what you like’ in your future.

  3. I love old maps. There is something really interesting about how people viewed the world (literally!).
    While I am not a proponent of actively investing in antiques and art (unless you have so much money that you don’t know what to do), I appreciate your post.
    To me, the most important piece of advice is to buy what you like … don’t buy that ugly painting or useless piece of furniture to make a good monetary return, buy it because you like it!

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