SA's Only Antiques, Collectables And Decorative Arts Magazine
Collecting Maps

mapThe collecting of maps, prints and documents goes hand in hand with history and South Africa offers rich pickings in this area of collecting. Zulu war scenes and Anglo-Boer war battles in handcoloured prints are sought after not only locally but internationally as well and sell well. Maps are also a good investment and specialiast dealers in maps are usually experts in their field and offer a wealth of expertise for an aspiring collector.

A selection of rare maps will be on show and can be purchased at the National Antique Faire this year in the Book dealers section, some of which are over 300 years old and depict Southern Africa populated by the likes of Indian elephants, the Indian Rhinoceros and even tigers. You might pick up a John Speed map from 1625 that is profusely illustrated along the margins. These decorative maps are the most sought after, such as the Blaeu map on which a vignette depicts a man eating entrails. This will appeal to many collectors of maps who appreciate the narratives of how explorers saw South Africa all those centuries ago. But what is really extraordinary is how a piece of paper can last for centuries. This is, of course, because the map was originally from an atlas or travel book, and therefore found protection between its covers. No doubt, several generations of previous owners kept the atlas away from damp and ravenous insects.

The method of printing involved a skilled craftsman engraving the image on copper in reverse. The copper plate would be inked and laid onto a sheet of acid-free ‘antique pressed cotton paper’. The copper sheet together with the cotton paper would then be fed into two rollers under high pressure, so that the image would be pressed from the copper sheet onto the paper. These days, this process is appreciated as a form of fine art. As a result, maps, which were once seen as functional illustrations, are now considered works of art.

Another reason why these antique maps are so rare is because they were printed in small editions. Sometimes the initial print run amounted to as few as 150 maps. So, when you pass an antique dealer’s table and see a map for R25 000, remember that there may only be less than a hundred of these rare artefacts left in the world.

Rare map depicts Cape Town through 18th-century Dutch eyes: A rare map recently in circulation was a 1744 Dutch map of Southern Africa.

This particular map is a copperplate engraving and is handcoloured. Compiled by the cartographer, Isaak Tirion, it shows more detail along the coastal areas. This is due to the fact that there were so few reliable accounts from ‘surveyors’ returning to Holland at the time with topographical information relating to the interior. That is why there is significantly more detail around the area of Cape Town in this map.

Many of the original Dutch place names are recognisable here; for example, ‘Hout Baai’, ‘Robben Eiland’ and ‘Baai Falso’. A name that has changed is ‘Loeuwenstaart’ or ‘Lion’s Tail’, which refers to what is today Signal Hill.

Isaak Tirion, who was born in Utrecht in 1705, is famous for having compiled and published eight world atlases. The going price for this rare map was R8 250 – a truly good buy for anyone interested in collecting maps.


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