History of Cartography Mapped Out
Byline: DON RODGERS
ANY antiques buff worth their salt would have tuned into a recent BBC series called The Beauty of Maps.
It was based on an exhibition currently running in the British Library drawn from their enormous collection of more than four million maps.
In Europe, the first printed map dates from 1472, a reproduction of Isidore of Sevilla's 7th century map of the world. Later maps were available in two main forms: as a single broadsheet, or bound in an atlas. Single sheet maps were sometimes made for use, sometimes for display as wall maps - magnificent examples feature in the British Library's exhibition.
For obvious reasons, maps that were originally bound in volumes survive better than loose sheets.
Wall maps in particular suffered from exposure to sunlight and were generally varnished as well, the varnish having a tendency to degrade over time.
The 17th century is considered as the Golden Age of maps, with the Dutch the most esteemed map-makers of the period.
At this date, atlases were luxury items owned only by the very rich: Johannes Blaeu's Atlas Maior of 1662, for instance, was the most expensive publication of the 17th century, consisting of 600 maps bound in twelve volumes.
If you're interested in collecting maps, the choice is vast. As a consequence, map collectors tend to specialise - in maps by a particular cartographer, for example, or maps from one period. …