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The World of Maps

At first glance, maps may seem little more than squiggly lines on paper, but if we look closer and read between those lines, fascinating stories will unfold. We’ll find ourselves slowly but surely snared in a web of romance and adventure – and on our way to surrendering to the intoxicating delight of collecting maps.

Our first contact with a map – other than grade school geography – probably arose out of the practical need to find our way, to keep from getting lost in a particular part of the world.

Exploiting the truth that a picture is worth a thousand words, mankind has been drawing maps to make order out of the world for more than 4,000 years, since the time of the ancient Babylonians, who carved maps of their fields on clay tablets.

And maps as we know them today, lines printed on paper, have been around for more than 500 years, ever since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the mid-15th century.

We’re all familiar with the practical uses of maps, these tools to help us avoid getting lost. But the table turns when we become map collectors. We become people who actually enjoy getting lost between the lines in the magical world of maps.

Happily, we can indulge this fancy because maps are a very accessible – and affordable – collectible.

All of us already own at least a few maps, tucked into the glove compartment of our car, stashed away in a desk drawer, folded into the latest issue of National Geographic or bound into an atlas on our bookshelf.

If we need a new map, we can pick one up almost anywhere, from the corner convenience store and the supermarket to the gas station and the airport gift shop. Countless government agencies and tourist centers even hand them out for free.

And when we become collectors and start looking for old maps, we can find them with equal ease – at thrift shops, flea markets, garage sales, antique shops, paper dealers and vendors listed in the pages of this magazine. [Paper Collectors’ Marketplace, January 1993] While it’s true that some may cost many thousands of dollars, an astonishing number and variety of collectible maps are less expensive than an order of French fries at your local drive-in – and a lot better for you.

For many people, maps are functional objects that pack more information into a square inch than any other piece of printing – and they are unsurpassed for their sheer charm and beauty. They’re a smorgasbord of historical, geographical and cultural detail. They sparkle with decoration and eye-pleasing curves; framed and hung on the wall, they are beautiful pieces of art.

But for all the popularity and accessibility of collectible maps there is not a single, unified source of information that map lovers can turn to for determining values or finding out what varieties exist.

Stamp collectors can consult a copy of Scott’s Catalog. Collectors of comic books, postcards, sheet music, political memorabilia and other paper items can turn readily to various price guides for accurate, up-to-date information on their hobby.

This lack of information on collecting maps keeps many people from fully enjoying the hobby.

To help fill that void, and encourage you to indulge your passion for maps, this column will discuss various aspects of collecting and enjoying maps, including details on map values and hints on buying and caring for maps.

It will explore the many colorful and interesting types of a wide range of maps, new and old, with proven collector appeal: Domestic and foreign maps, oil company road maps, National Geographic maps, government and state highway maps, nautical charts, atlases, geography books, gazetteers, antique maps, railroad and other travel maps, and all the various paper products on which maps have been printed, from place mats to postcards.

It will share specific information, for example, as how you can build a beautiful collection of all 50 different state highway maps – for free. Where you can find real bargains on “like new, low mileage” maps. And if the price on that antique map or atlas is in the ballpark, or out of this world.

So pull your chair up a little closer, lean over and look between the lines – and get lost with us in the wonderful world of maps.

Charlie Neuschafer can be contacted at: New World Maps, Inc. PO Box 541389, Lake Worth, FL 33454 or at

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