In Europe the two dealers with the most integrity in the field of map collecting are Cathy Slowther at Sothebys in London and Pierre Joppen in Paris.
They have achieved this preeminence with profound knowledge, unyielding integrity and a highly refined ability to stay away from people that offer them stolen, heavily restored or altered works. So dealing with them means that your chances of buying something that stinks are greatly reduced.
Now Pierre is trying to set up a grading system for maps based on historical importance, beauty, condition and rarity with a special category that takes into account provenance.
Amazingly other dealers are resisting this. Well, maybe it is not so amazing.
There can be no possible reason that any honest dealer would raise an objection to this. It will establish value for new and sophisticated collectors alike.
Yes, the person who controls the value of maps will have a great deal of power and will make a lot of money but Pierre has earned this because of the exemplary business practices he has employed for more than 35 years. I came up with this idea and published it in 1979 but my towering sense of entitlement, obstreperous behavior and crabby attitude made it impossible for my fellow dealers to swallow my vision. But Pierre is a great guy and easy to take. He is the right person to lead the way and has my full support. He has been completely honest with me for over 35 years!!! No one else is even close to this superb record.
The GIA is the system for grading diamonds and my wife goes by this on all her jewelry purchases. Since she married me for my money, she has every right to insist that some form of tribute go to her for climbing into bed with me every night. Her trust in that shiny plastic form issued by the GIA is profound and it guides her buying decisions. She trusts it completely for the millions that we have spent to keep her from going off with a younger man.
If this level of trust could be developed in the field of map collecting interest would explode and values would increase dramatically. And it would be fun.
Once a collector is cheated they dont just stop dealing with the dealer, they stop collecting in that field. A formed signed by Pierre would give collectors confidence that someone else was protecting them.
Another possibility is that a group of map curators could work with Pierre and that fees for the grading would go to the great cartographic libraries of the world.
Ronald Grim, Peter Barber and Karl Longstreth, Kevin Graffagnino would be the kind of people that would make up a great committee. And of course if David Rumsey decided to get involved his contributions would be profound with his background building his amazing site.
Sy Schwartz, of course, would be the ultimate as a person who would determine historic importance.
If you are the kind of dealer that likes to buy from people like Forbes Smiley or Fred Musto, the idea of being more closely watched of course is repellent. The US Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Connecticut actually has a public list available of everyone who made a claim from Forbes that is available on request. Of course you can expect to see objections from people like this.
But for dealers who care about clean provenance and accurate dealing and taking care of their clients, grading is necessary for this field to progress.
If you are a collector, it is time to demand that the maps you buy have a clear representation from the dealer of the levels of historic importance, beauty, condition and rarity. AND OF COURSE PROVENANCE.