For a period of about 10 years ending about a year ago it was possible to acquire the key American maps in Seymour Schwartz's "Mapping of America" for roughly $45,000.
As time goes by the genius of Dr. Schwartz becomes all the more evident as sophisticated collectors realize that the maps he illustrates in his book are the ones to own chiefly because of their historical importance but then followed by aesthetic merit, condition, rarity and provenance - a system of map grading that was published by Arader Galleries in 1979 - over 32 years ago. Why did it take so long?????????????????????????????
No longer do American suckers walk down Bond Street in London purchasing "pretty" maps furiously colored to order by the dealer's girlfriend in the back room. Slowly but surely collectors FINALLY figured out that derivative maps with new color have virtually no resale value in these recessionary times. They finally have become worthless. THANK GOD!
So now the race is on to get the masterpieces that truly had an effect on history. Sy's book illustrates 95% of these key maps that illustrate profoundly important NEW information for the very first time.
One of these key maps came up at Brunk Auction in North Carolina on July 16th. It was the John Abraham Collet map of North Carolina published in London in 1770. Basically it was put together to show King George III, the English parliament and the English people what they won at the Treaty of Paris in 1763 signed between England and France at the conclusion of the French and Indian War. William Pitt the elder bankrupted England winning this war and he was determined to show his fellow countrymen the vast lands that they now controlled. One way he accomplished this was to generate a series of maps of the British Colonies constructed by his supremely talented British officers. Not only could they lead a group of soldiers in battle, wield a sword with deadly effect, shoot you between the eyes at 50 yards, laugh in the face of certain death, steal your wife from you for an afternoon of pleasure, drink you under the table and tell stories brilliantly, they were also precise draftsman. The maps that ensued are consistently superb. Most became available at the start of a revolution by so called "Americans" determined to avoid paying taxes. Taxes that were generated to protect these English deadbeats living in the Colonies from being pushed into the Atlantic Ocean by the French. So today they are called the maps of the American Revolution. They are not.
They are the maps of William Pitt used to show ALL Englishman what was won from a French King preoccupied and distracted by the most beautiful woman that ever lived. If it were not for Pitt, we would all be speaking French instead of English.
During this period English designers employed superb asymmetric rococo decorative design motifs and this map has a fine example housing the title in its "cartouche." So this maps is a winner as well because of aesthetics.
And the map is rare. I purchased General Gage's example from the Clements Library through Doug Marshall, the map librarian AND the Duke of Northumberland's from his family through Sothebys AND Barron Nordenskiold's at auction in Sweden AND one from a family in North Carolina. So only four have been in my stock in the last 40 years. They were sold to the most beautiful woman in Charlotte who negotiated me down to pennies about 30 years ago, Colonial Williamsburg, a hedge fund genius and a neat young man in the construction business in North Carolina.
The estimate provided by Brunk was a ridiculously low $40,000 to $60,000. So low that a trip was planned to stay at the Biltmore Inn with my family last weekend so that a careful examination could be executed.
My family had a terrific time EXCEPT when it came to bid for the Collot map. It sold for $192,000 with me dropping out of the bidding at $120,000. OUCH!
On June 25th a truly important map to come up was the Persac map of the Mississippi River. This is a map of legend showing all the plantations just before the opening of the Civil War that devastated the way of life for all Louisianians for over 100 years. Up until this asinine, purposeless confrontation between the North and the South, New Orleans was the most important, richest city in the United States. They became brilliant traders slicing a rich cut of all trade that came down "Old man river." Magnificent homes were built all over the region and the French culture imbued its residents with a wicked elegance that forcefully survives to this day.
They share my weakness for God's greatest creation - the female form. They eat better than anywhere else in the world with insanely fresh food plucked from the Gulf of Mexico. And they love their history so much that the lure of the NEW is faintly repulsive to them. So it is heaven for me.
The Persac map sums up the birth of this culture and it sold for $197,000 at Neal's Auction House!!!
So two great maps of the South have made very close to $200,000.
It is my prediction that the key TEMPLATE maps showing the birth of regions or states or cities in the United States from the 16th to 19th centuries will sell in the region of $200,000 for the next year or so.
And with the Abel Buell map making over $2,000,000, there is no question that some of the truly legendary maps will reach this value again.
This previous long period of lower prices is the result of map thieves stealing on demand for entitled collectors who rarely, if ever, checked provenance. Finally, all the map libraries with lazy stewards have now been fully looted and only the collections with vigilant curators remain. So prices have jumped 400% in the last two years as the rarity factor has finally had an effect.
Of course this now will breed intense pressure on map librarians all over the world. These new values will ignite a feeding frenzy by dealers and their grimy henchmen unable and unwilling to buy legitimately. Their prey will be collectors who conveniently "forget" to insist on provenance and integrity.
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