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Maps of Asia

When the New World was an empty outline of vague promise and Australia was still an unknown continent to the south, detailed maps of Asia were already prominent in the works of European master cartographers. Asia was well known to mapmakers due to Europe’s vested interest in its commodities. Beginning with the Roman empire, European powers leaped over each other to gather the wealth of the East. By the 1700s, Portugal, Holland, France, and England had set up trading posts along the silk and spice routes in the Far East. Holland dominated India, Ceylon, and Indonesia by 1750.

Abraham Ortelius created the first Western map of China, published in his "Theatrum" of 1584. Based on the accounts of Portuguese mapmaker Luis de Barbuda, the map is a typically romanticized Ortelius map featuring encampments to the east of the mountains and Chinese sailing junks. "Indiae Orientalis," published a decade earlier, extends from Portuguese India to the northwest coasts of the Americas. This map features a galleon caught in a maelstrom caused by a sea monster while two mermaids preen in the eastern sea. Other sought-after antique maps include John Speed’s 1627 engraving of China from "A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World" and Blaeu’s 1618 "Asia Noviter Delineata" with detailed plans of European trading ports and settlements.

Maps of the Pacific theater dating from World War II are a welcome addition to a collection of Asian maps. One example is "Target Tokyo" by "Chicago Sun" journalist F.E. Manning. "Target Tokyo" was one of many news maps published weekly by the Army during the war which featured a bold typeset and dramatic imagery used to relay propagandist war news.

Quick Facts

  • A hand-drawn map of the Yuanmingyuan, or summer palace, dating to the Republic period of China sold for $2,750 at Bonham’s in 2015
  • "The True Description of All the Coasts of China" copper-engraved 1598 map by Jan Linschoten sold for $13,750 at Bonham’s in 2015
  • "Doolittle Raid: Map of the Northern Pacific Theater," a 1942 American lithographic map showing Japan, China, and the Northern Chinese Coastline signed by 60 flight crew members sold for $15,000 at a Bonhams auction in 2015

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Sellers Who Sell Maps of Asia

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Setdart Auction House

Setdart Auction House