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World Maps

Antique maps of the world are loved by collectors for their fantasy-like representations and quaint mistakes. All hand-drawn maps prior to the rise of the printing press were works of art in some way. They are subjective in nature, servants to the whims of the artisan.

The first world maps were created in monasteries. These works were almost always religious, sometimes disturbing, and tilted to the perspective of the artist or commissioner. Many maps made by monks featured Jerusalem at the center, with the rest of the world shrinking back in adulation and fear from the Holy Land. Landmasses were surrounded and crowned by flying angels and ludicrous demons. Maps could be slanted to please the person who commissioned them, and collectors of antique maps of the world may find political boundaries rearranged to please the person in power.

During the Age of Exploration, mapmaking became a popular and respected trade. Still, many representations were based on the stories of explorers visiting unknown lands in the Orient who often did not trespass beyond the coastline of unknown lands. European artisans marked the borders of the safe, known world with depictions of sea monsters and cannibals. As trade and exploration opened up, mapmakers began to focus on the mathematical correction of geographic zones, although many lands were still disproportionate. It is the idiosyncrasies of maps from various stages of learning and exploration that make antique maps fascinating.


Quick Facts

  • A 1596 twin-hemisphere map by Jan Baptist Vrients titled "Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio" sold for $13,427 at Bonhams in 2014
  • A map with landmass in the shape of a lion surrounded by sailing ships and crowned by angels titled "Leo Belgicus" sold for $25,054 at Sotheby’s in 2015. The map is one of two printed from copper plates engraved by Hessel Gerritsz, mapmaker for the Dutch East India Company
  • A 1610 atlas by Gerard Mercator and Hondius featuring 145 of 147 engraved maps sold for $50,109 at an auction by Sotheby’s in 2015

Recommended Items at Auction

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Johann Baptist Homann (1664-1724), kolor. Kupferstich, Basis Geographiae
Nov 13, 11:00 AM CET
Johann Baptist Homann (1664-1724), kolor. Kupferstich, Basis Geographiae
by Das Kunst- und Auktionshaus Kastern GmbH & Co KG
Est: €150- €300
€1501 Bid
Gerhard MERCATOR (1512-1594) polar circle card Sizes: Cadre H=630mm L=645mm Carte H=380mm L=400
Oct 31, 10:00 AM CET
Gerhard MERCATOR (1512-1594) polar circle card Sizes: Cadre H=630mm L=645mm Carte H=380mm L=400
by Goldfield Auction
Est: €400- €600
€3500 Bids
Rare 19thc French Hand-colored Map, Cosmographie, Geographie Moderne
Nov 27, 2:00 PM EST
Rare 19thc French Hand-colored Map, Cosmographie, Geographie Moderne
by Connoisseur Online
Est: $75- $150
$350 Bids
Atlante. Stampa con interventi policromi. Cm 11,5x22.
Nov 05, 10:00 AM CET
Atlante. Stampa con interventi policromi. Cm 11,5x22.
by Art International Auction House
Est: €50- €100
€100 Bids
Grande planisfero in pelle e pergamena montata su un telaio ligneo (Mancanze e restauri)
Nov 07, 11:00 AM CET
Grande planisfero in pelle e pergamena montata su un telaio ligneo (Mancanze e restauri)
by Pierre Bergé & Associés
Est: €500- €1,000
€5000 Bids

Sellers Who Sell World Maps


Dobiaschofsky Auktionen AG

Dobiaschofsky Auktionen AG

Das Kunst- und Auktionshaus Kastern GmbH & Co KG

Das Kunst- und Auktionshaus Kastern GmbH & Co KG

Pierre Bergé & Associés

Pierre Bergé & Associés

Connoisseur Online

Connoisseur Online