Thursday, December 1, 2016

Looking for a way to the Orient

For Europeans, the “Orient” had long been the source for highly desired and very scarce goods, such as silk and spices. Trade with China and “the Indies” was the font of vast wealth for those who controlled even part of that trade, for instance the cities of Venice and Genoa in the medieval period. Eastern goods arrived in Europe via the Middle East along the Silk Road. In 1453, Europeans received a mighty jolt when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and essentially cut off this trade.


This led to an urgent search for a new route to the Orient—-by water rather than land-—which was led initially by the Portuguese, whose Henry the Navigator sent explorers down the African coast beginning the early fifteenth century both to build Portuguese trade in that continent, but also to find a sea route to Asia. These voyages culminated in Vasco da Gama’s 1497-98 expedition which rounded the Cape of Good Hope and was the first to reach India by sea.


Contrary to a common misconception, most Europeans in the fifteenth century knew that the earth was spherical, which would mean that the “Orient” could be reached not only by sailing east, but also by heading in the opposite direction. However, most Europeans also thought that the earth was considerably smaller than it is. When this was combined with the mistaken belief that Eurasia was considerably wider than it is, this led to the erroneous conclusion that the east coast of Asia would be only about three thousand miles west of Europe (the actual distance is about 12,000 miles).



This misconception is wonderfully depicted in the earliest known terrestrial globe, Martin Behaim’s “Erdapfel” (Earth Apple) from 1492. This globe shows a relatively narrow ocean separating Europe and Asia, filled with no landmass larger than “Cipangu” (Japan), making a sea voyage from Europe to “Cathaja” (Cathay) look eminently practical.


The difficulty and length of the sea voyage to the Orient around Africa, led Florentine philosopher Paolo Toscanelli to suggest in 1474 that there were several advantages to sailing westward to Asia rather than eastward. One of the main proponents of this concept was Christopher Columbus, who spent years trying to get backing from the Portuguese, Venetians, English and Spanish for his plan to sail west to the Orient. Finally, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to sponsor what would become Columbus’ epic voyage to the “New World.”


Columbus, of course, was looking for Asia (which he died thinking he had discovered), but the promised riches never appeared and it soon became obvious that the newly discovered lands were not the hoped for Orient. Initially these lands, which came to be known as the Americas, appeared to be conspicuously lacking in riches and so they were considered to be mere roadblocks on what was a hoped for, soon to be discovered, sea route to Cathay and the Indies.


Columbus was soon followed in this quest by John Cabot, who in 1496 set off from England, with a commission from Henry VII to explore to the west of the British Isles, again seeking to find a way to the Orient and hoping the narrower degrees of longitude would make the voyage a bit shorter. Leading a number of expeditions, Cabot did reach America, but found no evidence of any way to Asia. The English did not give up on their search for a water route to the Orient, but their efforts soon turned to looking for a Northwest Passage around the northern end of the continent, efforts which proved fruitless.


Further south, a number of voyages were sent out in the early sixteenth century to probe north and south of initial landfalls in the West Indies, expeditions which found that a very large landmass (South America) blocked any practical route to the south (Magellan’s voyage finally rounded that continent in 1520) and that the Gulf of Mexico blocked any route directly to the west. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano set out to explore, for King Francis of France, the area lying between Florida and Terranova, looking for a way around the blocking lands further to the north.


From March to June, Verrazano sailed from the northern part of today’s Florida to Newfoundland, making many discoveries, such as New York and Narragansett Bays. The ships of the day could not point close to the wind at all, so Verrazano could not sail right up the coast, but had to beat out to sea and then back in towards land, meaning he saw only a series of discontinuous sections of the North American coast. This explains why Verrazano missed discovering both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.


Early in this voyage of discovery, Verrazano came upon one of the barrier islands of North Carolina. He did not see any of the gaps between the islands, but did see what looked to be a vast body of water across what he took to be an isthmus of land. As the whole point of his exploration was to find a route past the Americas, the Pacific Ocean stayed always in the front of Verrazano’s mind, and this caused him to jump to the conclusion that that body of water was the ocean. As he wrote in a letter to King Francis:

We called it Annunciato from the day of arrival, where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west [corrected from ‘east’ in the text] and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay.”


As a result of Verrazano’s report, this concept—-that somewhere along today’s American southeastern coast, there was an arm of the Pacific Ocean separated from the Atlantic only by a narrow isthmus—-entered into the European understanding of the region, for what better source could there be than a first-hand report? This hypothesis was reinforced by a manuscript map drawn by Verrazano’s brother, Girolamo, which showing this “Sea of Verrazano” in graphic fashion.


Though this Sea of Verrazano seemed like it might prove to be a good route to the Orient, the French subsequently turned their eyes further north. In 1534, Jacques Cartier received a commission from King Francis to sail west to “discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found,” that is, find the route to China and the Indies. Cartier explored Newfoundland and the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and on a second expedition the following year, he sailed down the St. Lawrence River as far as rapids at today’s Montreal. Though he went no further, Cartier was convinced that the St. Lawrence was the waterway which would lead to the Pacific, with the rapids being the only thing stopping him from sailing right to the Orient.


It is ironic that over a century later these rapids were named “Lachine”—that is La Chine, or China. It seems that in 1669, Robert Cavelier de La Salle set off from this location on an expedition to seek the still sought-for route to China. After about a thousand miles of travel in the interior of the country, with no likely route in sight, about two dozen of La Salle’s men deserted, arriving back at their starting point three or four months after starting out. Supposedly the amused locals thus gave the rapids the ironic name of “La Chine.”


Turning back to the Sea of Verrazano, the first attempts to establish a colony in the American southeast was by the English, who in 1585 attempted to establish a “Virginia” colony in order to mine for gold and silver, harass the Spanish and look for the route to the Pacific Ocean still believed to lie close at hand in the area. This colony failed, but in 1606, King James gave a charter for another attempt, and this resulted in the settlement of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America.


The supposed close proximity of the Pacific Ocean was brought into question as the colonist explored the Chesapeake and its rivers, but the belief was not killed. Part of the instructions for the new colonist was to seek out a river by which “you shall soonest find the other sea,” that is the Pacific, and they believed that while not right at hand, it wasn’t that far distant. This is delightfully demonstrated by John Farrer’s map of Virginia from 1651. Farrer was a member of the Royal Company of Virginia and his map shows the colony with a western orientation, the mid-Atlantic coast running along the bottom edge.


At the top is of the map is “The Sea of China and the Indies,” which not only looks to be very close to the Atlantic coast, but is so indicated in a legend which states that its “happy shores” are “within ten days march...from the head of the James River.” An alternative, water route is shown with the source of the Hudson River separated only by a narrow land bridge from a river which flowed directly into the Pacific.


Further exploration by English and French colonists demonstrated that the Pacific Ocean was not near at hand. By the end of the seventeenth century, while there was still hope of finding a practical water route to the Orient, it was realized that it would no longer be by way of a river or body of water which originated near the east coast. Searches for a route to the Orient continued, but they started thereafter from the Great Lakes, not from the Atlantic Ocean.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Creating Colorado Territory

In 1854, a two large territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were created in the previously unorganized lands lying between the Continental Divide and the states and territories lining the western side of the Mississippi River, extending from the 37th degree latitude to the Canadian border. Kansas Territory lay to the west of Missouri; at the western edge of the territory rose the Rocky Mountains, with the majority of the territory consisting of an undeveloped Great Plains. It was only the eastern parts of the territory, near the Missouri border, which were settled by Anglo-Americans, the rest of the territory almost exclusively inhabited by nomadic Indian tribes.


In 1858, gold was discovered along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. As thousands flooded into the area, in what was called the Pike’s Peak gold rush, settlements (such as Denver City) were established and the population boomed. This area was located well away from the Kansas territorial government far to the east, and the locals realized that their interests were not necessarily the same as the interests of those located in the eastern part of the territory. Besides there was no machinery available for the enforcement of law & order, a real concern to those who hoped to make their fortune. Thus these miners and other settlers wanted a new territory to be carved out of the western part of Kansas, to provide local government.


Colona

A delegation was sent to Washington for the creation of such a territory. On January 6, 1859, Schuyler Colfax, representative from Illinois, introduced a bill in Congress to organize a “Territory of Colona” along the eastern slope of the Rockies. The territory was to include the western-most parts of Kansas and Nebraska as far north as the 42nd parallel, as well as the northeastern part of New Mexico. This name was taken from the Spanish for Columbus and the New York Times stated that this name was favored by the settlers of the area.


This new territory lay north of the 36° 30’ latitude line, and by the Missouri Compromise of 1850 this meant that slavery would be prohibited there. In this period of great conflict in the country over the question of slavery, there was no way Southerners in Congress would allow the creation of such a new “free” territory, so there were not enough votes to support Colfax’s bill and the territory was never created.


Jefferson

The desire by citizens of the front range for a local territory continued however, and a group of prominent citizens met on April 15, 1859 in Uncle Dick Wootton's Tavern in Auraria, voting to try to organize a new, local government. A convention was held to draft a constitution for a state of Jefferson, but this was rejected in a popular referendum, many feeling that a state would prove to be too much of a financial burden. Proponents tried again, this time drafting a constitution for a territory of Jefferson, which was subsequently approved by referendum on October 24, 1859.


The constitution was adopted, government bodies established, including a territorial legislature that met and elected Robert W. Steele as provisional governor. Meanwhile, Beverly D. Williams was sent to Washington as a representative of the territory, but Congress refused his petition. Still, a Jefferson government did operate for about sixteen months, though it has been said to have "remained extralegal, factious, and semieffective." (Historical Atlas of Colorado) The territory as proposed would have been considerably larger than today's Colorado, encompassing more of Utah and much of Wyoming.


Governor Steele tried to reach an accord with the territorial government of Kansas to recognize Jefferson, as well as petitioning Congress to the same end, but neither effort succeeded. With the election of Lincoln in November 1860, all chance of Congress recognizing Jefferson ended, for Steele was a Democratic foe of Lincoln and the Republican Party.


However, after all the Southern Congressmen left the government with their state's secession in early 1861, Congress swiftly created a new, free state of Kansas out of the eastern part of the territory, leaving the western part unorganized. Shortly thereafter, Congress organized a new territory out of the lands, as well as part of southwestern Nebraska, eastern Utah and northeastern New Mexico. As Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, was not popular in Congress in early 1861, the new territory was named Colorado.


Maps

Neither Colona nor Jefferson were ever recognized by the Federal government and so never officially existed. However, that does not mean that they did not appear on contemporary maps. Mapmakers hated to have their maps not up-to-date. Any map that did not include a depiction of a newly created territory would be considered out-of-date, and because there was a time delay between when the map was drawn and when it was published, mapmakers tended to jump the gun a bit with potential new territories. They kept their ears to the ground to learn as soon as possible about new territories that might be created by Congress, and if a mapmaker believed that such a new political entity was about to be approved, he would put it on the map even before the bill was actually passed. If the territory was created, his map would be amazingly current, ahead of his competitors, and if it never came into existence, the mapmaker just hoped no one noticed.


This happened to both Colona and Jefferson, which appeared in various forms on a number of maps, and in fact together on some maps. These are not the only American chimeric territories to appear on nineteenth century maps, and maps showing such are always popular with collectors. If you ever come across a map of the western U.S. from 1859 to early 1861, take a look to see if either of these territories appears. Click here to see maps with Colona or Jefferson Territories in the inventory of The Philadelphia Print Shop West.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Historic Maps of Spain

I was lucky enough to visit Spain this summer and in order to prepare for my trip, I read a history of the country. This history had a fair number of pictures in it, but no maps, which I found to be a great oversight. I think that maps are essential for any history. Not only do they give visual context for the events you read about, but maps contemporary to the history being read also let you see the places being described through the eyes of those alive at the time. As I read the history, I kept turning to look at period maps of Spain and found this really enhanced my understanding and interest in the topic.


Spain was, of course, a land known quite well in ancient times. The Phoenicians and Greeks settled along the coasts as early as the 9th century BCE and the Romans conquered what they called Hispania in 19 BCE. The earliest regional maps we have of Europe are those which were described by Claudius Ptolemy about 150 CE. We know of no examples of Ptolemy’s maps which were actually drawn before about the 13th century, but these maps—which were printed in great numbers from the late fifteenth through mid-sixteenth century—were at least based on Ptolemy’s original text and show us the Roman understanding of the places depicted. Thus, when we look at a Ptolemaic map of the Iberian Peninsula, such as this map of Hispania from 1542, we can see Spain as it was understood during the Roman Empire.


Of course, by the end of the fifteenth century, Europeans had better geographic information about their own continent than was included on the century and a half old Ptolemaic maps. It is interesting that in many of the same atlases which included Ptolemaic maps, the publisher also included a “modern” map of the same place. The map above, showing Spain as understood by Sebastian Munster—one of the greatest cartographers of his day—was issued in the same 1542 atlas as the previous Ptolemaic map. This map was issued when Spain was entering its period of greatest glory, not long after the Reconquista of 1492 and during the reign of Charles I, also ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.


As the sixteenth century moved on, Spain grew wealthier—from the richest pouring in from the Americas—and European cartographers began to produce better and better maps. In 1571, Carolus Clusius produced a large, six sheet map of the Iberian Peninsula, which included an amazing amount of detail of the many cities and towns throughout Spain. This was copied by Abraham Ortelius in a single sheet map (above). This shows Spain when it was the most feared nation in Europe, during the reign of Philip II and just before the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.


With Philip II’s death in 1598, Philip III began his over two decade reign. Spain still was one of the most powerful nations in Europe, though it was weakened by its involvement in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The situation of Spain at the time is beautifully evidenced in this map from about 1610. It includes the Royal Crest, images of major cities, figures along the sides in typical dress of the period, and a portrait of Philip III at the bottom center. This map graphically conveys the power and glory of Spain in a manner no text can do. This, and the other maps above, are just a few examples of how maps can provide a rich texture to the history of any place in the world.


To see a selection of maps of Spain, visit The Philadelphia Print Shop West's web site.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interesting use of a Currier & Ives print


In the 1844 Presidential election there were three candidates. The two main candidates, from the major parties, were James Polk and Henry Clay.


The third candidate was James G. Birney, who ran as the Liberty Party candidate. Birney initially became involved in the movement to solve the “negro” problem by joining the American Colonization Society, which proposed to send free blacks to Africa. In 1834, Birney repudiated the colonization movement, freed his own slaves, and dedicated himself to the cause of abolition. He was chased out of his hometown of Danville, Kentucky, for these views, moving to Cincinnati.


In 1840, Birney was nominated as the first Presidential candidate for the newly created Liberty Party. He received just over seven thousand votes out of the over two million cast. He was nominated again in 1844, this time receiving about 62,000 out of 2 and a half million votes cast. One of those 62,000 votes was by Clark Lane, who had just reached voting age in 1844.


Clark Lane came from a family which had settled in the old Northwest Territory in 1798, building a farm house and smithy just north of today’s Mt. Healthy, Ohio, located on the main route between Cincinnati and Hamilton. Clark’s father worked as a blacksmith, a career which Clark followed, working at the family smith until he reached the age of 21, when he moved to Hamilton to work for John H. Brown building fifty wagons.


In his “Reminiscential”—-written about 1890-—Clark Lane recalled what happened shortly thereafter, on election day 1844, “my vote—-the first of my life—-was cast for James G. Birney, and freedom of all slaves within the United States.” While Mt. Healthy had a strong anti-slavery population, Cincinnati just to the south was less welcoming to abolitionists, and it appears the same was also true of Hamilton, just to the north, for Clark goes on to recall: “Day following said election the smoke and flame and cursings of pro-slavery wrath burst about me with such threatening violence, and so much idiotic and inconsiderate feeling for the truth and of justice that my contract though half done, had to be abandoned and work for an ‘abolitionist’ in the Christian Town of Hamilton was ‘declared off.’”


Clark Lane moved to Dayton, but luckily for Hamilton, he returned within two years, still working as a blacksmith. Eventually he formed the company of Owens, Lane and Dyer, which manufactured wagons, mill parts, and agricultural machinery such as threshing separators. This business became very successful, one of the biggest in the Midwest, making Clark a rich man.


In 1866, Clark used part of his resulting wealth to donate the land and build a structure for a Hamilton public library. The library, the Lane Public Library, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this October.


Besides the fact that I am related to Clark Lane (he was the brother of my direct ancestor William Lane), the reason his story is appearing in this print blog is the interesting manner in which Clark memorialized the events related to the election.


Probably during the campaign of 1844, Clark acquired one of Nathaniel Currier’s just issued election prints of James G. Birney, “Nominated by the Liberty Party for, Eleventh President of the United States.” Currier issued similar prints of all the candidates and it seems typical that Clark might have acquired and prominently displayed his print of Birney. His pride in his vote is indicated by his use of this print many years later.


It is not clear why, but at some point the print was trimmed to just show the image of Birney, the background being cut away.


On the back of the print Clark wrote:


“Hamilton Co. Ohio. “Lane Place.” Novr. A.D. 1880. This will certify that 36 years ago this date I voted for James G. Birney, for President of the United States, the same being my first vote---And was deposited in the Ballet Box at the “Butler House’—then Rossville now the first ward of the City of Hamilton Butler County Ohio. And furthermore, that never afterward did I vote for any person or persons for Executive Officers of the United States or for either State, County, District, Town, or Municipal Offices, who were not known to be, (or at least professed and believed to be) “Abolitionists” of the then most offensive (and defensive) character, until every Slave of the country were proclaimed free. Witness my hand Clark Lane”


It is always good to remember that in the nineteenth century Currier & Ives prints were simply inexpensive pictures used by people for decoration, education, inspiration and many other purposes. They cost very little and generally were not treated with the care that we today use when handling these now-quite-expensive artifacts of our past. In all my years in the print business, and many thousands of Currier & Ives prints I have handled, I have never seen a use like the one Clark put this print to, and for that reason I find this a story worth passing on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

America's Greatest Patriots

The Chicago printmaking firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes. Founded in 1880, the firm's avowed purpose was to design "for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship." Elaborate they certainly were: the majority of their prints are bright and dramatic, with action throughout the image, though others were of a more restrained character, often issued in black and white. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz's background as a muralist, their prints have a striking appearance.


Kurz & Allison did a number of prints of Presidents, some as individual portraits and some as family groupings. One can imagine these somber images hanging in the homes of Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century, as a nationalistic statement and also undoubtedly as inspiration for the family.


In 1890, the firm lithographed a print of “America’s Greatest Patriots.” This was a highly patriotic print--“Pro Patria!” bannered at the top--included four Presidential portraits in a setting with ivy, laurel branches, and American flags. The ‘father of his country,’ George Washington, has his portrait at top center, below which is U.S. Grant, flanked by the two assassinated Presidents, Lincoln and Garfield. This print was copyrighted by J.M. Wolfe & Co. and it is not clear why it was issued in 1890, as Garfield had been assassinated in 1881 and Grant died in 1885. Only the first state of the print has the Wolfe name on it, later ones listing only Kurz & Allison.


On September 14, 1901, William McKinley became the third American President to be assassinated, shot in Buffalo, New York. Like all print publishers, Kurz & Allison saw this as an opportunity to make a print which would sell because of this national tragedy. Thus they took the original stone--which they must have kept in their warehouse and which they may have continued to issue since 1890—removed Grant’s portrait and substituted that of McKinley. Now they had the perfect commemorative print, with Washington accompanied by the three assassinated Presidents. A nice example of a ‘recycled print.’


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life portraits of important Native American leaders

For many important American leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, there was a ready market for quality, life portrait prints. The American public wanted to know what their Presidents, Congressmen, and military figures looked like, so for almost any such figure of note there were quality engraved or lithographed portraits made. Few such portraits, however, were made of important Native American leaders. There just wasn’t a big market looking for a picture of these individuals during their life-times and so not a huge incentive for printmakers to produce quality portraits.


One exception were the portraits done for Thomas McKenney’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America. For this work, 118 portrait prints, based on life-time portraits, were produced in lithography and issued between 1836 and 1844. Thomas McKenney, head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs for many years, was a champion of American Indians and fought throughout his tenure to preserve something of their culture, which he recognized as an integral part of the history of the United States.


McKenney took office in 1816 and shortly thereafter began to plan an archive which would house Indian memorabilia. In the winter of 1821-22, a large delegation of Indians including representatives of Pawnee, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, Miami, Sioux, and Chippewa tribes came to Washington to see President Monroe. McKenney took advantage of this opportune time to record their likenesses, commissioning Charles Bird King to paint their portraits. To these, more paintings were added in the years following, many done in the field. This yielded an impressive gallery of Indian portraiture which became the centerpiece of the War Department collection of Indian culture and history. In 1830, McKenney was dismissed by President Jackson and began to plan for the publication of a portfolio of prints of these portraits. Working with James Hall, he added text, making the project a true collaboration.


The results of years of struggle, McKenney’s folio was completed in 1836, after four years of printing. Although he was acutely aware that he was preserving a chapter in history, McKenney could not have known that, had he not undertaken this project, no record at all would remain: in 1865, a fire at the Smithsonian destroyed almost all the original paintings from which the lithographs were drawn. The prints, however, do survive, providing us with rare examples of life-portraits of 118 Native Americans, including a number of the most important Indian figures in American history.


Red Jacket

Red Jacket was a Seneca chief and orator who negotiated with the government of the United States after the American Revolution. The Iroquois had sided with the British during the war, so the government insisted that they give up much of their lands in New York. Red Jacket was instrumental in saving what he could of their lands, as determined by the Treaty of Canadaigua in 1794. Prior to the treaty, in 1792, Red Jacket had visited the then U.S. capital, Philadelphia, where Washington presented him with a “peace medal” which was engraved with an image of Washington shaking hands with Red Jacket. This print, after a portrait by Charles Bird King, shows Red Jacket proudly wearing this medal.


Black Hawk

Black Hawk was a war leader of the Sauk tribe in the mid-west. He fought against the U.S. during the War of 1812, hoping to drive white settlers out of Sauk territory. Much of that territory had been granted to the U.S. by some tribal leaders at the Treaty of St. Louis in 1804, but many of the Sauk and related Fox Indians contested the legitimacy of that treaty, so a group led by Black Hawk tried to reoccupy tribal lands in Illinois during the “Black Hawk War” of 1832. Captured by the U.S. military, Black Hawk ended up on a “tour” of the east coast, including a visit to Washington where this portrait was painted.


William McIntosh

McIntosh was a controversial Creek chief who supported the U.S. efforts to get the Creeks to give up their lands in Georgia. The son of a Scotsman and a Creek woman, he was raised by the Creeks, but was comfortable also in white Georgia society. His involvement in the controversial Treaty of Indian Springs of 1825 led to a sentence of death by the Creek Nation Council, which was carried out in 1825. This print, after another Charles Bird King portrait, shows McIntosh in his Scottish finery.


Sequoyah

Not a chief or warrior, Sequoyah was still one of the most influential Native Americans of the nineteenth century. A Cherokee blacksmith and silversmith, Sequoyah regularly had contact with whites and he saw how important their ability to write was. He decided to invent a way to write the Cherokee language, inventing the Cherokee syllabary from scratch. It took a while to convince his tribe, but by 1825 the Cherokee Nation adopted his writing system. This portrait after Charles Bird King shows Sequoyah with his alphabet. It was painted in 1828 when he visited Washington and he is shown wearing his peace medal.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Along with the regular Antiques Roadshow programs, which show the Roadshow stops from the previous summer, the program has been airing a series of "Vintage" shows, which rerun selected appraisals from the past. For each rerun appraisal, the folks at WGBH contact the original appraiser to see how the appraised value might have changed. Recently I got an email from the produces asking me about a map of the Mississippi River I appraised back in 2001 for between $4,500 and $5,000.


Now this sort of map is just the sort of map which has become "hot" in the last decade or so, so when they asked me for a value, I knew it would have gone up, but I figured that just to be sure I would do some digging to see if there was a recent price record on it. Boy am I glad I did! The map had sold at an auction in 2009 for $300,000! As this was such a big jump, I thought it would be worthwhile writing up a posting explaining why I thought this had happened. This blog is a copy of that article. The original appraisal and the article can be seen on the Antiques Roadshow web site. The article follows:


For a map to increase in value about 30 times in 15 years is a huge jump and the reasons for this are quite interesting. Some of it has to do with a change in the market and some with what I call "auction fever."


When I first got into the business of selling maps back in 1981, most collectors were looking for maps from the earliest days of printed cartography, particularly the beautiful Dutch maps from about 1570 to 1650. These were from the Age of Discovery and the maps had beautiful engraving, rich hand color, and lots of fun features such as sail ships, elaborate compass roses, and even sea monsters.


One of the biggest changes in the attitude of map collectors since those early days has been shifting their focus from the decorative appeal of maps to their historical significance. The latter factor has always been important for collectors, but in the late 20th century, collectors became more enamored with maps that focused on specific information about particular events in history — such as the first map to show the City of New Orleans, or a contemporary map of the American Revolution — even when those maps did not have a lot of color and their decoration was limited to their cartouches.


At the beginning of the present millennium, it was 17th- and 18th-century maps that were particularly sought after by collectors, and so were increasing significantly in value. In the years since then, collectors have begun to turn more and more to 19th-century maps — especially those that have some intriguingly direct connection with history. As the 2000s progressed, it was maps like the first to show a rebuilt Chicago, or one showing the results of a seminal exploring expedition to the American West, or a folding map of a newly built railroad, which became more and more sought after and thus more and more valuable.


The Norman 1858 map of the lower Mississippi River is a perfect example of the type of map which has become ‘hot’ in the last decade or so. It has an immediate connection with the history of the boom years of the plantations along the Mississippi — the artist, Marie Adrien Persac, traveling between New Orleans and Natchez on a skiff and recording all the plantations and landmarks he saw along the way. There really could not be a more significant historical document of this region in that period than this map. Combined with the fact that it was a separately issued map — extremely rare today — means that when the ROADSHOW producers asked me for an updated value while preparing the Vintage New Orleans show this spring, I knew it would have gone up a lot since 2001.


My initial reaction was that its current retail value would probably be somewhere between about $20,000 and $30,000, quite a big jump from my valuation of $4,500 to $5,000 in 2001. However, given the way this sort of map had risen so much in demand, I thought I ought to do some further digging to find out if any had come on the market recently.


And am I ever glad I checked. One had indeed come up for auction at the end of 2009 and sold for a huge price! The auction house’s estimate, $18,000 to $25,000, was similar to my initial thinking about this map’s current value — but when the bidding had finished in that 2009 auction, the map cost the buyer $316,000!


There are few American maps that have ever brought that amount, and though the Norman map is special, particularly for that region, to pay over $300,000 for it seems excessive. I can find no similar map for any other region of the United States that has ever sold for so much. So why did it go for so much? My guess is simple "auction fever." Auction bidders with deep pockets sometimes have large egos that lead them to believe if they really want something then they must win it no matter who else might bid against them. If you get two or more such bidders for the same item, those egos can sometimes override any prudent financial sense, leading to prices well above what would be considered a reasonable value. I think something like that may have happened for this map.


So, that brings up the question of what I think this map’s “real” value might be today, having appraised it for $4,500 to $5,000 in 2001. Certainly, the 2009 auction means that my initial thought of $20,000 to $30,000 is too low, but I do not believe that in any other circumstances — without the heat of auction fever — this map would bring over $300,000 again. Still, any potential buyer looking at that auction record would realize he or she would have to pay well above $30,000 for it. So I think that if this map appeared in a retail setting, it would probably be listed somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. If it came up at auction and bidders were able to keep their egos in check, it might bring half to two-thirds of that price. But then again, fever could strike again at any time!