Sunday, January 31, 2010

Miami Map Fair

Today is the second day of the Miami Map Fair and I thought I'd post a few thoughts about the first day... The Miami Map Fair has become probably the most important map fair of the year, especially for those interested in American maps. Most of the major American map dealers and many of those from Europe and a scattering of other dealers are all present, displaying an amazing variety of maps. Many map dealers who do not exhibit at the fair come by, as do map collectors from around the world (though mostly American), and a reasonable number of locals also come by. It is a lot of fun to be able to see and chat with so many colleagues and those who share my enthusiasm for antique maps.

One thing of note is the number of American map dealers. There are 50 dealers over all, of which 28 are from the U.S. (and two from Canada). These range from fairly small dealers who bring their entire stock of maps to larger shops who can bring only a small percentage (we probably bring about 5% of our map stock, though most of the better items). Given that antique maps remain a fairly specialized market, with most Americans not even knowing you can buy original antique maps, it is somewhat surprising that there are that many map dealers around the country (I would guess that there are maybe another dozen that many more who do not exhibit here). This is especially interesting if you think how few major print dealers there are in the country. While there are lots of shops which sell a small range of prints, there are very few print shop which sell a wide range of "important" prints. Here just in Miami for the fair is a larger number of dealers with such a stock of antique maps. I am not sure why this is, other than perhaps that there are more "collectors" of antique maps than of antique prints. Anyway, an interesting phenomenon.

Another thing that jumps out at you in the fair is how many of the same maps there are. For instance, you might see six copies of the Ortelius map of North & South America or four copies of the Blaeu map of Virginia, and similar number of other rare maps of America from the sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century. I do not use the term "rare" ironically, for these really are rare maps. It is simply that this is the biggest fair for people selling American maps and pretty much every example of these maps for sale anywhere are probably on the floor in Miami. There is also something of a matter of chance. It just seems that some years one map or other seems to be ubiquitous (this year it is the Hondius/Blaeu map of the Carolinas), but then the next year no one has one. It can still be something of a shock for a map collector who can spend years looking for a particular map to see three or more copies for sale in the same place.

The fact that the map dealers all know each other and are known by most map collectors, and the fact that map collectors are as a group very internet savvy, means that the market for maps is much more accurate or sensitive in its prices than that for prints. With antique prints, there are so few major dealers and many prints do not make it onto the internet, so prices can range very widely. With maps there is much more information on prices available so prices are much closer from dealer to dealer. Generally price differences reflect differences in condition or color. While it can be harder to find a "deal" at the map fair, you do know that generally you are paying a fair price.

One final observation is that I would say that this fair confirms for me every year what a knowledgeable and nice group of people the international map sellers are. It is a fun group who really enjoy talking about maps, with each other and the general public, and every year I enjoy my visit to the fair. Every year I also learn something new from another dealer and often something new from a collector who comes through and talks to me about his/her passion. If you like antique maps, I strong urge you to try to visit this fair, or simply visit one of the map dealers around the country , for you will find them welcoming and happy to share their knowledge.

Time to head over for the second day of the fair....

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