Friday, April 20, 2012

Map variations

One of the interesting aspects of map and print scholarship is a comparison of variations between different examples of the “same” map or print. I thought this would be a good topic for this blog, in part because I think it is fun to study the subject, but also because I get tons of questions on this topic via this blog. A lot of times people search the web for information on an old image they have and find one similar, but different, and they want to know why this is and what it means relative to the value or importance of what they have.

I have written a couple of times about what I call “recycled prints”, a type of variation that can make a big difference in historic import and value, but most print variations (at least for commercial prints) are more innocuous and do not affect value of the print that much. For maps, however, variations can make a big difference, especially in value, so that is the topic we’ll look at today.

In a general sense, one can think of a particular map (that is, the “same” map) as all those impressions that are based on the same cartographic drawing and that have essentially the same appearance. This allows for a fair bit of variation, but it is an inexact definition, for it leaves open the question of at what stage do these variations create a new, different map. This vague definition, or something like it, is often used casually by people, but it really is not that useful a concept, as there are a large number of variations between different examples of maps that would fit this definition. Map dealers, scholars and collectors need more precise distinctions between these different examples of maps which are similar, but not the same.

To be exact and careful, we can say that a specific map is the set of all impressions made at the same time from the same matrix. (The matrix is the plate, block or stone used to print the map). If no changes have been made to the matrix, then it is clear that the different impressions are but different examples of the same map.

But what if there is a significant delay in time between the publication of the impressions or the matrix has been modified slightly, to update some information, to correct an error, or even by accident? In many of these cases, the altered instances are not different maps, but are rather different versions of the same map. Still, we need to be able to make distinctions between these variations, and this is done by a number of different concepts.

The first distinction is between different editions of a map. An edition of a map includes all the impressions of a particular geographic rendering printed by a publisher at the same time or as part of the same publishing event. A first edition map is one of the first group of impressions published. After completing the first edition, the publisher may decide to issue a new batch of impressions which will comprise the second edition. Subsequent batches of maps may be published, creating third, fourth, fifth,... edition maps.

For maps issued in atlases or books, the edition of the map usually corresponds to the edition of the volume in which it appears, but not necessarily, as the map can also be issued separately as well as in that volume. While a first edition map generally does have somewhat more value than later editions, the particular edition of a map often does not in itself affect its desirability to a significant degree. Maps from editions which have some particular historic import or from editions printed in a specific language may be more desirable, but in many instances the particular edition of a map, in and of itself, is not that important a factor in its value to collectors.

The second distinction in map variations is between different states of a map. A state of a map includes all impressions pulled without any changes being made in the design on the matrix. Sometimes a matrix was deliberately modified to incorporate new information or correct an error. Sometimes a matrix was accidentally modified, as by a crack in a woodblock or a scratch on a plate. In either case, such modifications changed the matrix and so created a new state of the map. Some maps have only one state, with no changes ever having been made in the design, and some maps have many states.

States of a map must be distinguished from editions of a map; there can be several editions of a map which are comprised of examples of the same state, but there can also be several states of a map in a single edition. As with editions, the first state of a map will tend to be the most valuable, but the desirability of different states of a map usually will be similar unless the differences have some historic significance, for instance if a newly discovered geographical feature appears on one state. For instance, in the two maps above, issued in 1718, New Orleans--which was founded that year--appears in the bottom state but not the top state. Ironically, however, it is the state without the city which is more valuable, because it is significantly rarer than the other.

It is an interesting question when a variation becomes a new map, as opposed to simply a later state of the earlier map. For instance, there is a wonderful series of maps of the southern part of the American west, from the eastern Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, issued by the Johnson map publishing firm from New York. The first example, issued in 1860, was entitled “Johnson’s California, Territories of New Mexico and Utah,” and variations were issued into the 1880s. This was a period when this part of the United States changed radically, so many of these new “variations” show different borders, railroads, towns, and much else.

Sometimes the changes are minor, just being a modification in the decorative border or page number, but other times they are quite significant, with new states or territories, reflected in new titles. These very different geographic renderings can be considered different maps, but in a sense they are really just different states of the same map. Not only do they have essentially the same size, overall appearance, and cover the same geographic area, but for many of these variations, they appear to have been printed from essentially the same matrix. The matrix has been modified, but the base is the same.

This is a moot point, really just a matter of how one wants to use the term “same map,” but this Johnson western series is just a typical example of the different states of many of the mid-nineteenth century maps of the American west. Each year the maps showed new discoveries, settlements, roads, railroads, and so forth, and most mapmakers made regular modifications of their matrixes in order to keep their maps up-to-date. It is one of the most fun things about studying western maps to try to compare different states of the same map each year it was issued.

This brings up a wonderful web site that has recently been created by Ira Lourie, who is the expert on the maps of the Johnson firm. It is entitled the “Johnson U.S. Map Project” and it allows you to take any example of a Johnson map of part of the United States and figure out what year it was published. A cool and most useful resource.

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