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.
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.
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.
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 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.