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NEWS and COMMENTS - 1997-98

Bernice M. Rosenthal has joined her husband Jon as co-author of Volume 15, the first biennial edition of Antique Map Price Record & Handbook for 1997-1998.

This year’s edition

For the first time, sales of more than 1,100 maps and atlases at auction are reported alongside offerings by map dealers. See Notice to All Readers, at Page viii, opposite.

The current edition includes offerings from forty-eight catalogues issued by thirty map dealers.  In addition the results of ten sales of over 1,000 maps and atlases at six auction houses are recorded.  Together, there are 5,265 entries representing 694 map-makers, with 16 additional generic categories.  Included are more than 250 atlases (with a few facsimile atlases) and books with maps. The asking and sales prices total over $6,100,000, or about $1,160 per item (as compared with $870 a map in the 1996 edition).  The rise in the average price can be attributed to the inclusion of some "big ticket" offerings, editorial reduction of redundancy at the lower priced end, and a moderate upward trend in prices across the board.  Tracking atlas prices, we have noticed increases that bring into question the age-old practice of "separating out" individual maps for sale.  Quoting from a catalogue, “Dealers are admonished that it is extremely unwise to disassemble any gilt edged atlas without further investigation.”  But generalizations can be misleading.  To better determine the direction of prices, readers are referred to earlier editions of the Price Record.

We need to reemphasize that Antique Map Price Record & Handbook is not a price guide.  David Jolly had the good sense to recognize what he was doing after two editions when he expunged the word "Guide" from the title and replaced it with "Record".  The information in this book is gathered from published sources and reported as accurately as possible in a standard form to facilitate interpretation of the data.

We have had to make space for the additional entries and more robust information for each, including references when available.  The "Glossary of Terms" and "Foreign Language Dictionaries" have been eliminated from this edition.  Both sections have been identical for several years.  The reader is referred to Volumes 11 through 14 for this information, all of which are still available from the publisher as of this date, but these are the only back issues still in print.

Auction Records

While we have heard some criticism of our decision to include auction records along side map dealer offerings, there are many more who welcome the idea.  Again, all of this information is available to anyone who takes the trouble to find it.  We are told that the user may not realize that some entries are asking prices and others are prices realized (with premiums included).  There should be no confusion in the Price Record as to which is which since the code for auction sales is always prefixed with an "A", such as [A11 ].  A more subtle complaint is that the novice may not understand that the purpose, objective and modus operandi of a dealer and an auctioneer are completely different as explained in Notice to All Readers.  With the usual admonition, caveat emptor, we leave it to the intelligence of our readers to make their own interpretations of the information available and to seek out the enterprises that are trustworthy.

The Internet

In case it hasn't been noticed, "E-mail" and the World Wide Web are now common parlance, even for those who are still brave enough not to be wired.  Where it has been provided or when we have been able to ferret out electronic addresses, they have been included in the listing of dealers.  The press reports frequently on the upsurge of Internet commerce, a phenomenon that is likely to continue.

The conventional press is still reporting!  We have wondered if we might be made obsolete.  It is doubtful.  The reason is that we have not found the web especially easy or efficient to use when one is trying to assemble a wide array of comparable data.  As an analogy, our readers can probably extract more information in half-an-hour with a good newspaper than they can in a day with television news.  Nevertheless, the world wide web works quite well in two ways:  First, if the search is focused, the objective can be reached in a remarkably short time.  Second, there is a quality of serendipity that ink on paper cannot match.  We feel that print and electronic media are complementary.  There is a place for both.

One site of interest to map dealers and collectors is MapHist.  The URL address is:

http://kartoserver.frw.ruu.nl/HTML/STAFF/krogt/maphist.htm

To skip this step, looking for "MapHist" through a search engine will produce almost the same result.  This site is at the Universiteit Utrecht in The Netherlands.  The audience is international in scope, with most communications in English.  For those inclined to "surf the web", the possibilities here are endless.  While this site is on the screen you will be given many options including instructions on securing a subscription to an E-mail discussion group on the history of cartography.  One discussion we followed had to do with the accuracy with which one should measure an antique map (we'll stick with nearest centimeter and the nearest half-inch.)  And we were mightily amused by the influence attributed to this publication in a comment suggesting that the convention of measuring height before width stemmed from David Jolly's practice.  Should you join, you will find your E-mail box stuffed with all kinds of valuable and learned commentary on maps and cartography, but some of which falls into the category of junk mail.  Should you be overwhelmed, there are instructions about how to "unsubscribe".

Another site at the University where you can find web sites for all kinds of entities relating to cartography is at Oddens's Bookmarks ("Oddens" through a search engine, or):

http://kartoserver.frw.ruu.nl/html/staff/oddens/oddens.htm

Here you will find leads to map collections of the world, a calendar of cartographic events and exhibitions, and news of the preceding month.  Of particular interest to our readers will be the pages listing sellers of antiquarian cartographic materials at:

http://kartoserver.frw.ruu.nl/html/staff/oddens/sellers.htm#Antiq

While the listing of map dealers' web sites is not as complete as the one embedded in our dealer listing, it is liable to be more current than ours as time passes.

Of approximately 350 antique map dealers and auction houses listed in our directory, 97 had an E-mail address and 55 had a World Wide Web site.  Some web pages lead to whole catalogues, complete with color illustrations.  Others are simple notices that make ones presence known.  There is little doubt that the numbers will increase rapidly in the coming months and years.  What is also apparent is that addresses will change as clients utilize more sophisticated site developers and servers, for it is already apparent that dealers are securing their own domain names.  With the volatility of internet addresses, the present existence of a web site or E-mail listing that can't be found at a later date could well mean that the internet service provider has changed.  One can usually count on a search engine such as "Yahoo" to come to the rescue.

A Condition classification system for antiquarian maps?

Descriptions of condition that are found in catalogues of antique maps are about as subjective as it can get.  One dealer's "excellent" might be another dealer's "good".  A verbal description can do a lot to convey information about condition, but among a range of catalogues comparability has yet to be achieved.  Some dealers omit condition statements entirely, presumably on the assumption that their reputation is sufficient - and often it is, especially with a return guarantee.  Of necessity, auction catalogues generally have more extended descriptions of condition since misinformation can invalidate a sale.

Old World Mail Auctions has used the following condition codes in addition to a short descriptive statement.  Their criteria are described below.  We have included these letter grades when entering their items.
 
 

(A+) Fine condition.  Clean and bright, with crisp engraved lines. On sound paper with wide margins.  Fine quality coloring. 
(A) Very good condition.  Clean and bright, with crisp engraved lines.  On sound paper with no imperfections in the image.  Small tears or minor discoloration in the margins only.  Very good quality coloring.
(B) Good condition.  No significant imperfections.  Minor spotting, foxing, short separations on centerfold with no image loss, or overall age toning may be present.  May have narrow margins but paper is still sound.  Good coloring. 
(C) Fair condition.  Noticeable imperfections.  Scattered foxing or spotting.  Long separations on centerfold or tears entering image which can be easily repaired.  Color may be slightly faded.
(D) Poor condition.  Needs significant repair and cleaning.  Paper may be highly acid and brittle.  Color may be faded.

We feel this is an admirable start that allows a reader to take in a generalized notion of condition at a glance.  If anything, there is a bit of grade inflation at the top, with just a scant "+" between Fine and VG.  Other dealers and auctioneers may not choose to adopt these standards, but it would be very helpful if they elaborated on their meaning of such terms as mint, pristine, superb, excellent, very fine, fine, very good, good, fair, only fair and poor.  Can it get any worse?

What's happening with the money?

Antique Map Price Record uses the comparative values of money at the mid year prior to the year of publication, since this is about the midpoint in time of the catalogues that are used.  For many years, prices have been given in U.S. dollars and Sterling.  Starting this year, other original catalogue currencies are also given in the Price Record.

There are two reasons:  First, to some degree, markets are somewhat separated between continents.  A more significant reason is that economic globalization of finance has led to rapid adjustments in the relative values of the currencies.  From 1994 to 1995 the U.S. dollar was driven down relative to most European moneys.  From then until midyear 1997 the dollar made a strong comeback against most of the world's currencies except the British pound and the Australian dollar.  In the last year, European currencies have shown only a slight decline against the dollar, but weakness in the Japanese yen continues, now joined by Australian and New Zealand dollars.

Up to the moment exchange rates between any currencies can be obtained on the internet from The Universal Currency Converter™ at: http://www.xe.net/currency.

George T. Goodspeed

Goodspeed's Book Shop was founded a century ago.  In addition to rare books, they also sold manuscripts, fine arts and maps.  George T. Goodspeed graduated from Harvard, got on the subway and took the only job he ever had and held it for seventy years.  The store, which had become a Boston institution, closed in 1995 and George Goodspeed passed away in the spring of 1997 at the age of ninety-three.

Goodspeed's was old world.  Its spacious rooms on Beacon Street, just down from the Common and the State House, had a sedate, hushed quality that one would expect in a shrine.  It was not that their stock was unmatched, but rather that the low-keyed ambiance set it apart.  The Boston Globe wrote of George Goodspeed's sharp eyes, encyclopedic mind and good taste.  He said that the antiquarian book trade [first cousin to maps] "involves a smattering of bibliography, an occasional bit of detective work, and a good deal of horse trading."  In a Harvard class report, he wrote, "I have developed few hobbies because the business in which I am lucky enough to find myself is so varied, so full of excitement, that I find almost all of my extra-curricular activities to be centered in it   The antiquarian book trade is almost more by way of being a profession than a trade, or so at least those engaged in it like to believe."

My first visit to Goodspeed's was in my student days when I purchased a reproduction of the 1722 John Bonner map of Boston for $2.50 (no tax then).  Pinned to the wall, it led me to understand the history and structure of the city across the river from where I was living.  Years later I was to return for a copy of Landmarks of Map Making by Tooley, Bricker & Crone.  Although it was an institution, it could not survive George Goodspeed.  Is it that there is no longer a role for the place that it was?  Boston is so radically changed in barely a generation: high rise, glitz and homogenization.  Well, at least the downtown streets are still where they used to be.  On this the Bonner map is still of help.

What's in the Future?

We are planning to compile the biggest and best Price Record yet for the Year 2000.  It is going to be the Classic Millenium Edition.  In order to make it the greatest we will need the continuing support of a wonderful corps of map dealers who continue to send us their catalogues.  We are counting on the cooperation of auction establishments to help round out the record of activity.  We encourage authors and publishers to submit cartobibliographical works for review and for use as references.  We invite comment from readers regarding additional features they might like to find in the Price Record & Handbook. We intend to make the "Millenium Edition" a handbook and a reference book with information that is of value into the future.

NOTICE TO ALL READERS

We need to emphasize that the price information that is presented here is of two kinds.  The first type is the asking prices of antique map dealers.  The second are auction prices realized (including buyers premium) from sales of antique cartographic material.  These are two completely different ways of trading merchandise.  The only thing in common is the type of merchandise that is being bought and sold.

The reason for presenting what some may regard as disparate information in a single context is that dealers and auctions are both sources of antique maps and atlases for collectors, institutions and other dealers as well.

It has been argued that a map dealer's reported asking price may not be the price at which an item is sold or indeed, it may not be sold at all.  An easy way to find out is to inquire.  Similarly, in reporting what sold at auction, two categories are regularly omitted: The first are those mixed lots that cannot be appropriately described or compared to the material included in the Price Record.  A second and more serious methodological problem is encountered when auction lots are passed, without a buyer.  While we have certain knowledge of what some items fetched, others are simply not in the sample.  In brief, without inside information (which by definition has limited circulation) there is no way to be certain that a record of prices is an accurate reflection of value.

There are other differences between a dealer and an auctioneer that should be borne in mind.  Dealers maintain an inventory that is available over time.  The objective of an auctioneer is to liquidate a stock of merchandise at a point in time.  In general, the buyer is able to contemplate his purchase from a dealer in a more relaxed manner than in the competitive atmosphere of an auction which can demand quick decisions.

Both dealers and auction houses may produce catalogues that vary in the degree of comprehensiveness and accuracy in describing the item for sale.  With both, transactions may occur at a distance by mail, phone, fax, or e-mail, with no opportunity for personal inspection.  What the purchaser buys is dependent on the quality of the description.  Return privileges to auction houses are usually limited to misrepresentation of the merchandise; many map dealers allow returns for any reason, which an be taken to include buyer's remorse.  Most dealers guarantee the authenticity of their wares.

We have found that there are numerous instances in which a price realized at auction is less than a dealer's asking price.  Yet there are cases recorded in the current volume in which the auction price exceeds that of a dealer listing.  What this demonstrates is that both markets are imperfect.  To have missed a "good buy" at auction may only mean that the would-be purchaser was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and simply not in the market that day.

Readers are warned that asking prices and auction prices realized may not be comparable.  Conclusions should be drawn with caution and questioned.

Jon K. Rosenthal
Appeared in Volume 15 (1997-1998).
 

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