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Changes This Year

This year's book is being produced with new software and a new computer.  Hopefully there are no disastrous mistakes, but new software sometimes acts unpredictably.  Users are warned that if they come across an Ortelius Africa from 1952, a Speed America measuring 20 x 30 feet, or a Tallis United States selling for $25,000, most likely a software glitch has occurred.  One virtue of computers is that if an error occurs, it usually results in something nonsensical.  For computer types, I have listed the three computers used to date, with some comparison of their capabilities.

Radio Shack Model I Radio Shack Tandy 2000 Northgate Elegance 386/25
Years Used 83-85 86-91 92+
Processor Z80 80186 80386
Speed (Mhz) 1.77 8 25
Memory 48K 256K 4M
Hard Disk None 10M 80M
Floppies 2 - 83K 5¼" 1 - 720K 5¼" 1 - 1.2M 5¼"
1 - 1.44M 3½"
Purchased 1980 1985 1991
Price $2129 $3408 $3399

It can be seen that though the price has changed little, especially considering inflation, the capability has grown by orders of magnitude.  I was always rather fond of the old Model I.  It worked perfectly and served me loyally right up to the time I ripped it apart and threw it in the trash few months ago.  For those wondering what an 80186 chip is, it is intermediate between an 8086 and an 80286.  Unfortunately it never "caught on," and much commercial software would not run on the Tandy 2000.  The larger hard disk on the current machine allows more standard descriptions of maps to be stored.

The only changes anyone should notice this year are that the S.A. Mitchell maps are all lumped together again, and that the Münster maps do not have the continent indicated before the title.  These features had to be eliminated for technical reasons, but may be restored in the future.

Who Collects Maps (and Why)?

I have always wondered what provokes people to collect maps.  It is without dispute that map collectors are an unusual breed, but what exactly is it that distinguishes them?  Well, for one thing, map collectors are unusually intelligent (flattery will get me everywhere).  A substantial fraction has graduate degrees, and even those that don't generally have scholarly inclinations.  Still, not all intelligent people collect maps.

I thought I might get a clue by seeing what nationalities seem drawn to map collecting.  To that end, I had my computer check on book orders from around the world, and it seems that there is substantial collecting activity in, for example, the U.S., Canada, England, Holland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Israel, and Germany.  In looking over these countries, I noticed that none were predominantly Roman Catholic.  Could this be a clue?  Neglecting Israel for now, the fact that a country became Protestant perhaps suggests a rebelliousness or unruliness among its people.  Perhaps this translates into an inclination towards unconventional collecting activity.  I recently came across the results of a study which assessed 116,000 IBM employees in 40 countries on an individualism-collectivism scale.  I quote two paragraphs from the New York Times of December 25, 1990, reporting on the study:

The five most strongly individualistic cultures were the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, in that order.  The other countries of Northern Europe also ranked high.

The five where collectivism was strongest were Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru and Taiwan.  It was also strong in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Turkey and some countries of Southern Europe, including Greece and Portugal.

The almost perfect correspondence between individualism and map collecting, and collectivism and the lack of map-collecting, is striking.  Certainly Pakistan and Peru have never been accused of being hubs of the antique map trade.  At first I thought individualism explained it all, but my eyes kept drifting back to one country, Canada (I might have known!).  I have always thought of Canada as a country where pedestrians used crosswalks and actually waited for "permission" from the signal light before crossing.  Every American schoolboy learns that Canada was founded by fleeing loyalists, many of whom were heard to mutter as they left, "How will we know what to do without a king to tell us?"  I further reflected on the recent words of the internationally renowned Canadian social philosopher, Keith Spicer, who said of his countrymen "We love tugging at our forelocks, and we venerate anybody with a rubber stamp."  Hardly the stuff of rebellion and rugged individualism.  So with Canada sticking in my craw, I spent several very uncomfortable months in mulling over the problem, when suddenly a scary thought occurred to me, leading to the question . . .

Is Map Collecting ‘Politically Correct’?

The political left defines something called a "colonial-settler state" as a place where the native population has been largely displaced by European immigrants, and where a recent immigrant often has more rights than an original native.  The states so encompassed are usually the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa, and New Zealand.  (I'm just reporting what they say on the left. Anyone wanting to argue about it should visit the political science department of their local university, and request to speak with the Head Pinko.)  These countries are also centers of map collecting.  Devotees of psycho-babble might argue that map collecting is an effort to ratify ownership of territory, perhaps manifesting itself as a "we discovered it - we own it" rationalization.  Thus one would expect maps showing Cook's voyages to be popular in Australia and New Zealand, as they are, or maps of 19th-century exploring expeditions to be popular in the American west, as they are.  Other areas where map collecting is popular include former colonial powers such as England, Spain and Holland.  The association of maps with imperialism is becoming common.  I recently saw a book review which remarked upon "the arrogance of the European as he contemplated the newly mapped world."  This could be a very bad sign for collectors.  Several years ago, I remarked that the depiction of a square-rigged ship on the Chicago seal was being called "emblematic of the white man's civilization and commerce" and warned of "map confiscators" who might burst into collectors homes to remove offensive maps, many of which depict square-rigged ships.  Within months of my warning, a politically incorrect painting showing the obese former mayor of Chicago in ladies underwear was confiscated from an exhibit by gun-toting police.  Could this happen to maps?  Will map collecting someday be viewed as no different than collecting Nazi memorabilia?  Will dealers mail their catalogs in unmarked brown envelopes?  Will collectors meet furtively in rooms with the shades drawn to avoid the gaze of politically correct neighbors?  Stay tuned.

Name Change News

It would be tedious to review all the name changes in Communist countries. I never recognized those names anyway. I have been sending one of my annual flyers to a library in Leningrad, but the handwritten address in Russian was always to St. Petersburg. They never came back as undeliverable, though, come to think of it, I never got any orders from them. In an interesting twist, German Communists are resisting the name restorers. They claim that if all the Marxes and Lenins are to be eliminated, the western Germans should eliminate all the Von Richthofens and Von Hindenburgs from street names. Lots of luck! Back at home, American Indians want Custer Battlefield National Monument to be renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I have to admit they have a point. Most battlefields are named after the place, not the losing general. Washington Pass on the Navajo Reservation is being changed, since it turns out it was named after Col. John Washington, who led a detachment that killed a tribal elder named Narbona who had advocated peace. The new name will be Narbona Pass. The most obscure name change controversy is on San Andres Island, Colombia. Most natives are black, Protestant, and speak English. The mainland governing authorities, opposite in every characteristic, have attempted to destroy the native culture. Orange Hill, Bean Hill, and Jones Point have been renamed Loma Naranja, Loma Frijol, and Punta San Juan. The mainlanders, who will evidently stop at nothing, even built a McPollo fried chicken joint on a native cemetery.

Postal Service Gives Itself an F

Many map dealers depend on the mails for their business.  I too have had to depend on the U.S. postal service for ten years.  I have suffered patiently without complaint; but they invite comment with their issue of an F denominated stamp.  This continues their recent habit of issuing letter-denominated stamps because of a rate-setting process so cumbersome that its outcome cannot be predicted.  When the result is known, then it is announced that ‘F’ stands for 29¢, or whatever the outcome is.  Such silliness is naturally not recognized by the world at large, and letter stamps are invalid on international mail.  The F stamp came at a most appropriate time, considering the performance of the organization.  Some instances:

Stamps are now issued honoring persons so obscure that no one knows who they are, including the postal window clerks.  The political right thinks that honoring nobodies is a plot to destroy patriotism and pride in American history.  The left thinks that honoring unsung but worthy individuals is an attempt by the corporate dominated government to deceive minorities and other disaffected groups into thinking that they had an important role in the history leading to the present status quo.  You can't please everybody!  Honoring people who, to put it charitably, are not household words goes back a long way.  In 1973 they printed 40 million stamps honoring Amedeo P. Giannini (who's he?).  Unfortunately they meant to honor Amadeo P. Giannini, and 40 million stamps had to be destroyed.  Window clerks finally grew so tired of telling patrons that they had no idea who the various persons were that the post office has now added marginal notes trying to explain why these people are being honored.  Even this sensible move was botched when the marginal note on the Hubert Humphrey 52¢ stamp had him taking office the wrong year.  The note for the stamp honoring the black inventor Jan E. Matzeliger referred to him only as Jan, stirring a controversy, as it recalled the southern custom of bygone years.  The post office blamed this on an "editorial slip."  This had a hollow ring, coming as it did on the heels of another fiasco in which a French painting on a stamp had one of the black figures "whitened" for "aesthetic reasons."

Other 1991 hilarities include a 29¢ commemorative for the basketball centennial that depicted a goal tending violation, a 29¢ Love stamp with ink that soaks off in water (the Postal Service is trying to promote stamp collecting), and express mail labels that fell off because of bad adhesive.  They issued stamp booklets to the general public admonishing them to use only capital letters and no punctuation in addresses.  Unfortunately, that advice was meant to apply only to bulk mailers, and according to the USPS, is obsolete anyway since the current machines can handle punctuation and lower case letters.  A brochure singing the advantages of "proper address hygiene" was so ungrammatical that it was grist for William Safire's On Language column of June 9, 1991.  I almost forgot to mention the 150 million William Saroyan stamps that had to be destroyed because they were on paper so soft that the perforating machines jammed.  Fortunately, having been guaranteed a legal monopoly by their cronies in congress, the postal authorities can raise rates to cover their mistakes.

So the F is well deserved.  Can the post office score any worse?  Well, the next letter stamp will probably be a G, a grade so low that most universities don't even give it.

Periodicals of Interest to Map Collectors

The Map Collector. Published quarterly, with articles on early maps and map collecting, and also advertisements by dealers.  Map Collector Publications, Ltd., 48 High St., Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 5BH, England, £30 per year in the U.S.

Mapline. A quarterly newsletter with brief articles, news of the map world, and reviews of books.  Mapline, The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL 60610, $8 per year.

David C. Jolly
Appeared in Volume 10 (1992).

<< Previous (1991)
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