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News and Comments - Index

NEWS and COMMENTS - 1995

One reason for the tardy release of Volume 13 is that we have completely converted to commercially available computer software from the very personalized system of gathering and manipulating data that David Jolly had developed over the years.  David, borrowing from his M.I.T. experience, took pride in making his computer programs jump precisely through the hoops he had prescribed.  The problem was that he was the only one who completely understood them and they were written in an antiquated version of basic that served as the channel from his data base to the word processor.  We encountered another difficulty when upgrading our computer power while this edition was in “mid-stream”.  With new equipment and software, there is always a learning period, if only to put to use the brand new features that become available.  But the incompatibility of two versions of a backup program from the same well known software company was unexpected.  What would seem to have been an easy transfer became a tedious and worrisome task.  Our conclusion, not dissimilar to that of others, is that computers exact their own hidden price from those who rely on them.

About This Year’s Edition

Sixty-four catalogues from twenty-eight dealers are included in the 1995 Price Record. The sampling includes 4,784 entries representing 580 map-makers.  Total asking prices are more than $3,350,000 for an average of about $700 per map.  There are more maps than last year; the average price is down a bit.  What appears to be a proliferation of catalogues is actually a change in form.  Some dealers are issuing smaller catalogues more frequently.  When we spot a repeated offering of an apparently identical item it is only listed once.  If the price has changed, the most recent price is given.  More framed items are being offered than previously.  These are listed, and so noted, only if it is deemed that the value added by the frame is but a small fraction of the total.

This year, Cumulative Frequency Distribution of Map-Makers and Sketches of Map-Makers have been combined into a single table.  “Sketches” had not been brought up to date since the earlier “David Jolly” days and was seriously out of synch with the expanding list of map-makers that ever appeared in the Price Record.  In the process, an attempt has been made to identify which map-makers under a particular surname have actually been included in the Price Listing over the years.  Sometimes it is not the most prominent individual who is cited.

The Directory of Dealers now includes an indication as to whether we have received an updating questionnaire within the last two years and if over half of the business is in antiquarian maps or closely related material.  The purpose is to suggest if the information is up to date and whether the antique map component is central to the enterprise.  The “over half” threshold may be misleading, however, in the case of a large establishment with a large volume in all areas.

The Accuracy of the Data

The Price Record provides tertiary information.  It is drawn from dealer’s catalogues, which themselves are secondary sources.  After three years of publishing the Antique Map Price Record, we have become accustomed to uneven accuracy among catalogues.  We have received mere lists of available maps that may be suitable for marketing purposes, but provide precious little additional information and do not qualify for inclusion in the Price Record.  We do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided to us.  Where we are near certain of verbatim titles, dates, dimensions, or sources, we will correct information that is obviously erroneous or augment that which is lacking, but this can only be in a small proportion of the entries.  With intervention, however, there is always the danger of tampering with an accurate report of an unusual variant which at first glance appears to be in error.  When questions arise, however, we suggest you first check the entry with appropriate cartobibliographic sources, if possible, and then with the dealer issuing the catalogue.  We make errors, but not many.  When you catch them, we will check them and note the error in the next edition.

Another question of primary interest to buyers is “are the prices real?”  Our suspicion, confirmed by the occasional specific report, is that they are not far off the mark for the maps that are sold.  Many sell at the prices that are quoted; others sell at a modest discount, a common reciprocal courtesy among dealers.  In other cases prices may be altered -- lowered or raised -- to better conform to market conditions. Prices may be reduced when a large quantity is sold or to reduce inventory.  Some marketing strategies involve high pricing levels with the expectation of making reductions.  None of these procedures are alien to examples in other industries such as automobiles or airline services.  In our own experience as dealers, we have frowned on discounting as part of the sales technique, simply as a matter of fairness to customers with differing levels of sophistication, personality and aggressiveness.  While buyers may wonder if discounts are available, they should take a negative reply with good grace and the realization that pricing policies vary among dealers.  Perhaps it is best to think of the Antique Map Price Record as the Antique Map Pricing Record.

How’s the U.S. Dollar Doing?  Does It Matter?

Much press has been given to the weakness of the U.S. dollar in recent months.  It is worthwhile looking at the record against other major currencies since 1982 which was the first year cited in the “Currency Conversion Tables” in the Price Record  The following table gives the number of money units of each in terms of U.S. dollars.  A high number is a measure of the dollars strength; declining numbers mean a weakening dollar.

Number per US $ '82 '83 ‘84 ‘85 ‘86 ‘87 ‘88 ‘89 ‘90 ‘91 ‘92 ‘93 ‘94 ‘95
BRITAIN Pound 0.57 0.65 0.73 0.76 0.64 0.61 0.58 0.64 0.57 0.62 0.52 0.66 0.64 0.63
CANADA Dollar. 1.29 1.23 1.31 1.35 1.37 1.33 1.21 1.19 1.16 1.14 1.20 1.28 1.36 1.37
FRANCE Franc 6.83 7.63 8.53 9.26 6.94 6.01 6.12 6.63 5.61 6.13 5.11 5.74 5.45 4.84
GERMANY Mark 2.46 2.54 2.78 3.04 2.17 1.82 1.81 1.95 1.67 1.82 1.52 1.70 1.59 1.38
JAPAN Yen 255 239 237 248 162 146 133 144 152 138 125 107 98.5 84.9

Three patterns emerge: The first is the case of fluctuation up and down around a central figure as with the British pound and the Canadian dollar.  Second is the case of slow, uneven decline in value over the years as exemplified by continental currencies, pronounced in the case of the German mark, but also evident with the French franc.  Finally there is the case of inexorable decline in terms of the Japanese yen against which the dollar is at about one-third of its 1982 value.

Exchange rates mean little if there is little trade.  Among countries with significant trade in antiquarian maps, a strong currency makes it easy to buy abroad and hard to sell, but adverse exchange rates in a major buying nation can have negative feedback on prices in the selling country.

Nevertheless, since antiques are generally inelastic in supply, especially in the case of older material, demand will be the driving factor in price over the years.  Collecting antique maps was never the occupation of a pauper, even when they were cheap.  There is no sign that demand is slackening, nor has there been a transient demand spike reflecting a fad, trendiness or a buying frenzy.  Perhaps the intellectual nature of antiquarian maps precludes such foolishness. The inelasticity of supply and slow, steady increase in demand should overwhelm exchange rates as a pricing factor in the long run.

Map Societies

This spring we had the pleasure of attending the inaugural meeting of the Boston Map Society which was held in the rooms of the Harvard Map Collection in Pusey Library.  A fine exhibition of early maps lined the walls to complement a talk by Robert Karrow of the Newberry Library on “Ortelius and Friends; a Celebration of 16th Century Maps.”  More than 125 people were in attendance.

Over the years, we have found map society gatherings to be an enlightening and even a thrilling experience.  One can count on meeting people who have become especially knowledgeable in their areas of interest and are eager to exchange ideas and information.  We have assembled a list of North American map societies and their contact people and would be grateful for corrections of further information about similar organizations in the United States or abroad.

Boston Map Society; David A. Cobb, Harvard Map Collection, Harvard College Library, Cambridge, MA 02138;  (617) 495-2417.

California Map Society; Alfred W. Newman, 1414 Mariposa St., Vallejo, CA 94590;  (707) 642-9091

Chicago Map Society; c/o Robert W. Karrow, Newberry Library, 60 West Walton St., Chicago, IL 60610-3380;  (312) 943-9090

Map Society of Arizona; Jack Mount, sec., Science-Engineering Library, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson 85721;  (602) 621-2823.

Map Society of British Columbia; P.O. Box 37109, 2930 Lonsdale Ave., North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Michigan Map Society; P.O. Box 1201, Ann Arbor, MI 48106

New York Map Society; c/o Map Division, The New York Public Library; Fifth Ave. and 42nd St., New York, NY 10018-2788

Northern Ohio Map Group; c/o Cleveland Public Library, Map Collection, 325 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114

Rocky Mountain Map Society; c/o Wes Brown, 1726 Hudson St., Denver, CO 80220;  (303) 333-0568

Washington Map Society; c/o Robert Highbarger, 7509 Hackamore Drive, Potomac, MD 20854

Symposia, Fairs and Periodicals

The 14th annual IMCoS International Symposium (International Map Collectors’ Society) returns to the United States this year to meet in San Francisco from October 8 to 11, 1995, hosted by the California Map Society.  The program includes a map fair, auction, lectures, panel discussions and planned visits and tours.  For general information, contact Al Newman, ’95 IMCos Chair, 1414 Mariposa St., Vallejo, CA 94590;  Tel (707) 642) 9091. -- Next year its Riga.

We received the schedule of the Bonnington Fair for 1995, “The Only Monthly Antique Map Fair in the World.”  For the rest of 1995: August 14, September 11, October 9, November 13, and December 11.  The fair is at the Bonnington Hotel, Southampton Row, London.  Admission is free.  The announcement lists 14 regular exhibitors.

The Annual Miami Map Fair is noteworthy because it appears to be the first ongoing yearly antiquarian map fair to be held in the Western Hemisphere.  This represents a breakthrough for the map trade which is always a bit of a stranger in either paper, antique or book fairs.  The 3rd annual event will be held at Miami’s Historical Museum of Southern Florida on February 24 and 25, 1996.  Contact Marcia Kanner at (305) 375-1492.  With the Florida show, old maps have found a home in the United States.

Cartomania is the quarterly (often combined to semiannual) Newsletter of the Association of Map Memorabilia Collectors based at 8 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 01002, USA.  Dues are $12.50 in the U.S. and Canada ($17 elsewhere).  All forms of cartography are addressed, with much coverage of more recent material.

Imago Mundi.  The Journal of the International Society for the History of Cartography.  Currently a 180 page scholarly journal with new studies or summaries of current information on maps and cartographers.  Imago Mundi, ‘Meadow Bank’, 26 Lucastes Road, West Sussex  RH16 1JW, United Kingdom.  As of 1994, the current volume and society membership was £30 per year or $60.

The Map Collector.  Published quarterly, with articles on early maps and map collecting, auction records, dealer advertisements and classifieds.  Map Collector Publications, Ltd., 48 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire  HP23 5BH, England; £30 per year in the U.K., £35 in other countries, $56 per year in the United States.

The Nurembega News, Newsletter of the Osher Library Associates announced the opening of the Osher Map Library of the University of Southern Maine, 314 Forest Avenue, Portland ME, 04101-2000, USA.  Call (207) 780-4850 for schedule.  After the initial event, The Land of Norembega, an exhibition Maine 175 [years] is planned.  In October 1996 the library will host the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Discoveries.

Keep an Eye on Your Jollys

We received a call from a long standing subscriber inquiring about the availability of back issues of David Jolly’s Antique Maps, Sea Charts, City Views, Celestial Charts & Battle Plans ...  It seems that some of the earlier editions had been stolen.  You may recall his remarks in Volume 11, in which he described the role of the Price Record and Handbook in replacing loose maps in their proper volumes following the apprehension of a library stock thief who had used the books as a guide to the crime.  David would have been flattered, but dismayed, to have his own work become the object of larceny.  Replacement will be difficult, because Volumes 1 through 10 are out of print.

Jon K. Rosenthal
Appeared in Volume 13 (1995).

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