‘Universalis Cosmographia’ (1507), the Waldseemüller wall map that first depicted the Americas
With the world’s super-wealthy flitting between multiple homes – and sometimes even multiple yachts – one aspect of collecting is thriving. Anything to do with travel is growing, apparently: from antique maps, atlases and globes to vintage trunks, binoculars, travel books and photographs.
Owners of private islands “love having a map with their island on it, and find irresistible the fact that it was already charted in the 16th century by, say, Mercator”, says Farhad Vladi, owner of the German-based Vladi Private Islands agency. “Even tiny islands were carefully documented,” he says.
Buyers come from all over the world. “We had a Middle Eastern buyer recently who told us a map would suit his new yacht nicely,” says Sotheby’s specialist Catherine Slowther, who has 30 years’ experience in this field.
Prices at the top end of the map and atlas market can run into the millions – the world record is $10m for Waldseemüller’s world map, “Universalis Cosmographia”, the first to name “America”. But Slowther points out that there is a rich supply of interesting material at far lower price points. In Sotheby’s coming May sale there is group of maps of the eastern Mediterranean dating from the 16th-18th centuries, and estimated at £2,000-£2,500.
So what makes the difference between a million-dollar map, and one for a few hundred?
As in all collecting fields, rarity, provenance, condition, repute of the mapmaker and publisher and sheer beauty determine price. With maps, there are geo-economic forces at play as well. “There is often a correlation between GDP and the price of a map of the country,” says Daniel Crouch, who recently set up his own dealership in maps and atlases. Crouch is offering a set of Blaue maps of the continents for £500,000, but says that for individual examples, prices for America would be double or more those of Africa. And because of their aesthetic appeal – being surrounded with water – and national pride, there is a premium on maps of island nations such as Cyprus or Malta, says Slowther.
Historical events play their part, too. “Events make maps more interesting. For instance, the birth of America is a great story, traced by its maps.”
A smaller market is for atlases, where prices have been going up fast, according to Crouch because of the rarity factor. “Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s people ripped up atlases for their maps, making good examples of complete books extremely scarce,” he says.
Globes, both terrestrial and celestial, have always been a rich man’s trophy. Butchoff Antiques is offering the only known example to record the 1837 to 1839 expedition in the Northwest Passage at a hefty £450,000, but less exceptional examples come in at far less stellar prices. Christie’s South Kensington sold a 19th-century terrestrial globe for £3,125 last November.
Another growing field is vintage luggage. Tim Bent of the specialist shop Bentley’s, in London, reports that the market for Louis Vuitton, Goyard or the British Peal & Co has been growing for at least 10 years.
“For Vuitton in particular, awareness of the brand is buoyed by the company’s enormous marketing budget,” he says. The trunks, which were made in a wide range of shapes and sizes to handle everything from hats to books are used as decorative pieces, as chests, coffee tables or end-tables. Good condition and exotic labels are a bonus but initials, unless they are those of the buyer, are less commercial. Prices for Vuitton vintage trunks start at £7,500 and can go up to £40,000, for a really rare example. But here again, less pricey examples can be found: a Mappin and Webb crocodile suitcase recently made £1,000, again at Christie’s South Kensington.
Dent also has customers for large-scale military binoculars, which were generally made in Japan during World War II. With 20x magnification, and often standing on tall tripods, the binoculars “really make a statement”, he says. Prices are from £10,000 to £39,000.
The market, say dealers, is likely to grow: “With globalisation and increased travel, you have the fuel for a buoyant market,” says Crouch.