Condition of Antique 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 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.

Antique maps are paper items that are subject to wear and tear similar to any item which was intended to be used. Nearly all of them come from atlases, which may have been roughly handled, indeed sea charts may have traveled many times around the world – and inevitably may have marginal tears or repairs to them. Below is a classification guide to grade condition.

Minor defects include marginal tears, slight brown spotting from paper aging, shadowing where ink is transferred across a folded map and slight creasing of the paper. Do not confuse the centerfold in most maps with creasing. Many larger maps were intended to be folded into atlases.

Major defects include tears, which enter the printed surface, actual loss of printed surface, defacing by writing on the map surface and severe browning on poorer paper.

Major defects are more common in maps from the 1800’s and earlier which could make that map totally undesirable, but rarer, older maps may only be obtainable in a degraded condition. Either way the condition will be reflected in the price that the collector pays.

Buy a map in the best condition that you could reasonably expect for its age and price. The rarer and older it is, the more forgiving you should be about condition.

We grade our maps on the following scale:

Art Source International has adopted the following condition codes adopted from The Antique Map Price Record & Handbook 1998. Our scale includes a “letter Grade”, in addition to a short descriptive statement. Their criteria are described below.

(A+) Excellent 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 margin 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.

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