What Is Meant By The Term “Antique Map”?

An antique map is a map printed over 100 years ago by one of three main processes.

The earliest maps were generally printed from a wooden block which had been cut in relief (the printed area standing out from the rest) and then inked. This type of map can be seen in the work of Munster (c1550) among others. Most of these maps were never colored.

Copper and steel engravings form the vast majority of antique maps that can be found today. In this process the image was cut, in reverse, into the metal plate which was then inked, placed with a sheet of paper in a press and the ink in the grooves would produce the image.

Copper, a softer metal, in common use from the early 1500’s until about 1820, would produce relatively few maps before having to be beaten out and re-engraved. Steel was introduced in the early 1800’s and quickly replaced copper because finer lines could be engraved and far more maps printed on this harder metal. Nearly all engraved maps dated after 1830 were produced on steel.

Surface printing or lithography also started in the early 1800’s and allowed the artist or mapmaker to draw directly on to a specially prepared stone. This was cheaper and faster (no engraver was needed) but most lithographic maps have a fuzzy quality which does not endear them to many. This method can be used with several colors (each color needs a separate stone) but can result in overlapping of colors in some of the poorer efforts.

By the late 1880’s modern machine lithography and printing were taking over and maps lost their decorative quality.

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