Collecting with Chris

Like works of art, maps can transport the soul and add dimension to a room.

By Megan Fulweiler
Photographs by Aimee Herring

Right: Chris and shop co-owner Chris Lane take time to review some of the many offerings.
Below: Drawn by an impressive collection that includes some 20,000 antique maps and prints, visitors from all over the world visit The Philadelphia Print Shop located in the city’s historic Chestnut Hill area.

Chris Madden is a passionate collector, and while travelling around the globe for her work, she has developed a great fondness for antique maps. Like so many of the treasures she finds, Chris displays her collection of maps throughout her home in a variety of ways. Small slivers of history, every one also has a personal meaning for her and her family.

Starting a Collection:

If you’re considering collecting old maps, a theme is the best way to begin, advises map expert Chris Lane, co-owner of The Philadelphia Print Shop. For example, Lane suggests collecting only maps by certain cartographers, maps with pictures of sailing ships and sea monsters, maps that depict famous battles or maps with mistakes, such as nonexistent lakes and islands.

Understanding History:

Before you purchase anything, acquaint yourself with what’s out there. Libraries, historical societies, large antiques shows and museums are tremendous resources, as are reputable dealers. A good dealer will be happy to explain what makes a particular map a prize. Some even have informative newsletters, booklets or catalogs.

Determining Value:

Unlike many other collectibles, maps are available in a remarkable range of prices — from less than $100 up to $100,000. World maps, which are relevant for everyone and often decorative, tend to be costlier. A 16th or 17th-century Dutch world map with full color could sell for between $6,000 and $25,000. Collectors seeking early and interesting maps of the United States can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $3,000. Although price is dependent upon a number of variables — relative rarity, appearance and condition, age, size and color — historical significance is the most important. Rule of thum: Prices increase for more popular maps like those of Texas, Colonial America, Australia and Cyprus. "People respond to maps in a very personal way – they can evoke a time, a place, an era, or an event, whether in their lives or in the lives that preceded theirs," says Lane.

Displaying and Maintaining Your Map:

Most would argue that half the joy of owning a map is that it can be carefully framed according to archival standards and hung – always out of direct sunlight — in a place of honor. Still, some collectors prefer to store their maps, particularly rare ones, in clear, archival polyester bags and lay them flat in cabinets designated for such storage. Either way, minimize handling as much as possible. Oily finders cause soiling, which is why pros don white cotton gloves. Be a vigilant caretaker and your maps will reward you — and generations to come — with years of pleasure. And remember, maps can look as at home in a modern setting as they do in a traditional one.

Showing Off:

To ensure that your map stays safe, it must be properly preserved with the right materials, cautions Chris Lane. For additional tips on preserving and cleaning your finds, visit The Philadelphia Print Shop,

Right: A sailing oil painting fits in perfectly with Chris’ nautical map-covered bathroom.

  • Pick a frame that complements your décor. Or, let the period of the map dictate an appropriate choice.
  • Select a 100% cotton rag mat board. Some board marked "acid free" is made from wood pulp, which has an acid count that’s reduced, not eliminated.
  • Use spacers to keep the glass and the map apart in case changing humidity causes condensation to occur in the interior.
  • Choose hinges – the invisible attachments between the map and the backing board – made of Japanese paper, with natural wheat or rice paste as an additive.
  • Use conservation-quality glazing, either glass or acrylic, to protect the map from harmful light and to prevent fading.
  • Stretch a paper dust cover across the back of the mat to keep out dust and insects.

Finding Your Way:

As beautiful as they are revealing, maps can enhance any room in the house. "They allow you to become the ultimate armchair traveler," claims Chris. Borrow some of her ideas and incorporate a map – or two – into your décor.

Left: Four French astrological charts add elegance to a foyer wall.

  • Frame a group of your most meaningful maps – maybe ones related to grandparents or your children’s places of birth – using similar mats and frames. Then, mount the collection together to fashion a stunning focal point.
  • Include framed maps in "quiet" rooms such as the library or study and paint the walls a rich, cozy red and the maps will stand out even more.
  • Make a statement by hanging one decorative or an especially interesting map in an area like a foyer wall that will allow a viewer to get up close and study the finder points. "No matter how many times they look, they’ll always notice something new," Chris promises.
  • Forgo wallpaper and instead wallpaper a tiny powder room or guest bath with newer, less valuable maps.