Treasured maps

Since public institutions have begun actively pursuing this material, not as much is available to private collectors.

In a world of Google and GPS, it's interesting that the significance of antique maps, the ones actually printed on paper, appears to be increasing.

The maps of greatest value to collectors are those charting the development of the modern world.

On the earlier maps, the existence of some Great Southern Land yet to be discovered is guessed at, usually fancifully.

Maps such as these, and associated artworks showing events in the history of the region, can be found in Louis Kissajukian's Antique Print and Map Room in George Street, Sydney.

Kissajukian has been specialising in this area for 35 years and his gallery is one of the few in Australia devoted to this niche market. He has an international clientele, some of whom allocate a few hours to browse whenever they visit Sydney. The original emphasis was on Australiana, but lately, the world of maps, travel and exploration has taken over.

Kissajukian includes his new acquisitions online and in full-colour catalogues, the latest highlighting a 1787 print The Death of Cook by marine artist John Cleveley. This aquatint is a recreation of James Cook's 1779 death based on witness sketches by Cleveley's brother, James, a carpenter on board Cook's ship, Resolution. It is regarded as one of the most accurate of several depictions of the event.

This print was valued at $13,500 and sold within days to an American collector whose house overlooks the location shown, Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii. These prints are now in great demand and have sold in the US for $20,000 to $30,000 each.

Another Cleveley print, Cook in Tahiti, is listed for $5500.

Antique maps are also in demand, especially those related to the Dutch East Indies exploration period, at the peak of the spice trade. This was the golden age of map-making, when publishers in Holland would compete to include the latest discoveries of the emerging world.

These maps were either included as fold-outs in atlases or published separately.

Examples from Kissajukian's latest catalogue include Merian's World Map With Terra Australis Incognito, first published in 1646. It shows the undiscovered Australia as a monumental land mass covering the lower section of the globe. The map is valued at $1950.

Compare this with the 1700 map by Wells - Australia According to Tasman - with North America now more fully shown, but with California as an island. Only the west and north coasts of Australia appear. This map is worth $2850.

Such maps are increasingly difficult to find, and are gaining in value.

Copies of Blaeu's world map, considered one of the most important, have sold for up to $15,000 in Australia.

Kissajukian points out that since public institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia have begun actively pursuing this material, not as much is available to private collectors. Prices for good material are still strong.

Private collectors tend to concentrate on a very specific period of history, with Cook's explorations an obvious example.

The use of colour and illustrated details, such as ships on the seas, usually add to a map's value. These are treated as works of art. Most are framed and many end up in corporate boardrooms.

Later Australian history is also strong.

Other maps listed by Kissajukian include Walter Burley Griffin's Canberra 1925 ($2950); Colonel Light's plan of Adelaide 1838 ($3750); Hoddle's plan of Port Phillip 1841 ($2850), and the first chart of Victoria by Lieutenant James Grant 1803 ($6750).

These maps have usually been removed from the source book or government report some time ago in the belief that they would be worth more sold separately. This was once true but those in situ can now be worth more.

There seems to be growing interest in early Australian history. On February 14, Leski Auctions in Melbourne will offer James Cook's pistol, from the collection of Melbourne businessman Ron Walker. Estimates range from $100,000 to $200,000.

More on this next week.

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