HiBCoR Map Grading System

A grading system can help the starting collector to set his focus. We realize that such a grading system is subjective and to some extent, vary between the types of maps graded. A grading system with condition codes are in the past introduced by Graham Arader in 1979. Rodney Shirley used a Rarity Index system for world maps in his highly recommended reference work The Mapping of the World, published in 1984 and by The Antique Map Price Record & Handbook, using a condition classification system and in 1998 introducing a Cummulative frequency distribution of map-makers, giving more insight in the rarity of maps by different map makers.

In a nutshell, four key items determine a map's value: historical importance, beauty, condition and--last in Graham Arader's estimation--rarity. "I would call [rarity] 'the refuge of the ignorant dealer,' the uneducated dealer who reaches for this word to suck an unwary collector into his grasp," he says.
"If it's 'rare,' extremely rare, and it has no historical importance; [or] it's ugly; and it's been restored and it has no margins and there's a tear in it--who cares? Why would you want it?
So 'rarity' is important [only] if the other three categories are [met]."


Overall grading

HiBCoR grades a map in a scale of 1 to 10. This valuation is based by the combination of Historical significance, Beauty, Condition and Rarity.
As a result an extremely rare map in poor condition still grades higher than a common map in very good condition.
The grading is also reflected in the price, and a map in fine original colors grades higher than one in modern colors and valuates double in price !

-  See some maps who are graded according to HiBCoR.

- Grade your own map !

H!BCoR***  grades the maps as follows:


Historical significance

As to a map's historical significance, the potential collector wants to determine if the map in question is a "breakthrough map," as Manasek wrote in Mercator's World. He notes that this can be answered by asking: "Was it made by an important mapmaker? Does it show, for the first time, a radically different or improved image? Is it linked to political events, essentially a cartopolitical statement of significance?"

Round 150 A.D., Ptolemy published an eight-volume book, Geographia, that contained a world map, 26 regional maps and many smaller ones. No original copies of this book or his maps survive, but maps based on Ptolemy's theories were the first to come off the Renaissance's printing presses, and his calculations of the circumference of the world influenced mapmakers and geographic thought well into the 1700s.

The period from the mid-1500s to the 1680s is often called mapmaking's "Golden Age," an era when Dutch and Flemish cartographers turned out especially exquisite examples of the mapmaker's art. Late-nineteenth-century maps however now fall into the more than 100 years old "antique" category.

Maps that feature the misconceptions, mistakes and wild imaginings of the past: California depicted as an island (a belief that persisted for more than 100 years); sea monsters spouting above the waves and strange beasts lumbering over uncharted terrain; bizarre races as weird as any imagined aliens--people born with their heads set into their chests or ears large enough to sleep in.

"Unrecorded" maps still appear frequently on the market. There are new "discoveries" in the field of antique maps all the time. Many collectors are conducting their own pioneering studies within their collecting themes. The number of specialist map collecting books has grown exponentially in the past 20 years and will continue to do so. However finding an unrecorded map or identifying previously unrecorded or under-appreciated information on a map is one of the great joys of collecting. 

Historical importance
  Key map
  Very important
  Direct derived
  50 years after first publication
  more than 100 years after first publication



With respect to a map's "beauty"--"Was the mapmaker talented? Did he make a beautiful map, with beautiful baroque, rococo, mannerist or Renaissance cartouches [or] designs? How well is the map engraved? How good is the calligraphy on the map? Is it good to look at?" Basically, the new collector has to "learn the aesthetic values" other map collectors prize, according to Arader's system.

  Very decorative
  Not so decorative
  Not artistic at all


Early maps are often decorated with monsters, scrollwork, decorative borders, sailing ships, putti, etc making them more tempting for the buyer, and consequently sell for a premium.



The condition of an antique map affect its value, but given the fact that they are printed on such a fragile medium as paper, sometimes the mere fact that they still exist is amazing. The condition is always very important, but how important it is depends on several factors.
Maps which were bound into atlases will generally appear on the market in a good original condition. Having been preserved in a bound volume, they have not been subjected to the ravages of time and a minor restoration may mean a significant devaluation.  On the other extreme, separately issued maps, wall maps and broadsheet maps were generally exposed to heavy use and the elements and the survival rate is much lower. These maps tend to deteriorate much more quickly and therefore cannot be expected to appear on the market in perfect condition.

The following  imperfections should be mentioned in the condition report:

Color Oxidization w/o damage
Color Oxidization w/damage or loss of paper.
Paper Toned / Acidified
Tears in Margin
Tears in Printed Image
Foxing in Margins
Foxing in Printed Image
Fold Split in Margin
Fold Split in Printed Image
Marginal Soiling
Soiling within image
Color Retouched
Worm Holes
Loss of Printed Image
Restoration to Margins
Restoration/Facsimile within printed image
Other Damage (should be explained)
Other Loss of Image (should be explained)


Several types of stains plague maps. Ink, candle wax or even wine can be spilled on a map. Water leave stains by redistributing soluble material in the paper. Browning caused by oxidation, tends to occur at the center fold, where paste contacts the paper.
Sometimes the entire paper browns. Mildew spots, called foxing, also occurs. Stains in the printed area are more serious than stains in the blank margin.
Stains affect the value of a decorative map more than a rare or purely historical map.

A repaired tear or narrow margin may reduce the value of a map by 10-20%. A significant facsimile addition or more serious tears may reduce the value much more. Many rare items becoming increasingly difficult to locate on the market, and minor restorations are much less of an issue.  

Allowances can be made. "Minor repairs, such as neatly repaired centerfold splits, marginal tears or small wormholes, do not influence the value of a map to a very large extent," Manasek wrote. "But whole areas replaced in facsimile, replaced margins, loss of image by trimming, heavy staining or water damage all reduce the price of a map. In the present market, a heavily damaged and repaired Blaeu Americas may not be a bargain for $4,000. A superb example for $10,000 is."


An antique map with gorgeous original color will generally sell for more than an uncolored example, a recently colored example or a poorly colored example of the same map. By contrast, if the same map is poorly colored or the old color has caused damage or has offset (transferred onto the opposite side of the map from having been folded into an atlas), the value of an uncolored or recently colored example will fetch a higher price.

In between these two extremes, the difference is largely a matter of personal preference. Very few collectors are actively seeking uncolored examples of maps by Ortelius, Blaeu, Hondius and other mapmakers from the Golden Age of Dutch Cartography, yet over half of all the maps and atlases issued by these makers were offered uncolored. As a result, over time, when these uncolored maps were offered for sale by dealers, many had them colored. Some dealers will refresh old color, especially if the map requires minor repairs or cleaning before the map is sold.

All reputable dealers can distinguish between old and modern color in almost all cases and they note if a map is in original or recent colours. The last issue point on color is whether the color is correct. Poor color can reduce the value of a map by 50% to 75%.


HiBCoR uses the following color key :
Original color = Item has been coloured at the time of publication.
Later color = Item has been coloured at the time of publication.
Colored = The colors have been applied in the 20th century or later.
Original out-line colours = Map has only border colours and is applied during publication.
Original full body color = Map has full body colour, typically used during the 18th century by publishers like Homann, Seutter, Lotter, etc. Typically cartouches are left uncolored. If a cartouche has recent color addition, this need to be indicated (Cartouche with later color addition).

Certain maps were not colored at the time of publication. Most editions of  Robert Dudley's sea charts and Vincenzo Coronelli's maps are examples of maps which were usually not issued in color. Most collectors looking for these maps expect to buy them without color and would find modern colored examples less valuable than uncolored examples.

Several already in their days well respected colorists did exist. The most well know colorist was Dirk Jansz. Van Santen, who coloured the well known Atlas Vander Hem. Other colorists are Koerten, Anna Beek. Many of them used lavishly gold and silver to highlight titles and cartouches.

As to whether color or black and white looks better (or is worth more), that is a personal preference.


The art of paper making evolved significantly between the time of the first printed map and modern times. Until the early 19th Century, most maps were printed on hand made paper. Early paper was made by combining the pulp from rags with a liquid formula, spreading the wet pulp over chains and laying the pulp out to dry.
Watermarks on the paper can be helpful in dating--but often mapmaking houses laid in huge stocks of paper and kept producing maps from particular batches for up to 40 or 50 years at a stretch

By the late 18th Century, there were widely varying degrees of paper quality. The quality of paper used for certain cheap mass produced British "Magazine" maps is very different from the thick high quality paper which was used by the top London / Amsterdam mapmakers. Certain late 18th Century French mapmakers used a paper with a blue-green hue. 
Beginning in the early 19th Century, machine made paper was becoming more prevalent and the content of the paper was evolving away from rag and cloth. By the mid-19th Century, cheaper machine made paper was employed by some publishers and during this period and through the end of the 19th Century, some maps are characterized by a brittle quality, caused by a higher acidic content in the paper.


Folds & Centerfolds
Most antique maps come from either books or atlases, and therefore have been folded at least once. If the map is from an atlas, it normally would have been bound into the book using a strip of paper (a guard), which was sewn into the binding, with the map in turn glued to the guard, so that the map can be viewed flat and the centerfold is not tightly bound into the book and inaccessible. 


Plate Marks & imprint.
The earliest printed maps were printed using either wood blocks or copper plate engraving methods. By the middle of the 16th Century, the use of wood blocks was being phased out, and copper plates were the prevalent method for the next 300 years. At the end of the 18th Century and first part of the 19th Century, several new printing methods were invented, including the use of steel plates, lithography, and cerography. By the middle of the 19th Century, copper plates had largely been replaced by lithographic printing methods, which remained the primary method for making maps until the latter part of the 19th Century, when new mass production methods replaced lithography.

The earlier methods of map printing are characterized by plate marks, showing the impression the printing plate or wood block left on the paper when the map was printed. This compression mark typically appears outside of the neat line on the map. For earlier maps (wood blocks and earlier copper plate maps), the plate mark is generally 5mm. outside the neat line. Many reproductions of early maps can be readily identified by either the lack of a plate mark or a plate mark that is too far from the neatline.

From the earliest times, maps bound into books often included text on the reverse side (verso) of the map. While some of the earliest maps and views were bound into a book to be folded out, many are single or double pages, with text on the back (verso) of the map. Maps published at the end of the 16th century by Ortelius, Mercator, Speed, Braun & Hogenberg and maps published in the 17th century by Blaeu, Hondius, Jansson(ius) and many other early printers generally have text on the back of the map. 

Generally, the lack of text on the verso of the same maps is a good indicator that a map is a reproduction (although there are examples of each of these map makers maps without text on the verso and are either early proof states or later reprints).

If the impression is strong and clear, the map could be from an early edition; a weak impression probably would indicate the opposite.


Minor repairs of a flaws, a small tear, a wormhole, minor staining or foxing, a narrow margin, or some other imperfection to antique maps are becoming increasingly common. 

  Very good
  Poor; Sold as is




How rare is the map, how often did it appear on the market ? 


An exceptionally rare and important map. Only a few examples known and these are usually in institutional libraries.
Very rare. Only several examples known in private and public collections. Hardly available in the open market.
Rare. A map which is rarely offered by dealers or obtained at auction.
Scarce. A map which is very infrequently available in the open market. Such maps are offered by dealers or auction houses, perhaps once every 1-3 year a copy turns up.
Uncommon. A map which is infrequently available in the open market. Typically maps from the 16-18th century, maps from atlases published by Ortelius, Blaeu, Hondius, Visscher, Speed.
Common. Freely available in the open market. Printed in large quantities. Often steel engravings from the 19th century.


Marcel van de Broecke made calculations on the number of copies printed for each atlas published by Ortelius.
Because of the fact that the book keeping of the publishing house Plantijn was kept he was able to calculate the number of copies printed for each edition. We see that certain text editions, and therefor states of the coperplates, are more rare than other. Spanish and English text editions are among the rarest.
For similar maps, the maker can strongly influence the price. David Jolly gives the following example "Ortelius and de Jode both produced similar maps at about the same time. However, Ortelius produced far more editions of his atlas, making de Jode maps scarce by comparison. Thus, de Jode maps appear far less frequently on the market.
With similar demand, this result in comparable maps from de Jode's atlas being more expensive than those of Ortelius."
Ortelius' maps are as a general rule more decorative than those by de Jode; thus rarity grades above beauty.