In the quest for knowledge, fascination with maps and charts is as old as humanity itself. Over the past 100 years, a number of truly spectacular objects have passed through our doors. We consider ourselves privileged to become a small part of their provenance, however briefly. Here are a few of our favorite antique maps and cartographic objects that we have had over the years.
Measuring more than 10 feet long, this exceptional desk was almost certainly made for a Habsburg emperor, and most likely for Franz Joseph I, the famed Emperor of Austria and Hungary from 1848 until 1916. Hand-crafted for one of the great Habsburg palaces, this monumental desk is the only example of its type known!
The map desk is an absolute tour-de-force of woodworking, inlay, craftsmanship and engineering. True to its Biedermeier style, the cabinet is both highly functional and beautifully fashioned with a classical restraint. It is crafted of the most stunning birch with some of the most intricate inlay work that I have ever seen. Intricately carved specimens of burr walnut, satinwood and straight grain walnut are all seamlessly inlaid into the surface to stunning effect. Its columns with gilt moldings and capitals grace the four corners.
The desk contains 28 drawers in total — seven on each of the four sides — which were once used to store not only important maps of the empire, but also irreplaceable architectural drawings of palaces, cathedrals and other civil structures. They are hidden behind doors that swing open effortlessly on hidden hinges in both an aesthetically pleasing and functional design choice. Even the key is hinged so that it sits flush against the desk. It is clear that no detail was overlooked and no expense spared in the construction of this incredible desk.
Portraying an air of adventure, knowledge and experience, no important early 19th-century library or respectable study was complete without a globe. But to set your home or office apart from any other – one would want this pair of globes by the renowned cartographers Newton & Son.
Newton & Son made the best globes that money could buy in first half of the 19th century, and this set is a rare find. The terrestrial globe depicts the land as we knew it then with the most advanced cartographic information the makers had in their day. Its mate, the celestial globe, tells a different story — charting the heavens in a spectacular celestial display that features artistic renderings of constellations on top of the stars.
This special pair is a very rare 21“ diameter. Rather than the standard of 12” model of the time, the surface area of a 21-inch globe is an exceptional 307% larger than the normal 12” model, creating plenty of space for highly detailed maps with all the most important features, including geological deposits, shipping routes and natural resources.
One of the rarest and most unusual map items we have ever owned is this piece entitled The Map of Man. Printed in madder root dye on calico, the map depicts two different paths that man could take, that of vice or that of virtue. This genre of map making was highly popular in late-18th-century England. The map provides the viewer with an instructive, allegorical guide of the journey from cradle to grave. Choices for a virtuous life begin at an early age — at the lower left, two children are pictured receiving guidance from figures representing “human aid” and “experience,” while at lower right a figure the “Genius of Folly” introduces two children to the path of vice.
Those who have the benefit from a rigorous education and upbringing find themselves on the path of virtue, which takes them through the “Land of Promise” and the “Land of Honour,” ultimately culminating in the “Land of Immortality.” For those not so fortunate the way leads through the “Land of Desolation” to the “Land of Punishment.” Remarkably complex, the map’s design also features numerous gates and pathways, all of which are bounded by a cordiform “Line of Life,” which runs like a river through both the lands of Vice and Virtue.
The Map of Man was produced at Henry Gardiner’s calico works in Wandsworth, which were established on the banks of the River Wandle around 1780. The riverside location was a necessity, as the bleaching process for calico involved a complex process of wetting and drying cotton in direct sunlight, which eventually caused the calico to gradually whiten. Gardiner’s calico works were particularly successful until the early 1800s when new steam-powered machinery and chemical bleaching processes challenged traditional practices. Today, however, these delicate and exceptionally detailed works are highly prized.
Fair-goers could navigate the 1939 New York World's Fair with ease using this crook handle walking stick. A vibrantly colored map of the fairgrounds unfurls from the shaft of the cane to help attendees orient themselves on the go in an innovative design. The map itself was designed by the great German-American illustrator and puppeteer, Tony Sarg, who created the first giant parade balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.