Wednesday, 21 October 2015

My map collection

This is one of two articles on my extensive collection of Ordnance Survey maps. This describes the collection generally. It was first written many years ago, in 2001, but I've kept it up to date.

When the collecting began
My OS map collection began very modestly in 1963, when I was 11. Before then I had made do with road maps produced by Esso and other petrol companies. Moving up to OS maps was a big step, but extremely rewarding. I was fascinated by the detail shown on the One Inch maps I began with, and I soon longed to own some 1:25,000 maps. But years had to pass before I could afford to buy more than a few maps at any scale.

What I collect
Any OS map, but chiefly the larger scales - one-inch or larger. Nowadays there is much  less emphasis on new maps (though they are still bought as needed) than on searching for old ones, especially maps of the 1:25,000 First Series (Provisional edition).

Where I buy, and what maps cost 
Second-hand bookshops are my prime source for old OS maps. Prices are usually low - I regard any map costing much more than £2, unless on cloth, or in some way special, as an expensive map. Oddly, it often happens that the older maps cost less - as if cost depends on usefulness. Still, from the collector's point of view, that is nothing to complain about. To me, given the intrinsic interest of an old map, it is really quite surprising that these low prices haven't stimulated a wider demand among people who collect anything historical. But not so. Although I am certainly not the only person around who buys old OS maps, I rarely meet another enthusiast. Maps have not joined the list of Popular Collectables, and clearly the market is quite limited. The shop owners must think the same: maps are not usually given decent shelf space, and are generally consigned to a box on the floor. Only a few shops make an effort to present their maps properly - and in some sort of order.

What I hope to find
The real ‘thrill’ is to find a pre-1950 map in good condition, perhaps a very early 1:25,000 map showing a wealth of detail from pre-war surveys. This means a map published 70 or more years ago, yet still in a saleable condition. Maps of tourist areas, some of them most attractively designed, are (unsurprisingly) abundant, though not very often in good condition. Much rarer (again, not surprisingly) are maps of urban and industrial areas elsewhere in Great Britain, or tracts of pure farmland. These can be a challenge to find, and yet they are full of information on railways and other features long since gone.

There is always the chance of a finding an old, unusual, or long-wanted map, because new stock comes onto the second-hand market all the time. My guess is that when people die or go into homes, their books and maps (if not binned) go to the bookshops. In this way old maps ought to keep appearing in shops for years to come - provided the shops themselves survive. (Competition from the Internet is now driving many bookshops out of business) Occasionally there is a bumper clear-out of someone's lifetime collection. Then it is a matter of pure luck whether you can pick through it before others get there. I had that luck on 8th January 2011 at Kim's Bookshop in Arundel, and bought no less than fifty-eight First Series 1:25,000 maps for £85.00 - an average of £1.47 per map. (They were asking £1.75 per map, but I got a decent 16% discount)

A secondary satisfaction is to have several editions of the same map, nicely spaced over 50 years or so, say one per decade, depicting the social and economic history of the area. It isn't necessary to have every possible edition - just enough versions of the same map to reveal the gradual changes that occur, especially in urban areas.

There is also a certain interest in having examples of different cover styles, and so on, but for me the content of the map itself is the thing.

Some of these maps survive for years in reasonable condition. The maps on cloth seem to do particularly well, and (fortunately) cloth was common before 1950. But there are many examples of maps on paper which have hardly been used. A waste of money for someone, then, as OS maps have never been cheap to purchase new.

Covers in good condition are harder to find. Even if the map within is pristine, the cover often shows the ravages of time. But almost unblemished covers do occasionally crop up: perhaps they were spare library or school copies, long kept safe in a cupboard. I have no idea what happened in the past to unsold maps in shops; nowadays some unsold stock does turn up in shops selling ‘remainders’. Any map will last indefinitely if left undisturbed on a shelf, at home or elsewhere.

For some strange reason former owners sometimes disfigure their maps with notes and marks. A small amount in the way of notes or colouring-in may be tolerable: these things can sometimes help to date the map, and are occasionally interesting in their own right. (And of course all my own maps carry a handwritten note made by myself, on the inside of the cover, giving the place and date of purchase, and in recent years my initials also: such as 'Worthing 2014 0323 LM' ) But generally, if I have a choice, I don't buy maps with marks on them.

My OS map Excel spreadsheets
These were originally HanDBase databases, completed on 17th September 2001 after having been started some months before. The main compilation effort took place in late August and early September 2001. Various details were shown, such as scale, series, sheet name, sheet number, when published, when bought and where, and the cost. Since 2008 these have all become Excel spreadsheets.

Not originally included in the databases was the map edition number or letter, but this information was added by 12th October 2001, and then always included, although by 2015 the OS were no longer indicating the edition, only the year of publication. In a new digital era of continuous updating, perhaps daily, rather than a slow cycle of revision, the concept of an 'edition' has disappeared.

Having these Excel spreadsheets - a personal mobile catalogue, carefully kept up-to-date - makes it easy to see which maps I already have. That sometimes saves me a little money by not duplicating a previous purchase. It also reveals the gaps in my collection.

I keep my maps on wooden shelving in my study. They are in competition with my collection of books. I will definitely need to buy more shelving soon! Here's a minute part of the whole:

1 comment:

  1. The Clovelly map is a real gem. It must have been quite a challenge, navigating North Devon without road numbers.


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