Secrets to Collecting Antique Maps

Dumpdiggers collect old maps, rich in history. We believe that antique maps are a good investment as, generally speaking, they are still undiscovered among collectibles, which means they are also undervalued.

The wisdom in this post is distilled from an old book called Antique Maps – A Collector’s Handbook by Carl Moreland and David Bannister, and from a a terrific new blog called Map The Universe.

What’s a Cartouche?
Dumpdiggers believes the market for antique maps will grow stronger in the next five years as more scholars, collectors and interior decorators realize that these prints have an important historical value, and they look great in the home. The maps were necessary for the discovery of the known world, and were made beautiful with cartouches, which are the decorations found in the corners of old maps. New literature will soon emerge exploring this unique art form. Click on the picture above to study the art in more detail. Maps are primary sources of information and they preserve political anecdotes, cartographical misconceptions and stories of scientific progress. But the number one reason these items are going to spike in price is because… Old maps look great under glass on white walls in new condos. Yes and old maps look especially fine in a hallway where someone might stand and sip chardonnay while perusing their many details. Old maps on walls is a huge home decorating trend in urban condo living. Buying Maps? Beware of Internet Auctions. Antique maps on eBay tend to be cheap, but that’s because there’s more risk here and hundreds of fakes. Unless you are VERY knowledgeable, you may buy a reproduction which has been falsely advertised as an original work. The secret is to look for dealers who are also reputable members of associations like, Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America , and or the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers or the International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association .
Because the market is still so depressed, investors can actually obtain a decent ‘hallway sized’ antique map for around $200. However a better good investment might be something that’s bought today for around $1000 and graded ‘fine’ or ‘very fine’. Maps of the United States of America are more expensive than other parts of the world thanks to a strong American market for their own history and maps of their own country. In general, American maps tend to be the most desirable and the most expensive. Early American maps of Chicago, and British maps of New England colonies, and Spanish maps of Florida and New Mexico are in particularly high demand.

Antique Maps are graded by condition. Much like old books, maps are graded from “Fine,” the best grade, to “Very Good” and “Good,” and anything below “Good” would have major problems described in blunt remarks like ‘Burnt’ or ‘Molded’. Such maps can still fetch thousands of dollars depending on the importance of the cartography. Buy Maps Slowly
When buying an expensive antique map you might inquire about a one year guarantee of authenticity – this gives you twelve months to consult with experts. Respectable map dealers will let you return the map in that time period if you are not absolutely satisfied with your purchase.

Frame Maps Carefully
Only use frame shops with experience in archival framing. Materials touching your map should be acid-free and the glass should filter UV light, especially if you are going to hang your prize anywhere near a sunny window.

How to Take Care of Framed Maps
Whenever possible antiquarian maps and prints should be backed and mounted with acid-free card. It is advisable to avoid direct sunlight with all prints and maps but especially those with original colour. Damp conditions should be avoided at all costs and any signs of damp should be dealt with by a paper conservator immediately. It is recommended that unframed maps and prints should be stored in archival wallets. The Best of the Best
A fine example of a top-of-the-line American collectible map, Johann Baptist HOMANN’s Virginia, Marylandia et Carolina in America Septentrionali. Britannorum Industria Excultae Amsterdam. 1729. Colored. 19 inches X 23 inches is rare and precious.
This map shows the east coast of America from New York to Cape Fear, North Carolina. It includes both Chesapeake & Delaware Bays & shows depth soundings along the entire coastal regions & into the Bays & New York Harbor. Locates all principal counties, harbors, capes, rivers, & lakes in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina & New Jersey. Shows small block plan of Philadelphia & locates Baltimore & Baltemore County. Many Indian Territories are depicted inland. As the map shows German settlements including Governor Alexander Spotswood’s German Colony at Germana on the Rapidan River, it was thought that the map was intended to promote German immigration to America in the early 18th century. As the depth soundings indicate, the map may have been used aboard ships bringing the immigrants over to the New World. The map was first published by Johann Baptist Homann (1664-1724) in Nurnberg in 1714 & later in a number of different atlases with this example being published by R & J. Ottens in Amsterdam in 1729 in “Atlas Maior Cum Generales Omnium Totius Orbis Regnorum.” Title in lower right is surrounded by a large & highly decorative cartouche depicting a ship’s captain bartering with Indians surrounded by native vegetation & exotic animals. An armorial motif on a stone plinth is drawn in the background.

How To Find Old Dumps #2

Much like a Kung Fu sensei reminds an acolyte, ‘only by evolving beyond your greed will you ever become rich’, I used to feel the same truism applied to treasure hunters. The Dumpdiggers Handbook instructs each reader that ‘only by fostering a genuine passion for local history can you ever hope to uncover lost historical relics’. That’s a nice idea and I imagine that such a sincere passion for learning would be manifest in numerous and protracted visits to the archives, extensive copying and scrutinizing of old maps, and a great many trips spent probing forgotten heritage sites, etc. And only by eagerly learning and adopting new technologies and highly professional practices would anyone ever be able to find anything of any value… Do you believe that? It’s not true. When I asked some veteran Diggers on a particular niche discussion forum their secrets to find old dumps, myersdigger replied that it’s as easy as walking along small creeks just outside of town searching for rusty bits of metal in the shoreline. In the same thread, tigue710, a super member added that, ‘every 1/2 mile of town will have a different dumping area… a town with a population of 10,000 at the turn of the century will usually have at least 5 dumps, all the same period, and 5 is on the low end… one other thing, dont waste your time on the poor side town unless your getting older then 1890… go for the rich guy dumps’ Just as obvious as rusty junk sticking up out of the grass on the surface of the land, metal detectors with big search coils will sometimes get deep iron hits in gulches and bogs below the surface of the earth. Iron is a good historic dump indicator, and iron tools are of course present in both colonial age, and industrial age dumps. Depending on their collecting habits, some metal detectorists might also carry a five foot long ¾ inch steel rod that’s known as a privy rod. This simple probe is usually just a spring steel rod wielded to a short piece of grid pipe (which serves as a handle). The tip of the probe has a ball bearing with a girth slightly wider than the shaft. When users push this five foot long metal finger down into the earth they can feel the objects below – an experienced digger can recognize the feel of rusty metal cans or glass bottles or stones. Veterans will first puncture the earth with the probe, and then dig test pits to inspect the soil for ash and broken bits of pottery and glass.

Here is an 1878 Map of Warkworth Ontario, which happens to be my home town. When I look at the area and contemplate the locations of any would-be historic dumps, my eyes and experience lead me to the marshlands south of the letters R and T in the word Warkworth, on the bend in the river. That particular spot would fit all of the criteria for the first town dump. Warkworth was founded in the 1850’s and settled primarily by Scottish immigrants throughout the 1860s. These people didn’t make much garbage and most adults in this time period would have dumped medicine bottles and whiskey flasks in private – probably down their latrine holes.
I sometimes let my eyes wander about the farms all around the side of this old map. This is where I get real passionate about history. Right here it’s personal; these are my neighbor’s fields, and the fence rows of my childhood. This is where I fomented what has become the foundation of my knowledge on the subject of farm dumps, and that will be my next topic in this series.

Bottle Rush in Meaford – Part One

At six thirty am on Sunday November 18th 2007 the St Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto was bustling with activity. Over the antiques tables there was a buzz in the air; the pickers listened to the dealers describe the flood of stoneware coming out of the Bruce Peninsula… Somebody was digging. Gradually the story was distilled down to the very essence of the secret. ‘A bottle digger named Ace of Spades has found the oldest dump in Meaford.’
The gossip spread among Toronto’s pottery pickers like fresh pine tar on new pants. It left people wondering… who the heck is the Ace of Spades? And where the heck is Meaford?
Well of course Timbitz, who knows everyone, knows Ace personally and he knows just where all the dumps are in just about all of the historic towns in Southern Ontario… On Sunday November eighteenth Timbitz and I visited one of the oldest ports in Upper Canada. I suppose it’s fair to say we were caught up in a bottle rush and I was proud to be November digger along for the thrill of the last autumn safari. I feel privileged to be able to offer up this story as Bottle Rush in Meaford Ontario, Part One. It’s a three part adventure series that begins with a broken shovel.
Our route tripped through the very heart of Grey County, which is apple orchard country and where up to twenty five percent of Ontario’s apples are produced. November is past the peak of the harvest, but even still I could see tractors with wagons stacked high with crates full of red and yellow delicious apples, and the narrow gravel lots beside the highway markets bustled with Sunday shoppers.
In the town of Meaford, Tim stopped to buy a new shovel and I had some time to look around. On the corner of the hardware store I saw a signs for something called a Scarecrow Invasion, which is a weeklong event that precedes the Apple Craft Show and Quilt Auction in late September. I remember reading about that bizarre municipal marketing event in a Toronto Star article last year – those darn scarecrows were everywhere; on mailboxes, front porches, balconies and storefronts – the whole town went scarecrow crazy.
Before the village incorporated into the town of Meaford in 1874 it was called Peggy’s Landing in honour of a particularly charismatic pioneer. I would be interested to know if Peggy was a man or a woman. I suspect she was a man.
Situated on Georgian Bay, Meaford’s harbour was the center of industry and commerce, with its earliest saw mills and later factories being built close to water transport – a one day’s wagon ride south to the area’s largest markets.
An active trade developed around Georgian Bay after 1850 with fishing settlements along the shore. By 1855 a small set of locks was constructed at Sault Ste. Marie opening Lake Superior to small craft. In addition to steamers, there were dozens of schooners and small sailboats on the lakes. There were four famous steam ships in Meaford’s golden age; the names Algoma, Clifton, Ploughboy, Kaloola sound off in many local stories.
BRIEFING: In the truck Tim spelled out the particulars of the scenario. We were on our way to meet this self professed ‘Ace of Spades’, who came to Tim’s attention earlier in the summer when he sold two big crocks on eBay. Since then Tim has watched him like a hawk and even swooped down on a few superb Ontario ginger beers. Ace of Spades has been selling stoneware from all across the top of southern Ontario and recently vended a rare Thompson gingerbeer from as far away as Kingston.
But who is the Ace of Spades? I ask, unable to take the suspense any longer….
The Ace of Spades is an ex Canadian infantry soldier named Jason Hayder; he’s a full time dumpdigger with two kids in a nearby small town. His wife teaches at a nearby beauty school. Like any lucky strike he wasn’t looking for it – he was just walking his dog along the wetland trails outside of Meaford when he spotted a cork top cobalt blue milk of magnesia bottle in the mud. That was six months ago. Jason started digging full time in the summer and struck a serious goody vein in August – he sold some spectacular stuff on eBay just last Saturday night.
Jason Hayder is a remarkable fellow and I liked him the first moment I laid eyes on him. He’s a digger with a heart of gold and his passion is as wide as his eyes and he digs too fast when he gets excited.
The three of us piled into Tim’s truck and the tour continued through the industrial backside of Meaford. We were off the beaten track
‘Okay park here’ Jason said. ‘Don’t worry. You won’t get a ticket here’. Tim looked at me and laughed. There was no doubt about that – we were in the middle of nowhere with no buildings in sight.
Each of us shouldering gym bags full of fresh clothing, lunch, and two large blimps full of water – and on top of that load we each carried at least one digging implement. With Jason in the lead we hiked for about a quarter mile through scrub brush and cow pasture on the edge of town to approach the site from the west, through one fence and over another older barricade.
In a jungle of wild rhubarb, not far from a babbling brook and within sight of Georgian Bay we came upon the secret spot that Jason Hayder had found six months earlier. His digging had now pockmarked the terrain with craters lined with broken glass bottles and pottery fragments. As we walked he remembered his pontiled prizes and pointed to the places where he had found them. ‘I forked out two blue Underwood inks there, and I got some milks and a nice amber pumpkinseed whiskey under that tree… etc’
‘Where do you reckon we should dig today Jason?’ Tim strolled about looking for angles into fresh dump and I marveled at the quality of some of the hackers lying forlorn on the sides of the dirt piles.
‘I’ve been working up this end’ Jason said as he disappeared behind a wall of wild rhubarb and only after I followed did I see the knoll that was to be the day’s dig zone. It was already partially excavated and Jason was quick to describe the fruit sealer jar inscribed The Rose that he had found in this very cavity.
Tim interrupted and took command of the situation when he stepped into the hole. He immediately began picking away at the top crust of the existing hole to widen the working area. After scraping off the grass and six inches of topsoil, and then smashing down the hard gravel strewn crust below that, the brown loam of the dump appeared on all of our shovels.
“Oh its close boys’ Jason said gleefully as he attacked the ground with his long handled shovel. ‘I sometimes find medicines and amber pill jars right below this black ash so keep an eye out.’
END of PART ONE
On November 18th 2007, while digging the oldest dump in Meaford Ontario with the Ace of Spades and Timbits, Roberrific found several 1920’s relics in the first ten minutes of the excavation, and some serious prizes four feet below, in the 1880’s Meaford dump.

The Quest in Campbellford Ontario

About this time last summer a digger named Little Hole went looking for Campbellford’s first municipal dump. He found it. And although it had been probed by other diggers, to his surprise it was still full of gingerbeers and early Canadian glass.

The survey map above was made in 1878 and shows Campbellford as a thriving settlement on both sides of the Trent River. Notice the black dashed line that bisects the image? That’s the proposed railway line which was to be built two years later in 1880…. That railroad line was moved south and Little Hole used this map to help find the treasures documented in this article – finding the real railway line was the key to finding the 1885 town dump.

X marks the spot! Little Hole found the place outside anyone’s thoughts or perception, but still inside the actual town of Campbellford. Here beneath his shovel was a (mostly) virgin dump and Little Hole could only imagine the historic treasures it might contain…

Little Hole immediately called for some help sinking a hole. And I of course embraced the challenge – like a borrowing rodent I moved dump.

We spent evenings and weekends at the site all summer long, and really came to know the place. The Campbellford 1885 town dump is in fact many dumps, spread out over about fifty years time. Under three feet of nondescript ash and dirt, there were about a dozen well stratified layers of trash. Each of these pockets is a period in time. Each can tell the story of the community, to anyone willing to listen. Every relic unearthed is another sentence in the chronology of Campbellford’s existence.

The pearl ash in the stratigraphy is from two major sources – very hot fires both here at the dump, and the population of the town produces furnace ashes – which was also mixed with lime and used as road paving material. Some of this ash could be road paving that’s been removed. Up until the early 1900’s the streets in Campbellford were ‘paved’ in hard packed potash made by settlers burning hardwood trees while clearing their land.


Little Hole, who collects 1800’s Ontario ginger beers bottles found this rare and special treasure on a hot night in late August. Here he is on site holding a mint James Thompson ginger beer bottle from nearby Hamilton Ontario.

August 17th 2006 was a very special day. On that day Little Hole and myself, Rob Campbell hit a big pocket of well preserved ginger beer bottles, and lots of rare whiskys and sodas. It was the mother-of-all goodie veins and we diggers chased it down, under a tree, right to the very bottom of the dump.

Before ‘flipping for picks’ (like most dumpdiggers we flip a coin to see keeps what) we lined up our symphony of dug relics to collectively admire the hoard.

Pic of the Picks The Quest in Campbellford Ontario culminated in the best cache to which I’ve ever contributed. Little Hole snapped this photo late in the afternoon and I love the patches of light on the trees in the swamp behind the dump.


The whiskeys, inks, medicines and ginger beer bottles recovered here were waiting in the earth for almost one hundred and twenty years.