From wall art to wallet fattener: The world of old maps

When I was a kid, I loved old maps — there was something incredibly evocative about imagining how people of a bygone era lived, comparing the streets of then to the streets of now. It felt like the closest thing I had to a time machine. 

I had three prints of wood-block carvings of medieval German towns on my bedroom wall, right next to my giant The Man Who Fell to Earth poster and Farrah Fawcett. (I may have been a nerd but I was still a teenage boy.) They looked very similar to this beautiful one of Heidelberg.

I got to thinking about those prints when I saw this piece on Antiques Roadshow about a gorgeous Galt & Hoy map of New York City from 1879. Imagine the amount of research (before photography was widespread), the amount of drafting work to create something this detailed. It really puts you in a time when the Brooklyn Bridge was still under construction, when the tallest building was just eighteen stories.

Only a handful of these maps survive and, spoiler alert, they're each worth an astounding $40k to $60k! 

Sadly, my prints from my bedroom wall are each worth about $10 bucks.

See also: Mapologies is a website full of interesting cultural and linguistic maps