X marks the spot…

Can ancient maps really lead you to buried treasure? Invest wisely and they may well prove worth their weight in gold, reports Linda Whitney

If you find returns on savings and investments leave you with nowhere to go, it could pay to look at a map.

Investing in antique maps is becoming more popular as those looking where to put their money – and fed up with lacklustre financial returns – opt for alternative investments.

“Increasing numbers of people are telling us that they are buying antique maps because they are disillusioned by financial investments,” says John Trevers, maps specialist at auctioneer Dominic Winters.

As with all alternative investments, there is no guarantee that buying antique maps will prove profitable, but there are parts of the market that seem to be rising and others that usually offer steady returns.

Cheap thrill: a John Ogilby map such as this could cost less than £100

And unlike many antique artworks of similar age, maps are still available for under £100.

Talking point

Road maps by John Ogilby, the first cartographer to map the British road system, are going for about £75 at auction, according to Trevers. Published in 1675-76, these depict the roads as ongoing lines with details of turn-offs, settlements, rivers, bridges, hills and even the kind of land, such as heath or forest, that travellers could see beside the road.

“Prices for these maps have not moved in 20 years,” says Trevers. So unless fashions change, prices may not rise, but they will always be a talking point.

Antique maps of the English counties are always in demand, however, so their prices have been rising steadily for some time.

The most sought-after are maps of areas with high populations of wealthy residents or second homes, such as Surrey, London, Devon and Cornwall.

“These go for over £1,000 at auction,” says Trevers.

Less popular counties such as Rutland or Flintshire are likely to be cheaper, while counties that are currently attracting new, wealthy residents, such as Lincolnshire, may be a good investment for the future.

Look for work by the great cartographers such as John Speed, whose first edition of the maps of English counties was printed in 1611. Another name to look for is Christopher Saxton, the first cartographer to map the English counties. The first edition was printed in 1579, and mid-range examples go for about £5,000 at auction.

Other cartographers to look for are Joannes Blaeu and Jan Jansson, who produced British county maps. “If you had bought any maps by these cartographers in the 1970s, you would have doubled your money by today,” says Trevers.

Curious cartography

Also appreciating in value are large-scale maps published in the 17th and 18th centuries which were commonly bound in books or mounted on folded linen and covered in slip cases. Popular counties and cities fetch the highest prices, which have doubled for these kinds of maps over the past 10 to 15 years.

Some collectors prefer curiosities, such as the maps of Michael Drayton. Drayton, a friend of Shakespeare, is best known as a poet but in 1612 he published the Poly- Olbion, or Chorographical Description of all the Tracts, Rivers, Mountains, Forests and other parts of the Renowned Isle of Great Britain. As well as songs, it contained his distinctive and fantastical maps.

Various regions are depicted, but with scant attention to accuracy. The maps tend to concentrate on the woods and rivers, and are decorated with naked nymphs and goddesses. Shepherds stand on hills, while cities are marked by pictures of well-dressed people with spires and castle buildings on their heads.

There be treasure

If you are interested in making the move into buying, always buy maps in the best condition you can afford and, if hung, make sure they’re kept out of direct sunlight.

Remember there are no guarantees, so the golden rule of alternative investment applies: buy something you like. That way, even if your map does not appreciate in value, you still have something to treasure.