Collectable and quirky cartography at the London Map Fair

Rarities from the past 600 years will be on sale at the event, hosted by the Royal Geographical Society

One of Thomas Onwhyn’s satirical depictions of Europe, £25,000 for the pair
One of Thomas Onwhyn’s satirical depictions of Europe, £25,000 for the pair

The wood-panelled walls of South Kensington’s Royal Geographical Society will provide an appropriate setting for Europe’s largest antique map fair on June 17-18, with highly collectable (and highly quirky) cartography from the past six centuries on offer alongside a range of expert talks on the wisest ways to buy.

c1928 Wonderground map of London by Leslie MacDonald Gill, £3,000
c1928 Wonderground map of London by Leslie MacDonald Gill, £3,000

Around 40 sellers will be exhibiting at the London Map Fair, with rarities including the only known surviving example of a second world war map showing the secret postal system operated by Yugoslavian partisans in western Slovenia (€8,500 from Antiquariat Daša Pahor), and a 1579 first edition of the English County Atlas (£125,000 from Clive A Burden) produced by Christopher Saxton, which numbers the earls of Sutherland and dukes of Marlborough among its previous owners.

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Some of the maps take a turn towards the surreal, such as the pair from the 1850s (£25,000 from Maphouse) that satirise the change in attitudes between the start and end of the Crimean War. Designed by Thomas Onwhyn, who is credited with inventing this type of satirical cartography, the maps feature countries shaped like animals, people and objects – and the toll the war has exacted is clear: the rampant Russian bear ends up chained, while the now-weary British lion wears an eyepatch.

A 1926 map of Britain setting out the territories claimed by different newspapers, £7,500
A 1926 map of Britain setting out the territories claimed by different newspapers, £7,500

A first world war continuation of the theme (£1,950 from Angelika C J Friebe) has even more impact, with the countries all depicted as men. France and Germany are engaged in fisticuffs, and Britain is a sword-wielding Highlander leaping down upon them.

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Other notables include a c1680 depiction of the Holy Roman Empire (£3,500 from Angelika C J Friebe) and a 1926 plan of Britain setting out the territories claimed by different newspapers (£7,500 from Altea Antique Maps & Charts), but perhaps the most fun is Leslie MacDonald Gill’s vibrant c1928 Wonderground map of London (£3,000 from Altea Antique Maps & Charts), which is full of quirky details such as a giraffe stretching out from the zoo and a real serpent in place of the Serpentine. The legend on it sums up the fair’s philosophy: “The heart of Britain's empire here is spread out for your view. It shows you many stations and bus routes not a few. You have not the time to admire it all? Why not take a map home to pin on your wall!”

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