Three "Old-School" Dealers & a Book Summary on Abraham Ortelius

Good Things Come in Threes   by Eliane Dotson

It started out with a phone call from Luke Vavra of Cartographic Arts, who had finally decided to retire and wanted to consign the majority of his remaining stock with Old World Auctions.  As a dealer for 40 years, Luke had amassed one of the best collections of early Virginia maps, plans of DC, and charts of the Atlantic ocean of any US dealers.  Of course being in Virginia ourselves, we knew that his material was both a great fit for our auction house, and would also prove to be a pleasure to catalog.  Often with large collections we split the material among multiple auctions to ensure that we don't over-index in any one particular geography, however this collection felt different.  We decided that Luke's material was a perfect candidate for a special auction.

But there was one thing that was nagging us: diversity.  Our customer base is very diverse, as are their collecting interests.  As Luke's collection was heavily focused on North American material, we knew we needed additional items to round out the sale.  So we pondered: Who could supply additional maps for this special sale to generate broader appeal?  It made sense for it to be another dealer (or two), who had enough stock to spare 150 maps or so, and who wasn't as focused on the New World.  And it was important to us that we select a dealer of the same caliber as Luke Vavra - in the business since the "old days" and well-respected in the map community.  At map fairs, in taxi cabs, and over drinks and dinners, Jon and I have developed relationships with some amazing dealers over the years.  And two names popped into my mind: Jonathan Potter and Steve Luck.  So I called them up and they both agreed to "give it a go."

Who are these dealers, you ask?  Oh you should know; really you should.  But in case you don't, I'll share a little about their backgrounds.
Henricus Hondius, America Septentrionalis, c. 1639.  Rare first state of one of the most important maps perpetuating the myth of the Island of California.
Thackara & Vallance, Plan of the City of Washington, 1792.  The first printed plan of Washington.
Luke Vavra, Cartographic Arts

Luke Vavra began his career in the army and served in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.  He studied the theory of guided missiles and spent six years teaching and operating the Army's guided missiles.  During his career, Luke used maps almost daily, and had even learned to survey and make maps while earning his degree at the University of Utah.  So it was no surprise when he and his wife, Patricia, founded Cartographic Arts in 1976, selling maps, globes, and scientific instruments related to using and making maps.  He began his business while still active in the service and wasn't able to invest much time into the map business until he retired in 1979.  After retirement, he also began working as an engineer for a defense contractor in 1982, doing double-duty along with his map business.  Having moved to Virginia on an army assignment in 1973, Luke developed an interest in early maps of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay and began collecting the derivatives of John Smith's map of Virginia.  He was also drawn to plans of Washington, DC, due to his proximity to the city and his interest in its development.

Luke expanded his inventory in part through buying trips in London, visiting Jonathan Potter and Steve Luck on occasion to meticulously sift through their material.  After purchasing a 1786 edition of "Transactions of the American Philosophical Society," which included a letter and chart of the Gulf Stream by Benjamin Franklin, Luke became interested in learning more about the gulf stream and expanded his map stock to include charts of the Atlantic Ocean.  Having been involved with maps for many years, Luke noticed a significant change after Graham Arader entered the map trade in the mid-1970s.  Arader commanded "outstanding prices" for his maps, thereby establishing value and solidifying antique maps as a viable category within collectibles.  This move also encouraged collectors both to invest in maps and to sell their maps on the market.  Luke also notes the impact that the internet has had on the map trade, in terms of increasing both the availability of maps and information related to maps.  As a result, many maps have "come out of the woodwork" as individuals are able to access information about their map's worth and to find an appropriate outlet for selling.

In addition to operating Cartographic Arts, Luke also spent 10 years as a volunteer cataloger for the Virginia Historical Society, the fourth oldest historical society in the nation.  He cataloged several hundred maps during his tenure, including many from the Paul Mellon collection, bequeathed to the society in 1999.  He continued his business in earnest until the passing of his wife in 2010.  Now that Luke is fully embracing his retirement, he is going back to his earliest hobby, stamp collecting, with a focus on German stamps.

Jonathan Potter, Jonathan Potter Ltd.

Jonathan Potter began collecting maps as a teenager, while frequenting the stalls of London's Portobello Road with his parents on Saturday mornings.  In 1970 he turned his hobby into a job by accepting a position at The Map House (then known as Sifton Praed).  At the time, The Map House was a leading supplier of modern maps and guidebooks, but "had just one and a half plan chests with old maps and the directors were keen to expand that aspect of business."  Expand they did, and in 1976 Jonathan Potter (Antique Maps) Ltd was incorporated.  In the early 1970s there were no map societies, map fairs, and very few reference books on antiquarian maps; they were seen "as an adjunct to the antiquarian book trade."  However by the mid 1970s, map dealers began setting up shops in London, which spurred a number of general reference works and cartobibliographies to be published in the subsequent 10-15 years.  In 1980-81 both the International Map Collectors' Society and the London Map Fair were founded - the first of their kind.  (Today dozens of map societies and a handful of annual map fairs can be found all over the world.)
Jonathan's business continued to grow, both in size and reputation, over the years.  He believes that his success is due to several factors.  He maintains a wide variety of high quality material at many price points, so that there is "something for everyone."  Due to his experience in the trade, he can guarantee that the maps are "properly identified and with condition and colour correctly described."  Jonathan also treats every enquiry with the same approach and consideration, whether they derive from his shop, fairs, or his website.  Undoubtedly his success is also due in part to his book, "Collecting Antique Maps: An Introduction to the History of Cartography," which was first published in 1988 and remains today one of the most approachable and informative general reference works in the map world.  As a result, Jonathan has had the opportunity to serve customers from all walks of life, including Chilean General Augustin Pinochet and Margaret Thatcher, who purchased a map as a gift for Ronald Reagan.
Blaeu, Lectori S. Hunc Borysthenis Tractum ut ad Nostrum Geographiae Tabulam…, c. 1635.  Blaeu's strip-map of the Dnieper River.
And what does Jonathan foresee in the future?  In his own words: "The increasing number of younger map enthusiasts now visiting shops and fairs indicates that, after a relatively flat period for the trade around 2010, the market is picking up.  Another interesting factor is the number of younger dealers and second-career participants now exhibiting at fairs in a serious and committed way."  In his view, although perhaps the "collecting mentality" has changed over the years, a new generation of buyers has moved into the market.  Only time will tell how the new and old sellers will be able to cater to the ever-evolving map world.
Ptolemy/Fries, Tabula VI. Asiae, 1535.  One of the earliest obtainable maps of Arabia.
Steve Luck, Tooley Adams & Co.

Steve Luck was a ski instructor in the French Alps, with a love of travel and thrills, when the opportunity to join the map business presented itself.  And believe it or not, the map world offered both travel and thrills back then.  Within his first few months on the job, Steve recalls being sent to an auction in Germany to bid on some items, including a four-volume Blaeu atlas (which was worth nearly as much as a house at the time).  He explains, "It was extremely exciting - the travel, the history of geography.  The environment was so different at that time.  It was a wilder place to be than it is today."  Steve was introduced to the map business by his step-father, Douglas Adams, one of the founders of Tooley Adams & Co.  Douglas Adams and Steve partnered with Ronald Vere Tooley to start the business in 1982.  Tooley, who was Adams' step-father, helped propel the map trade in the 1950s and became known as the "Grand Old Man of Maps."  Tooley was at the forefront of the map trade beginning in the 1920s, and is largely credited with introducing the practice of breaking atlases and selling the map sheets individually.  This practice expanded the potential base of customers by offering more affordable material, thereby popularizing map collecting.  Tooley is also well-known for authoring numerous indispensable reference books that can be found on nearly every map dealer's bookshelves still today.  After Tooley and Adams passed away in 1986 and 2004, respectively, Steve became the sole proprietor of Tooley Adams & Co.

Over the years, Steve has noticed changes in the map business, some due to the evolution of the trade, and some due to global and technological changes.  Back then the map trade was more sociable, with many more deals going on behind the scenes or "over a pint."  The world felt bigger, travel was easier, and there seemed to be more opportunities.  Over time, due in part to the advent of the internet, the ability to find something unique has diminished.  Today's map trade is much quieter, more formal, and perhaps a bit more calculated.  Despite these changes, Steve still enjoys the history and geography - looking at maps and reading about them and researching them.  And he realizes that having been in the trade for so many years, he has advantages over many of his newer competitors.  The more experienced dealers work on their memory and their gut instinct; they can make quick, calculated decisions on whether to buy or sell something, and for how much.  Their deep knowledge gives them an edge, and makes buyers more comfortable buying from them.  And of course being associated with the name "Tooley" doesn't hurt.
Speed/Lamb, A New Description of Carolina, c. 1676.  Speed's map of the Carolinas based upon the Lords Proprietor's map.
Jaillot/Mortier, Carte Particuliere de Virginie, Maryland, Pennsilvanie, la Nouvelle Iarsey. Orient et Occidentale, 1700.  One of the most beautiful charts of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.
What their backgrounds don't tell you is that these three men are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  They are kind, honest, genuine people who really, really love maps.  And they love to talk about and teach others about maps.  If you ever run into one of them at a map fair, or happen upon Jonathan or Steve's shops in the UK, please introduce yourself.  They are all worth knowing.

Our special June auction, which we're calling our "Across the Pond" sale, is really a celebration of over 100 collective years in the map business.  There will be unique items, old favorites, and a little something for everyone.  This special auction will feature around 450 items from geographies all over the world and will only run for one week, so mark your calendars: June 15-22, 2016.
If you would like to share a comment on this article,
please head to our Facebook page.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) Life, Works, Sources, and Friends

If you've been collecting maps for a while, then you know the name Abraham Ortelius, one of the most prominent cartographers of the sixteenth century and the creator of the first modern atlas.  And if you collect Ortelius maps, then you likely know the name Marcel van den Broecke, the foremost expert on Ortelius and his maps.  Van den Broecke's first book, Ortelius Atlas Maps, is an essential cartobibliography for the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum and all of the maps within it.  We never catalog a map from the Theatrum without referencing van den Broecke's book.  In this new reference work, published in 2015, Van den Broecke has taken his knowledge of Ortelius to the next level, describing Ortelius the man and his works outside of the Theatrum.
In this book you will learn about who Ortelius was as a person, his beliefs and observations, his friends, and his career.  You will also find, for the first time, several of his works translated into English and detailed descriptions of his separately published single-and multi-sheet maps.  Below is a brief summary of this new book, as shared by Marcel van den Broecke.

Ortelius’ biography is not presented chronologically, because little to nothing is known about his first 30 years except that he had two sisters (one of whom married a Flemish man and went with him to England) and had a son called Jacob Cools that would be the favourite of Ortelius.  Rather, within the "Life" section of this book, Ortelius is described in detail with respect to over a dozen subjects that were close to his heart, as evidenced by his own writing. 
One key topic, for instance, is religion.  He abhorred the protestant iconoclasts just as vehemently as the Spanish inquisition, but was very tolerant to people from distant countries that had never been influenced by Christianity.  Thus, on his 8-sheet Asia map he describes a Mongolian tribe of Camul:
"The inhabitants of this region are amazingly hospitable, so much that to travellers they surrender their own home, leaving their wives and daughters behind for whoever to share their bridal bed, and donate to them all they need to live in luxury. And they do not return until the travellers have left, persuading themselves that their gods will be more positively disposed because of their hospitality."
Ortelius' strength in languages was important throughout his career.  As a result of his studies, he spoke and wrote in Dutch, French, Latin, Italian, and German, and read Greek, Spanish and Portuguese.  His collection of around 4000 books and 6000 maps was unsurpassed at this time by any other private individual.
His travels are described in detail, but also the observations he made during his numerous travels to Germany and France, as well as his beloved Italy via Austria or Switzerland. Ortelius’ earnings came first from his sales of loose maps, which often consisted of more than one sheet, and then from entire world atlases beginning in 1570, the first of their kind.  His works were financed by himself and made him a wealthy man, enabling him to move to bigger and bigger houses to hold all his belongings.  Other topics discussed are his views on national characteristics, the state of medicine and health, sexuality, and miracles.  Ortelius also shared his observations on the state of natural sciences with regards to oceanography, magnetism, skin colour, fish, and birds.  The section on "Life" ends with all portraits ascribed to him, including paintings, sculptures, medals, and even the frontispiece to his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
In the second part of the book his "Works" are discussed in detail.  Included are specifics on his loose maps (often multi-sheet), the engraving characteristics of his atlas maps, and textual details from the backsides of the maps.  The verso texts testify to Ortelius’ intimate knowledge of the regions discussed, based either on his own experience as a traveller or on books to be found in his massive library.  In addition to his atlases, he also wrote a booklet called Aurei Saeculi Imago, a positive depiction of the Germans, unconquered by the Romans, which has been translated into English for the first time in this book.
Ortelius’ handbooks on Geography, first included in his world atlas, soon outgrew it in size, and was first issued as a separate booklet of some 400 quarto pages in 1578, renamed Synonymia Geographica.  It was reissued in 1587 as a small folio of about 600 pages entitled Thesaurus Geographicus, and finally in 1596 in a large folio with 650 pages.
Many of the coins Ortelius owned stem from Roman times, both for the consular times as that of the emperors. They are discussed here for the first time, and depicted whenever possible.  Such coins also appear on the front side of Parergon maps, (literally side work), a section added in 1579 to his world atlas showing and describing countries in classical times.
The third section of the books relates to Ortelius' "Friends," who were an important factor in his life.  One influential friend was Gerard Mercator, whom Ortelius met for the first time at the book fair in the spring of 1555 in Frankfurt. They immediately became friends for the rest of their lives, despite the fact that Mercator moved to Duisburg soon after. One reason for their mutual respect was that each was an expert in his own right. Mercator engraved all his maps and globes himself, whereas Ortelius was a capable colourist when he started his career and also a linguist.  On top of that, Ortelius was his own publisher, which eventually brought him a fortune, whereas Mercator hardly managed to make ends meet most of the time.  But Ortelius trusted Mercator’s geographical insights better than his own, and when the South-West coast of South America was drawn with a protuberance, Ortelius was quick to adopt this on his own maps of the world and the Americas.  It took Ortelius 17 years to correct this mistake, because his trust in Mercator was very strong.  In turn Ortelius helped Mercator with place names in the 1582 Ptolemy atlas, as gratefully memorized by Mylius, their mutual friend.  A special section within the bibliography gives extensive information on the relationship between Ortelius and Mercator.
The book has 379 pages, 293 b/w illustrations, weighs 5 lbs., and contains a DVD.  The book is hardbound in dark green cloth with gilt titling and an illustrated dust jacket.  Included on the DVD are: Ortelius’ Deorum Dearumque Capita (1582) showing 56 heads of gods and goddesses as they occur on Roman coins previous to the Roman Emperors with identifications; the Album Amicorum consisting of about 126 pages in handwriting in a variety of languages, translated for the first time into English; a 500-page list of Ortelius’ sources and friends, described shortly, discussing their relation with Ortelius; and the first English translation of Ortelius’ Itinerarium, a description of a journey on foot in 1575 from Antwerp via Liège to Luxemburg, Nancy, Metz, and via Trier ending in Koblenz.
To keep the price of the book down, Marcel van den Broecke has followed Ortelius’ example of being his own publisher.  The book may be ordered directly from his website:

Please note that Old World Auctions does not receive any financial incentive for purchases of any of Marcel van den Broecke's books.  Van den Broecke did send OWA a free copy of this new book; however we have only included this summary of the book because we believe it is an excellent scholarly work that would be of interest to many OWA customers.