This year’s London Map Fair took place at the Royal Geographical Society on June 16th and 17th. If you follow my Tweets and Facebook ramblings (or spotted my name on the London Map Fairs website) you’ll know that I’m one of fair organisers, along with fellow mapsellers Massimo de Martini and Rainer Voigt. It’s the largest specialist map fair in Europe, and on those two days in June there isn’t another place on earth where one could find so many original antique maps gathered for sale under one roof. The RGS has the ideal roof too, with distinguished explorers from Cook to Burton keeping a watchful eye from the canvasses which line the walls. I normally blog about the antique maps themselves rather than the trade, but now that the dust is starting to settle (and I’m finally catching up on lost sleep) I thought a quick round-up of this year’s fair might be of interest. If you missed it this year, come next time. Excellent press coverage contributed to a surge in visitor numbers, which were up by an astonishing 38%. The fair has never been so busy, and although average sales were slightly down on last year (hardly surprising), the general public accounted for 39% of the take and softened the effect of cautious buying by the trade.
Calm before the opening. Kevin primed and ready for the first wave …
… which looked something like this. One of the best things about the fair in its current location is that every year I’ve been able to sell someone their first map. It’s the same logic behind having a ground floor shop. Maps are intrinsically interesting - really - but it’s hard to get a sense of what’s really out there through online searches alone, and nothing beats face-to-face conversations with people who know their onions, and know them with a passion. As well as a concentration of maps, the fair is a concentration of expertise: exhibitors and visiting trade, curators and collectors from all corners of the world. An ideal place to dip a toe in the water.
The fair was again full to capacity with 37 leading international dealers and three other related stands. We were pleased to provide a stand to IMCoS, as always, and for the first time the RGS itself had a presence, and a special map fair membership offer. The lecture on London’s lost or (more properly) hidden rivers by our guest speaker Stephen Myers was deservedly well attended, as was the usual ‘House’ tour of the RGS itself and the series of informal talks on beginning a map collection by dealer and author Ashley Baynton-Williams, an innovation which we hope to repeat.
In lieu of anything better, here’s a really bad photo of a cross section of the audience, waiting for Stephen’s talk to begin. Stephen is a professional water engineer, and he has used his technical expertise to inform his reading of archaeological and literary source material - including maps - as well as carrying out his own on-site surveys. We heard some remarkable new insights into the original courses of London’s rivers (Tyburn, Fleet etc) and their role in the development of the city. He has identified a completely new, western branch of the Walbrook and, in the archives of the Charterhouse, he located the original pipeline diagram made by the mediaeval Cistercian monks who drained it; their need for fresh water (having built their monastery on a plague pit) had far reaching consequences, including the draining of the marsh north of Moorgate. Buy his book, ‘Walking on Water’; I read it cover-to-cover. Many exhibitors commented on the number of younger people at the fair, often buying their first map or maps. Articles in the Financial Times, Observer and The Times undoubtedly helped to raise awareness of the fair. We had overseas coverage in periodicals such as the Italian Vanity Fair, a spot on Monocle Radio and coverage in online journals such as Fine Books Magazine, but perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the online activity were the numbers of private individuals, unconnected with the fair, who were sharing plans to visit the fair and details of their purchases on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Heads down, browsing, by Garwood & Voigt’s stand.
The next London Map fair is scheduled to take place on the weekend of 8-9 June 2013. As always there will be thousands of maps, charts, plans, atlases and globes, printed between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries, covering all regions of the world and priced to suit all pockets, from £10 to £100,000; one still doesn’t have to be among the super-rich to start a collection, which is why there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ map collector. Come along.
Words can’t express my relief that the rain held off. Here’s a rare early c.19 library globe being loaded up after the fair. You see why I was worried.
ABA President Laurence Worms wrote a glowing account from a visitor’s perspective on his President on Safari blog