How to detect a fake old map from an authentic old map

Very popular old maps are fetching very high prices on the auction block, because of this, many fakes have turned up, as well as numerous copies of these maps. Map reproductions are worth nothing regardless of what the seller tells you. We will give you some tips to distinguish a fake old map from a real old map.

Let’s first talk about copies, forgeries and reproductions of old maps. Cartographers have copied each other’s maps for centuries and improved them too. These old maps can be valuable as they were made when the information they contained was valid and useful. They are genuine historical documents.

However, recent copies of old maps that represent geographic information from centuries past are made with the intention of offering decoration and sometimes historical information to their buyers. The value of these map reproductions is often marketed to unaware customers, claiming that the copy is of a rare map or that it is made with some fancy printing technique. The truth is that a copy of a rare map is not rare, it is the original map that is rare. The copy is worthless and the same goes for the elegant print.

Here are some ways to spot a fake old map:

1. Color maps were hand-colored before the 1850s. With a magnifying glass, take a close look at the color. If you see a matrix of small and even overlapping dots, then you have a map made after the 20th century. Your map may say it’s from the 17th century, for example, but the presence of these dots means it wasn’t made until after the 20th century. It’s a copy.

2. Old maps were mostly engraved on metal plates upside down so they could be printed. When printed, the pressure of the press and its etched plate on the paper leaves a “plate mark” or indentation around the map. If you have a plate mark on your map, be sure to look around to see if anything was printed beyond the plate mark. If there is printed material spilling beyond the plate mark, it is fake.

3. Hold the map up to the light to look at the paper. Most maps made before the 1820s were made on handmade paper. This paper was made by artisans who used a wire mesh to hold the paper pulp. This wire mesh leaves a visible grid called “chain links” that are visible against a strong light source. Paper manufacturers often had a watermark to identify themselves that is sometimes visible on larger maps. If you don’t have chain links on a map dating to the 1820s or earlier, then you have a reproduction of the map.

4. Most of the old maps were taken from old atlases, so there is often a crease in the middle of the map. This fold is where the map was bound in the book. Also the atlas maps are worn from use in the corners, especially in the upper or lower right corners. This is where most people would turn the pages. If your map doesn’t have a center crease or looks too new, it probably is.

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