Brave New World

3rd October 2019

A discarded map that was dropped off at a charity shop in what’s been described as “a shocking state” has sold at auction for £3,500.

The map was left at a London branch of Oxfam, where staff discovered it in a broken frame and soaking wet. Kitchen towel was used to absorb the worst of the water and dry the map off before it was shown to the charity’s in-house valuer, who recognised it as a 17th century map by renowned maker, John Speed.

Valuer, Shelley Hitch, then brought the map to Woolley and Wallis where Works of Art specialist, Mark Yuan-Richards, confirmed her suspicions. Titled ‘A New and Accurat [sic] Map of the World’, but depicting California as an island, the map dates to around 1626 and was one of Speed’s last big projects before his death in 1629.

“This is a rare map and highly desirable to collectors, but it was also in a poor condition and stained from damp,” said Yuan-Richards. “Anyone who has ever tried to dry out paper will also recognise the ‘cockling’ which occurs when it refuses to dry flat.”

Given its poor state the auctioneers placed a conservative estimate of £400-600 on the map, which was soon overturned by strong bidding among collectors and dealers. The map eventually sold to an American buyer for a hammer price of £3,500 – all of which will go to benefit Oxfam, as Woolley and Wallis waives its selling charges for charities.

“There is a strong market in the United States for anything that pre-dates or relates to the discovery of modern America,” said Yuan-Richards. “The fact that the North American coastline is inaccurate based on what we know today gives a fascinating insight into how cartography developed through exploration and the establishment of trade routes.”

Cheshire born John Speed started life as a tailor, following in the footsteps of his father, and only turned to cartography relatively late in his life. His talents were such that Elizabeth I granted him the use of a room in the Custom House for his work, and his maps continued to form the basis of all world maps until the mid 18th century and beyond. Today they are highly prized as collectors’ items, with the rarest examples selling for large sums.

Valuer for Oxfam, Shelley Hitch, is delighted that expectations for the map were exceeded to such an extent. “Luckily our staff recognised the potential age of the map when it was dropped off,” she said. “It was in such a shabby state that it could easily have been thrown away, but the careful way it was dried means that despite its poor treatment it has raised a tremendous amount for Oxfam and gone to someone who will truly appreciate it for what it is.”

The map was sold on 2nd October as part of the Furniture, Works of Art and Clocks sale. More details here

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