The pictorial map style is one of the oldest—and one of the newest!—genres of mapmaking, and also one of the most collectible.

Arguably pictorial maps appeared even in the ancient world, for example on the Madaba mosaic map, which depicts the cities and village of ancient Palestine as tiny vignettes and includes a scattering of decorative flora and fauna. Likewise medieval mappaemundi, huge maps of the world (as then known!) drawn and painted on parchment, often feature pictorial elements such as cities and towns (with Jerusalem invariably at the center), the Garden of Eden, flags and/or tents representing kingdoms, and real and imaginary animals and mythic beasts. Some of these quasi-mythic elements were retained on early printed maps; for example, the world map in Hartman Schedel’s 1493 Liber Chronicarum (aka the Nuremburg Chronicle), features in the left border images of monstrous creatures first “described” by Herodotus, tiny heads representing the Winds, and three half-length profiles of Noah’s sons Shem, Ham and Japhet.

During the 18th-19th centuries pictorial elements, without disappearing entirely, fell out of fashion among many of the leading mapmakers in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Many maps came to have a relatively “stripped-down” aesthetic focusing almost solely on geographic data, with decorative elements, if any, confined to cartouches. Consider for example this map of the British capture of New York City in 1776, this navigation chart of Plymouth Bay from the Atlantic Neptune, and this 1857 map of Texas.

The pictorial map began to re-emerge as a genre in the late 19th century, as a new stream of “popular” (lowbrow?) mapmaking, intended to educate, influence opinion or simply entertain, diverged from the tradition of “empirical” or “scientific” map making. Some of the earliest examples was the comic map of Europe issued by Paul Hadol during in 1870 and the unforgettable Porcineograph produced here in the United States. By the 1920s pictorial map making was in full swing, both in the United States and abroad, with maps appearing in books, board games, magazines, newspapers and on matchbooks, menus and stamps, as well as being separately published.

For the collector pictorial maps have at least two great advantages: First, their variety is essentially infinite, with maps produced all over the world and extending to just about every conceivable area of human interest. Second, though prices have appreciated in recent years, they remain relatively affordable: even most of the “great” pictorial maps are priced at a fraction of the cost of iconic maps of earlier periods, and most maps of the genre are accessible to collectors at just about any price point.



39 results, ordered by Publication Date

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With the first gastronomic map of France

This small volume of essays on food, food science, food culture and related topics appeared at a turning point in the history of French gastronomy. “Cadet de Gassicourt was a member of the gastronomic dining club and an avocat-turned-pharmacist who was in fact the nephew of [the chemist] Antoine Alexis Cadet de Veau. Thus he […]

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Delightful playing board for a geographic game

A charming board for a geographical game, featuring a pictorial map of Europe, the Near East, and Asia with dozens of pictorial vignettes depicting major cities, landmarks and images such as “Finlander attacking a bear” and “Perils of the whale fishery.” Neither the spinner nor the rare booklet of instructions are present, but the web […]

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Game of the Star-Spangled Banner

A scarce and iconic cartographic game. A scarce and fascinating cartographic game designed to teach British youngsters about theUnited States. The board takes the form of a pictorial map of the eastern United States and lower Canada, with a winding, numbered route identifying 147 features. Illustrated on the map are buildings, settlements, settlers, slaves, native people, […]

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Franklin Leavitt 1859 map of the White Mountains

1859 Franklin Leavitt pictorial map of the White Mountains

A wonderful 1859 pictorial map of the White Mountains from the famed series by White Mountain “character” Franklin Leavitt. By the mid-19th century the transmission of the Romantic ethos across the Atlantic, the rise of a middle class with disposable income, and the development of rail links with coastal cities transformed the White Mountains into […]

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The Porcineograph … one nation, united in pork

A triumph of the imagination with a place on my personal “top ten” list. This Porcineograph brings together in one image considerable wit, stunning design, hygienic hog farming, and post-war reconciliation between the Union and Confederacy. It is also one of the earliest American pictorial maps and a considerable rarity, particularly in such marvelous condition.  The […]

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Wonderful panorama of the Trans-Continental Railroad

A delightful promotional view-cum-pictorial-map of the Trans-Continental Railroad and its connections to Europe and Asia. This remarkable folding view, only six inches high but nearly five feet long, depicts the Trans-Continental Route from Chicago to California along the Chicago Rock Island, Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads. The extremities are compressed along the east-west axis, […]

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One of the rarest of Leavitt‘s White Mountains maps

A wonderful and very rare pictorial map of the White Mountains. The map depicts the region from Lake Winnipesaukee in the south to Berlin in the north, and from eastern Vermont all the way over to Conway. At the center, superimposed on and yet somehow integrated with the base map, is an image of the […]

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A unique example of the “Unique Map of California?”

Johnstone’s rare pictorial map of California, which blends layout, color, language, imagery and a certain amount of “spin” to yield a decorative and promotional tour de force. Here in a hitherto unknown format, folded and tipped into an illustrated card stock mailer. This remarkable promotional map depicts each California county, along with its acreage, primary […]

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Franklin Leavitt map of the White Mountains

A wonderful and scarce pictorial map by the renowned White Mountains cartographer, adventurer and poet Franklin Leavitt. By the mid-19th century the transmission of the Romantic ethos across the Atlantic, the rise of a middle class with disposable income, and the development of rail links with coastal cities transformed the White Mountains into a major […]

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A spectacular chromolithographic map of the United States

Rambles through Our Country is a simple educational game requiring players to complete a “grand tour” of the United States, as depicted on a chromolithographic pictorial map. The map bears 200 numbered stations beginning with Hartford-where the game was published-and concluding with New York City, with at least three stops in each state along the way. […]

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