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

Available for purchase

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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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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Dodd, RAMBLES THROUGH OUR COUNTRY. AN INSTRUCTIVE GEOGRAPHICAL GAME FOR THE YOUNG. Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1881 or a bit later.

Rambles Through Our Country … a spectacular pictorial map of the United States

An early and spectacular example of American pictorial mapping, Rambles through Our Country is a simple educational game requiring players to complete a “grand tour” of the United States. The game is played on a board featuring a spectacular chromolithographic map of the United States. The map bears 200 numbered stations beginning with Hartford—where the […]

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No longer available

First printed map of Assinine Atoll

A crazed poster of “Assinine Atoll” drawn by pioneering artist Robert Williams for the legendary underground comic Zap. The Asinine Atoll is dominated by Funnyman Isle, whose major features include landmarks such as “The Lost Temple of Mystic Symbols,” the “Region of the Unapproachable Skunk-Cult,” and “Turky-Furky’s Reptile Rodeo,” six of which are illustrated by large vignettes flanking […]

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Pictorial map of the Indian holy city of Gaya

A colorful and rare—at least in the West—pictorial map of the pilgrimage city of Gaya, India. I am singularly ill qualified to interpret this map, in no small part because much of the text is in Hindi, but was able to glean some bits from Wikipedia. Gaya is situated along the Falgu River in the […]

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Spectacular Philips Radio pictorial map

Issued by Philips Radio, this spectacular pictorial features an outline map of the world, with each continent crammed with imagery. The overall effect is rich, though rather crudely stereotypical—the images include giraffes and spear-toting natives in Africa, igloos in Greenland, a teapot in Sri Lanka, and so on. Superimposed on the map are red circles indicating […]

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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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1926 Blake & Olsen Colour of an Old City

The finest Boston pictorial map: Blake and Olsen’s Colour of an Old City

Blake and Olsen’s 1926 Colour of an Old City, arguably the finest pictorial map of Boston, for its size, vibrant color, and rich supply of both information and wit.   This charming map of Boston was the product of the collaboration of Blake Everett Clark (1900-1979) and Edwin Birger Olsen (1902-1996), two young American draftsmen & architects. In the mid-1920s, […]

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1942 MacDonald Gill map of AUSTRALIA Her Natural and Industrial Resources

MacDonald Gill propaganda map of Australia

A scarce MacDonald Gill pictorial map highlighting Australia’s economic contribution during the Second World War. This decorative map features an outline map of Australia all-but smothered in symbols highlighting its areas of agricultural, mineral and metal production. At upper right is the Australian coat of arms, featuring a shield bearing the symbol of each state, […]

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