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BRM2712 Porcineograph_detail2The 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.

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[F. E. Cheeseman], AVIATION CAVALCADE. Milwaukee, WI: Albert Richard, 1944.

F. E. Cheeseman’s Aviation Cavalcade

Aviation Cavalcade is an exuberant pictorial map highlighting American might near the end of WWII… published to promote, of all things, a men’s clothing company in Milwaukee!  The map depicts a huge range of American military aircraft—real and imaginary–dominating the skies over an oddly-rendered north polar projection of the world, with nary an Axis plane […]

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U.S. Government Printing Office, [Nav War Maps 1 through 6.] Washington, D.C.: Navy Department, 1944.

Striking Second World War “Nav War Map” of the Mediterranean

A mammoth and colorful “Nav War Map” of the Mediterranean issued by the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II. This impressive, separately-published propaganda map was produced in 1944 to highlight the strategic importance of the Mediterranean, which “offers many approaches to Fortress Europe.” It also emphasizes Allied successes there during the Second […]

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Armour and Company makes the case that meat packing matters

A vibrant persuasive map of the United States by meatpacking giant Armour and Company, making the case for the strategic importance of its industry. Founded in the 1860s by Philip Danforth Amour (1832-1901), Armour and Company was a meatpacking pioneer, using refrigeration, assembly-line methods, canning and economies of scale to become the industry leader. For […]

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Paul Paige, a map of CAPE COD. East Brewster, Mass.: Paul Paige, [ca. 1940?]

Vibrant pictorial map of Cape Cod

A delightful pictorial map of Cape Cod featuring bold design and vibrant color. It highlights the Cape’s fundamental virtues as a vacation destination, including “500 miles of shoreline[,] 300 miles of beaches[,] 1000 miles of highway[,] as many miles of byways[, and] 300 lakes.” The details identify towns and villages; sightseeing destinations; and, by means […]

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Earl Purdy / Division of Information Federal Public Works Administration, PWA REBUILDS THE NATION. Washington, D.C.: Public Works Administration, [1935-39?]

Vibrant government poster promoting the New Deal and the Public Works Administration

A delightful Depression-era propaganda map issued by Federal Government to promote the contributions of the Public Works Administration, one of the major programs in FDR’s New Deal. The PWA was established by the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act and was tasked with spending billions on major public construction projects to generate employment and help stabilize […]

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Lisa Hoffman, American Dream [:] Black Rock City, NV [:] August 25-September 1, 2008. Burning Man Project: NP, 2008.

Map of the Playa at Burning Man 2008

A rare brochure distributed to participants in Burning Man 2008, the theme of which was “American Dream.” One side of the brochure features a pictorial map of the Playa, with the design conceit of a picnic table—that most American of spaces!–covered with ants. The reverse is a bare-bones guide to Burning Man logistics and a […]

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1930s Walter Eckhard Philips shortwave radio world map

Spectacular Philips pictorial map of the global shortwave radio network

A spectacular 1930s promotional for Philips Radio featuring a pictorial map of the global shortwave radio network, with each continent crammed with imagery. The overall effect is rich, though rather crudely stereotypical—the vignettes 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 […]

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Map of Texas and Loyal Colonies

…A comic 1956 pictorial map printed on rayon and depicting Texas and its “Loyal Colonies”. In this alternative universe the other 47 states of the continental U.S. are shunted…

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Mikkelsen & Associates, SILICON VALLEY [:] Apple Computer, Inc. Cupertino: Apple Computer, 1990.

Apple Computer pictorial map of Silicon Valley in 1990

A 1990 pictorial map of Silicon Valley published by Apple Computer and giving a whimsical snapshot of the era’s enthusiasm. This wonderful pictorial map depicts the corridor running south from San Francisco to San Jose, though with no attempt at a consistent scale. The emphasis is almost entirely on the ecosystem of the technology sector, […]

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Designed by Frank Zappa M[others] O[f] I[nvention], FREAK OUT. Hot Spots! [Los Angeles]: Freak Out Productions, 1966.

Frank Zappa’s Freak Out. Hot Spots! map

Frank Zappa’s Freak Out. Hot Spots! pictorial map of Los Angeles, both a guide to the city’s nascent Freak scene and a pungent commentary on its police tactics. The map was a separately-published companion to Freak Out!, the debut album by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and a love letter to an emerging “Freak” […]

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