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Engravings & Colouring.

Early maps issued and produced prior to the 19th century where printed without color. Indeed, prior to the 19th century large scale color printed was not easily possible to accomplish as the processes for color printing where either not in widespread commercial use or had not yet been invented. Nonetheless, with the exception of some early items that were never intended to be colored such as for example items by Zanoi or Lafreri, the addition of color was in many cases considered desirable by the main map producing houses of the 17th and 18th centuries with color being applied by hand after printing in a manner that highlighted or emphasised particular details such as country or teritorial borders and important locations or buildings.

The addition of color was seen as an enhancement and seems to have been offered as an option to buyers. In the colouring of maps some standard norms seem to have been applied (although I personally have come across exceptions) that are generally observed across the board as a result boarders are generally either green, yellow, burgendy and sometimes orange whilst water is invaribly blue. One can only presume that whilst a decision on whether the original buyer had his or her maps colored may have been influenced by taste it is more likely to be a reflection of time and budgetary considerations. Regardless of the reasons many maps survive today in an uncolored state.

When one is lucky enough to find an early map with good old period coloring this is a delight however, the quality of old period colouring varies greatly from near perfection to blotchy and downright unapealing. A map with good, skillfully applied, old period colouring is increasingly become a rarity as from those that have survived to this day, exposure to light and unfavourable storage conditions mean that many maps with old original colour have become faded and stained by the passage of time whilst those maps that remained uncoloured can look drab and unappealing. For this reason many maps where restored over the years or had recent colour applied to them. This is completely normal and if done well adds to an item’s commercial value.

Some collectors believe that such interventions are not appropriate and that a map should be preserved in the state that it is found as this reflects the sum total of its history. Whilst there is merit to this line of thinking in much the same way that there is merit in the rationalle amongst say historical purists who believe that an archeological ruin should be preserved as a ruin and never rebuilt, I personally do not subscribe to this line of thought and have in my personal collection a number of pieces with later or recent colour.

The colouring in maps particularly those of the 17th century onwards enhances detail, brings out aesthethic intrinsic qualities created by the engraver and generally enhance the appeal and attractiveness of a map. In doing so it makes map collecting more enjoyable and more importantly ensures that such early maps are preserved and passed on for future generations to enjoy. However, it is only reasonable to question what the addition of later colour does to the aesthetic and commercial value of a map. Whilst there is room for some debate on the subject the general concensus seems to be that there are more collectors who prefer coloured maps than those that prefer uncoloured ones. Consequently, whilst a map in prestine condition with original period colouring would be preferable to one that has been coloured later, recent colouring provided that it is applied skillfully and sympathetically enhances the attractiveness and desirability of a map and in most cases with exception to the maps that where never intended to be coloured ensures that it retains and adds to its commercial value over an uncoloured version. In addition, from a purely commercial perspective a recently but well colored map is preferable to the same map with poorly executed old color. Aesthetics are a very personal matter but a rough rule of thumb is that a map that is aesthetically pleasing wins over one that is less so even if the color of the latter is old.

Descriptions in relation to the colouring on a map can be confusing. In some cases the word contemporary is used to decribe that the colouring is recent. In some cases contemporary is used to describe that the colouring was made close to the time of printing. In other cases the word ‘old colouring’ is used to describe that the piece was coloured close to the time of printing whilst in other cases the word ‘old colouring’ is used to explain that the colouring is not recent but with 200 – 300 year old maps that does not necessarily mean that the colouring was done close to the time of printing.

I myself have used such descriptions and realise that this may be confusing to collectors. For this reason the Maltese Antiquarian now distinguishes coloring in two categories:

1; ‘Period Colouring’ which is used to denote colouring that was made not later than the 1st half of a particular maps existance and in most cases within a few years of publication;

and

2; ‘Coloured’ which is used to indicate that a map has had color added more recently.

A piece with Old Period Coloring that has at some time been touched up will therefore be described as coloured.

Apart from being a source of enjoyment the purchase of an antique map represents an asset of some financial worth to be enjoyed, cherished and passed on to future generations. Many remain undervalued and old maps in particular those pertaining to Malta regardless of whether they are uncoloured, have old period colouring, or have had colour added more recently will continue to retain and appreciate in value over the years. However, collectors must keep in mind the 3 single most important factors that impact the value of a map these being:
•rarity;
•visual appeal, and
•condition.

Any collector would do well to gage the merit of a acquisition against each of these criteria and seriously reconsider the acquisition of maps that are either in poor condition or that have been rendered unappealing.

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