Pocket Maps for Travelers

Most of us are familiar with flat maps; they have been around for years. After celestial charts and navigational aids, flat maps (colored, uncolored, engraved, lithographed, etc.) have been used by explorers on land and sea.

It was not until the very late 1700s and throughout the 1800s that pocket maps for travelers came into use. This is especially true as regards Africa, Arabia and Asia. Pocket maps were meant to be a practical tool designed to withstand rigors of outdoor life. Portability and convenience were vital to their design. In short, they were the first and simplest forms of guide books, used by religious pilgrims and emigrants throughout Europe and the then populated world and its trade routes. They were not meant to be strictly scientific documents, but were written directions and often contained advice.

These earliest maps both guided and misled. As the golden age of exploration expanded there came an increased need for more accurate, detailed maps. As navigators had charted coastlines and continents, more adventurers turned their eyes inland to vast unknown tracts of land commonly called “the interior.”

Explorers could not conveniently cope with unwieldy, flimsy flat maps or atlases. So the folding map came into use. Expeditions needed something for reconnaissance parties to work with and to elucidate or update. Because these maps were meant to be used, they were usually dissected and mounted on linen backing. Thus they could be regularly folded and unfolded and still maintain their integrity through long journeys. Often these maps folded into an attached board case or custom made slipcase.

As each generation of explorers returned with new information, the maps were updated and revised. Unknown territories showing only hairy animals or strange looking peoples or massive unknown barriers to travel came to be filled in more accurately. Terra incognita had a name. Native peoples belonged to certain races. And the strange looking animals were given Latin and English names.

These linen backed folding maps are now among the rarest of map collections. First, they were not meant to survive. They were generally used once, new information was then recorded and incorporated into new editions of both flat and folding maps and that was it. Second, these maps were sold mainly to travelers, a small percentage of the then map buying public. They were therefore issued in much smaller quantities than flat maps. Since they were not intended for commercial sale, they were not printed in commercial quantities. Finally, because new information appeared on the latest maps, early issues were not saved. So, in time, historians, institutions and researchers, as well as collectors, recognized the rarity of these linen backed maps and started snapping them up.

Africa, Arabia and Central Asia were explored relatively late and maps of these areas are of even greater scarcity than maps of the other continents.

Several factors affect prices of folding maps. There is no market per se like the stock market. Rather there is a myriad of transactions by many individuals for varying reasons. Overall, the following should always be considered:

  1. Rarity of the map itself (is it early for the region?)
  2. Condition
  3. Demand for this kind of map
  4. Scale: the smaller the scale (fewer miles to the inch) the more detail on the map AND generally along with smaller scale is a smaller print run
  5. Number of insets (if any): these are printed boxes that show additional information such as nearby towns, details of cities, population, distances between cities or along routes, etc.
  6. Physical beauty of the map itself
  7. Accuracy and importance of the map
  8. Mapmaker: a well established, reputable mapmaker or a lesser known mapmaker whose maps might be as lovely and accurate but just not as common or collected

In sum, linen backed folding maps for travelers form an important part of the backbone of information documenting the discovery, exploration and settlement of the world. They are fascinating items, many of great beauty. And they are increasingly becoming parts of collections of books on travel and exploration. They are certainly an extension of printed knowledge then available to the explorers. And, by their nature, perhaps ironically, they are of a size comparable to the books then written so they can sit on the shelves alongside the titles written by some of the explorers whom they guided.

Like the books, these maps come in all price ranges, from a few hundred dollars to thousands. Our map stock is considerable, as can be seen by the extensive inventory list.

(NOTE: we deal in historical maps of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For current guide books or maps, please contact your local bookstore.)

See Our Collection of Maps for Sale


List of Collectible Maps by Country


East Africa (Kenya/Tanzania)    
Ethiopia (Abyssinia)    
Namibia (South-West Africa)    
South Africa    
Zambia (Northern Rhodesia)    
Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)    

Other Countries

Asia Minor (Caucasus, Black Sea)    
Australia, East India, Pacifica    
British Colonies    
Russia (Caucasus)    
South America