A Pooping Britain, a Russian Octopus, and Other Weird Maps
Some people use maps to get from one place to another. Some use them for reference. Others see maps as not so much a geographic medium as ornaments, board games, political propaganda, or satire. Collectively, the latter uses could be considered … curiosities.
To wit, here is The Curious Map Book, a collection of more than 100 cartographic oddities. Among them are cartographic jigsaw puzzles, maps of mountains swarming with witches, and characterizations of countries bickering with, stealing from, and defecating upon each other. Curious, indeed.
The collection comes from the British Library, and was written by Ashley Baynton-Williams, a third generation independent map dealer based in London. “My particular focus is selling to a small group of collectors who are building institutional collections,” he says. In his work, he’s focused more on historical maps than the thematic pieces found in the book. “In terms of what’s collectible, rare Americana is always very good,” he says. “At the moment, maps from the period of the Republic of Texas are probably the most collectible.” (Maybe because current Texans are pining for their short decade of freedom?)
The book runs perpendicular to Baynton-Williams’ professional interests. Among his favorites are satirical maps from the late 19th century, showing nations as leering caricatures and snarling beasts. “For example, the monster of Europe as a Queen,” he says. He also appreciates the many games publishers have made out of maps. For instance, in England there is a tradition dating back centuries of making jigsaw puzzle maps.
France, by comparison, had a long fad of making racing games in which players hopped their tokens from one tiny map vignette to the next. “You might look at one 200 years later and think it was designed for children, but in fact it was designed for gambling,” says Baynton-Williams. “Players would buy into each game using real money.”
For his next book, Baynton-Williams would like to explore maps depicting fictitious, or misunderstood, places. Think El Dorado, the Mountains of the Moon, or California as an island. Does that pique your curiosity?