Mason County News
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The Way It Was
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 • Posted March 15, 2013

In my last column I talked about Pocket Maps or Saddlebag Maps that folded up into their own little book for protection and transportation. The earliest that I have is an 1833 Travelers Map of the United States, and although it is on very thin paper it is still in great shape because it has spent the past 180 years protected by its book. Those maps were usually hand colored and were sold as a separate reference for someone to consult for a trip or for information about a distant location, but it was important that they were appealing and interesting. I still have several examples on display in our Gallery, and would be glad to “show and tell” if you would like to stop by.

The other type of map that was commonly found in the mid-eighteenth century when Texas was just taking its place in the American story, was the ones that were included as illustration for travel books or historical literature. These were most often not colored, although some very nice examples were hand water colored, and were often found in the front or back of the book for which they explained the area under discussion. The earliest examples that I particularly enjoy were illustrations for William Robertson’s History of the Americas, which was revised and republished from about 1770 until after 1840, with all the changes in America in those early years. There were four to six maps drawn by Thomas Kitchens included in the volumes, depending on the specific edition, and it was published in several languages, but the map I like best is the one of Mexico. Texas was just a province of Mexico from the time it was a Spanish colony through Mexican independence in 1821 up until the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. At the time of the early editions, Texas was barely settled and so there is not much detail in this land we call home today. However, since most of central and west Texas was the home of several tribes of Indians during that time, it is all labeled as “Great Space of Land Unknown” to convey the vast area that was unexplored and surely unknown to any mapmaker.

I have copies of this map both in the history book, and that have been removed and which I have framed. It illustrates some very important points about maps and map collecting. For one point it is on very light weight paper (what I call Bible paper since it is like the thin pages of a Bible) and was folded to fit into the book, which in all editions was smaller than the size of this map. I enjoy looking at this map, but I always look at the framed map because the copy that is still in the book is fragile and unfolding and refolding it might cause damage if mis-folded and the creases are particularly vulnerable to tearing. Also, this map was always issued in black ink on white paper, and so when I have seen colored copies I know that they were recently colored and are often not appropriate in color or tone to older maps and thus would not look good in my collection. Another point is that the set of books with all maps still intact is almost always more valuable than the individual maps separated from the books. In considering loss of value, another example is a map from 1857 that I recently purchased for framing that had been removed from the book; I paid less than a third of the price for that separated map that I would have expected to pay for the entire book which has little of value beyond that particular map.

There were a large number of books written in several different countries during the short period of Texas independence from 1836 to 1845, and many of them had maps included as illustrations of the “new country”. Some showed Texas as only going as far south as the Pecos River, others showed Texas going all the way north to Santa Fe and beyond, but all of them are of interest to historians and those who study and enjoy early Texas maps. I have several of these, in the original books, and treasure them as well as the ones that I have found separated from their volume so that I can look more often and consider framing it. However, I would caution you that if you find an old book, probably before 1875, that has a folding map in it illustrating its subjects bring it by and I will be glad to look at it and give you an idea of its value. But please do not just tear out the map because it is “nice” and you want to show it to your friends because in just that way some very important and valuable maps and books have lost much of their value.

If you are interested and would like to visit about old maps and see some that are still folded neatly into their original book, please stop by Red Door Antiques on the north side of the Square in Mason on any weekend. We are open from 10:00 to 4:00 on Friday and Saturday, and I would be glad to share more about maps, the early representations of Texas and how we can preserve and protect these bits of history for future generations. It is fun to handle pieces of our heritage and and know that we are just stewards of these treasures that remind us of ... the way it was.

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