Ordnance Survey Guest Blog

We were so excited to be featured as a guest blogger on the Ordnance Survey Website this month. Check it out...


Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t love an antique map? Their unique charm and history is endlessly relatable and you can never tire of exploring an old map of a sentimental location. To study old maps in antiquarian book shops and libraries is one undertaking, but to own an original antique map is a luxury reserved for the wealthy or bequeathed.

Cartography or map making has been an integral part of human history for thousands of years. The earliest maps are recorded as far back as the 24th Century BC, depicting simplistic line drawings of hills, rivers and cities on a clay tablet.

Technological advancement in printing techniques and apparatus introduced in the 15th Century, allowed for the creation of far more precise maps and the ability to make accurate reproductions. In today’s society, modern day maps are widely available on phones, tablets and desktops at the touch of a button, so how do we combine this technology available for contemporary mapping with the millions of antique maps in archives gathering dust? 

There are many antique map collectors that despise the digitalisation and reproduction of original maps, preferring to cherish the beauty and individuality of the genuine article. The question is, how do you make antique maps accessible to everyone without digitalising the original? The answer is, it’s impossible. Without digitalisation and reproduction, antique maps would eventually disintegrate and their beauty and history are lost forever.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) or the British Library’s extensive map archives, you will see there is still a long way to go in the digitalisation of maps and atlases in the UK. The RGS alone holds one of the world’s largest map collections dating back to 1482, with very few of the maps held in high resolution digital format. To access their collection, you must visit the society offices in South Kensington, search the physical index of archived maps (a book the size of a large suitcase), fill in a request form and wait for one of the staff members to search for and find your required map sheet. This often results in one or two attempts to select the correct sheet, a frustrating process that I think you would agree, is not feasible to all and sundry.

In America, one man is leading the way with the digitalisation and accessibility of his antique map collection. The David Rumsey Map Collection was started over 30 years ago and contains more than 150,000 maps. Digitalisation of the collection began in 1996 and there are over 85,000 items now online. The highest resolution scanners combined with top of the range geo-referencing technologies are combined to enable a user to search by place name or postcode and view what maps are available for their specific area. The company to come up with such a search engine for digital maps is Klokan Technologies, a Swiss company who specialises in developing open-source software for the cultural and heritage sectors. Institutions such as the National Library of Scotland, The British Library and The David Rumsey Collection all use their services to make their antique map collections more accessible to a wider market.

It is this digitalisation and technology that has allowed small companies such as mine to bring antique maps to life.  It has enabled Atlas & I to create our own online platform, allowing consumers to source an antique map to decorate their kitchens, embellish their living rooms and enhance their dining tables. For not only can maps now be reproduced in their original paper format but on clocks, placemats, cutting boards, cushions and ceramic tiles to name but a few, bringing a genuine piece of historical treasure into your home.

See the original blog article on the Ordnance Survey  https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2018/06/making-antique-maps-accessible/