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Art, humour, politics and history: How the pictorial map has helped shape our view of the world
A 1931 Prohibition map of Chicago, showing gangland districts and Al Capone as the kingpin. £20,000 from Daniel Crouch Rare Books at the London Map Fair.

LONDON.- Al Capone, tourism in early Soviet Moscow, the Berlin Airlift and the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley; what do they all have in common?

The answer is that they have all been the subjects of pictorial maps, colourful charts depicting not just the geography, but also the history and demographics of historical events.

What’s more, all of them will be available from exhibitors at the London Map Fair – the largest event of its kind in the world – on June 9 and 10.

Al Capone? The 1931 satirical map being offered by Daniel Crouch Rare Books is titled A Map of Chicago’s Gangland from authentic sources and sets out the grid of streets across the city complete with the territories controlled by Al Capone, Cicero and others.

This form of satire is a direct descendant of the late 18th and early 19th century caricatures and political cartoons by the likes of James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.

What makes maps like these endlessly fascinating is the amusing decorative detail, from a cherub blowing the froth of a glass of beer to the man flying through the air in an explosion in The Stockyards.

With Capone’s crowned and winged head topping the cartouche, and crossed handguns to the bottom, the message is complete with the moral: ‘Designed to Inculculate the Most Important Principles of Piety and Virtue In Young Persons and Graphically Portray the Evils and Sin of Large Cities.’

At 22½ x 28 inches, the price tag is £20,000.

The Map House is offering a 1924 pictorial map by the artist Edward Bawden, titled British Empire Exhibition – To Wembley by London Underground.

Celebrated artists also undertook pictorial map commissions
Bawden was not the only successful artist to turn his hand to this genre, which indicates just how seriously it was taken – and how well paid such commissions could prove.

At least as colourful as the Capone map, Bawden’s highly stylized vision also resorts to great detail and humour as it celebrates the marvels of industry, engineering, art and sport, from a footballer in the Imperial Stadium breaking the goalposts with a powerful shot to the exploding fireworks startling the crowds. The asking price is £6,500.

It is difficult to imagine that Stalin would have been concerned with tourism in 1929, but the pictorial map of Moscow, printed in English, shows otherwise, as the soviet regime looked to promote its image overseas to like-minded foreigners. Bryars & Bryars will offer this map for £500.

It’s 70 years since the beginning of the Berlin Airlift, and Bryars & Bryars’ most topical offering is a propaganda map published by the Bureau of Current Affairs on November 20, 1948, showing the different international sectors of Berlin and superimposed panels giving the view of both the Western Powers and Soviet Union on why the Blockade was introduced. No humorous content here, but a fascinating snapshot in time nonetheless. Those behind the (Army) Bureau of Current Affairs were involved with setting up Penguin Books and Picture Post, which may help to explain the strong adult education element. The price is £300.

Another well-known artist who lent their creative imagination to this field was Rex Whistler, whose 1933 map of The Stock Exchange provides a lively if surreal annotated view of the City institution, with classical allusions, executed on behalf of The Financial News, which commissioned further such maps from Whistler, including one of the City of London in 1934. The Map House will offer The Stock Exchange Map for £3,750.

Altea Maps present something really special: The first woodcut Ptolemaic map of the World published North of The Alps, itself an early example of pictorial splendor, with the various winds represented as human heads blowing in one direction or another.

Dated 1482 – a full ten years before Columbus set foot in the Americas – this was the first Ptolemaic map published outside Italy and the first to be updated to show Scandinavia and Greenland.

It is also the first map printed from a woodblock, the first signed by the engraver ('Johann, woodcutter from Armszheim') and the first to be updated to show Scandinavia and Greenland. Despite these changes there is no sign of any of the Portuguese discoveries in West Africa.

An error in the printing means that both tropics are named Cancer, which is corrected in the accompanying atlas manuscript.

All of this is reflected in the price, no less than £250,000.

Other maps on offer at the London Map Fair reflect the importance of the event’s location, so England’s capital features strongly.

Examples include work by Kerry Lee, an acknowledged master of the medium, whose first foray into mapping the capital came in 1938 with London Town, printed by the Baynard Press for Southern Railways and revised in the 1950s. This stunning work of art stretches from Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace in the West to Shoreditch and the Tower of London in the East, picking out all the major landmarks along the way, adding to the charm with an outsize guardsman on duty in front of the palace, buses crossing Westminster Bridge and traversing Southampton Row, as well as tugs steaming with barges along the river. Another offering from Bryars & Bryars, the price is £3000.

Presented in a more formal, if no less striking, style is Maisie Rose Sherley’s Decorative Map of Tower Hill & District, produced in 1949 for the charity Toc H. Bryars & Bryars will ask £250 for it.

JP Sayer produced a number if smaller pictorial maps featuring individual London districts in the 1940s, often for The Strand Magazine. Complete with historical figures and closely annotated to highlight historic events and the origins of each area, they also include vignettes of important local landmarks. The one shown here is for Smithfields and priced at just £42, but both the Map House and Bryars & Bryars will offer a selection.

An attempt to shame the US into the war
MacDonald Gill – younger brother of the artist Eric Gill – is arguably the most celebrated of pictorial mapmakers, with his Wonderground Map of London and the magnificent Time & Tide Map of The Atlantic Charter (£7,500 from Bryars & Bryars). The latter of these was drawn after Germany had invaded Russia but before the USA had joined the Second World War and was part of the assault on US neutrality. Gill’s map shows what the world could be producing if it was at peace again, but illuminated by the rays of the Charter (which would become the basis for Allied war aims, and the UN) so a very specific peace – an Allied, not a Nazi one. A quote from Cicero underlines the point: ‘The only excuse for war is that we may live in peace unharmed’. In other words, to share the benefits of this version of the peace, America will have to join the fight.

At £500 Angelika CJ Freibe will offer a pictorial map of the Sino-Japanese war, published for a Japanese women's magazine in late 1937. As with Chicago gangland, the style and subject matter are somewhat at odds. The map is roughly contemporary with the Battle of Nanking, which of course was followed by the Nanking Massacre. The war continued until 1945.

One of the least known, but no less talented mapmakers, is Hester Marian Wagstaff, an illustrator and author of children’s books who is known to have created two pictorial maps. One is of the Hampshire town of Petersfield where she helped run The Petersfield Workshop, the other a sublime but humorous map of Eton College, drawn and painted in 1937 to mark the upcoming 500th anniversary of the school in 1940, which was then used as the pictorial end-pieces of BJW Hill’s book Eton Medley.

Her family retains the original, but other copies are known and deserve a wider audience.

“Collecting pictorial/visually striking 20th century maps has become very popular,” says Tim Bryars, exhibitor and co-organiser of the London Map Fair. “Once dismissed as ‘curiosities’, their rarity and the insight they give into contemporary life have made them an established and important part of the map trade, with prices to reflect that.

“Whimsical, often punning pictorial mapping was popular on railway posters, souvenir maps and other lighthearted maps aimed at tourists and travellers, but the genre was also applied to grittier subjects, such as gang violence in Prohibition-era Chicago.”

The London Map Fair includes all manner of maps, charts and views from around the world, presented at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington Gore near the Albert Hall.

Running on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10, the Saturday opening hours are 12-7, and on Sunday they are 10-6.

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