An Interview with Barry Ruderman, Antique Map Dealer

I am running a periodic series where I interview some of the people collectors come across. My purpose is to shed light on what they do and how they work, especially for new collectors. For the initial post in this series I interviewed Barry Ruderman, dean of the online map dealers.

Barry Ruderman’s shop is located in La Jolla, CA, and does much of his business online. He sold his first map in 1991 and has had an online presence since the mid 1990s. He now sells some 4,000 maps annually.

Barry enjoys the variety of his job, noting that while he knows what he’ll do each day, the exact topics that he’ll research always change. Further he enjoys working with the “wonderful things” and “interesting people” he crosses paths with. To that end, the research he engages in provides a “constant intellectual challenge” in “trying to understand the the who [and] how” of the antiquarian maps he deals in. And research he does! His listings provide a wealth of context on the pieces.

On the trends and developments in collecting circles, Barry reports that he has observed an emerging interest in pictorial and fantasy maps, pieces showing non-geographical content. He explains that while the geography of New York City may not have changed substantively over the past 100 years, the people and activities have changed; pictorial maps show these changes. In another example, Barry described a pictorial map of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, which showed where to find “good looking nurses”, the intrigue in that piece being its elucidation of the sensibilities of the time that it was published. Further, he reports increased interest in manuscript material.

In dialogs with new collectors, Barry often hears questions about the authenticity and valuation of antiquarian maps. He explains that maps are “self authenticating” in that the characteristics of the pieces make inauthenticities apparent; coloration, paper, and folds inform the identification of genuine maps. Generally speaking, a reputable map dealer will always look for and disclose concerns about authenticity, such as facsimiles. Barry points to his volume of 4,000 maps per year, often seeing the same map several times, as the way he senses the value of pieces.

Barry says the typical new collector is in his/her late 30s to 40s, but that collectors who start in their late 20s to early 30s often develop enviable collections. Further, he has observed changes in the collecting patterns in recent years. Where the “center of the gentleman’s library” used to be collected antiquarian catalogs, collectors have become less comprehensive, shying away from reference materials and focusing on their narrow area of interest.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a satisfied repeat customer of Barry Ruderman.

Want to learn more about antique comparative views? Download my free ebook!

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

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