Interview with Eliane Dotson of Old World Auctions

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 second post in this series I interviewed Eliane Dotson, owner of Old World Auctions in Glen Allen, Virginia.

Old World Auctions has been in existence since 1978 and Eliane, along with her husband, purchased the online auction house in 2007. She developed her interest in maps from being around her father’s collection. Although not a collector, she is passionate about maps and describes her career as giving her a chance to work with them everyday. Indeed, the best part of her work is the opportunity to research maps daily. Eliane says of 15th and 16th century maps that they “combine art and history” making them among her favorite pieces. A few times per year maps that she hasn’t come across make their way to Old World Auctions, giving her a chance to “bring their stories to life”.

When pieces come in on consignment, Eliane explains that they are thoroughly researched, their authenticity, condition, and other relevant information cataloged, and they are imaged using a rolling scanner over three feet wide. Each auction, conducted virtually, is managed well in advance, as this process underpins each listing in the auction catalog. She further asserts that Old World Auctions researches and describes each piece in far more detail than other auction houses.

When asked about recent trends in the map market, Eliane reports seeing an increased interest in 20th century pictorial and political maps. Maps showing westward expansion of the United States have also been popular.

Eliane describes the community of map dealers and collectors as very tight knit and “really great to work with”.

For new collectors she offers some advice. Collectors should identify their collecting interests, know what the market is like, and know the maximum amount they are willing to spend to acquire a particular map. As an aside on map prices, she mentioned that with the digitization of the map trade, collectors are able to see the inventory of dealers far away; this allows more transparency into availability and has worked to hold prices down. Returning to advice for new collectors, she suggests collectors “buy the best quality you can afford” and maps in the “best condition possible”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a satisfied customer of Old World Auctions.

Want to learn more about comparative maps? Check out my free ebook!

© Peter Roehrich, 2016

Getting Your Feet Wet

The courage to sail off into the unknown. The optimism to climb the mountain. The audacity to build a transcontinental railroad. Antique maps evoke these ideas and so many more. They are time capsules: to look at one is to look into the past, to see the world as it was (or was perceived), and to see our predecessors.

Antique map of Zelanda (Zeeland, The Netherlands) by Ortelius c1590.
Zelanda map by Ortelius c1590. (Own work).

Antique maps are a joy to collect. I have been a collector for several years now and my collection continues to bring me great satisfaction. Among new collectors or those wishing to break into collecting I see an artificial barrier: map collecting has the unfortunate and unfounded reputation as a pursuit of the wealthy. Attending a map or book fair (many book dealers also trade in maps) is an excellent way to get your feet wet where you will find many people to talk with and a great variety of maps to choose from at prices accessible to you.

Is map collecting too pricey for a new collector, one who wants to test the waters? In a word: no. Lovely maps of the US or world can be found with only a little sleuthing for under $100. Some much older maps are also available at very approachable prices. If you decide to collect maps that are a little more obscure (more about themes later), prices tend to be lower. And for whatever reason, the map market has not climbed in price as much as the art market.

Steve Hanly of Bickerstaff’s Books, Maps &c., an exhibitor at this year’s Washington Antiquarian Book Fair (Booth 48), explains that new collectors may hear of pieces selling at auction for prices in the tens or hundreds of thousands simply because those are the sales that make the news within collector circles. He says however that dealers are aware that collectors want pieces at lower prices and include affordable stock in their offerings; the process of collecting is just as interesting on a modest budget as it is on a high one.

Finding a theme for your collection will guide you as you build your collection. Perhaps you like miniature maps; perhaps you want to buy maps of places you have visited or where you live; maybe you love maps with sea monsters on them. Any of these and any other theme you can think of are great ways to start a collection. If a piece doesn’t excite you, don’t buy it, regardless of its age, condition, or cartographer.

When you decide to buy your first map, you have several options including online auctions, online map dealers, and in person buying. Buy from a dealer you are standing next to. An experienced dealer will walk you through a variety of maps and help you find one that speaks to you. Fairs are an excellent avenue to meet dealers and other collectors. Hanly points out that dealers by and large love what they do, are passionate about maps, and want to pass that excitement on to others. Indeed map dealers are a new collector’s best resource. Ask any question and ask for help finding pieces among his or her offerings. Also, Hanly says, other collectors become experts in their area of interest making them another great aid to new buyers.

Attend this year’s Washington Antiquarian Book Fair, talk to dealers and collectors, and experience an engaging and rewarding pursuit.

This piece originally appeared on the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair website on February 17, 2016.

© Peter Roehrich, 2016