How many maps were printed?

This is a very common question and not one that is easily answered. The scientific research on old map production is in fact not so old and goes back only a few decades. In only a few instances has research provided estimates of original production.  In this context it is of importance to understand that the copperplate usually allowed approximately 1.000 impressions to be taken, before it had to be renewed. The same map was then re-engraved for the next set of pulls.

One might reasonably assume then that an average production number for copperplate maps of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have been in the region of some hundreds (in the case of known rarities such as Gerard de Jode’s maps) or as many as a few thousand (in the case of some of Abraham Ortelius up to 8.000 thousand).

A complicating factor is the so-called 17th fashion of IATO compilations. IATO stands for “Italian Assembled To Order”, where the client does not purchase a certain pre-produced atlas, but where he chooses which maps he wants to be inserted in a collection of his own choice.

Recent research suggests survival rates of around eight to fifteen per cent of most atlasmaps have survived.

Given such rates, the actual number of any one particular map on the commercial market, or which might become available to collectors, is still a tiny proportion of the original printing, since a great number of maps have ended up in libraries, museums, universities o municipalities and will not appear on the open market.