As with the word ‘copy’, confusion sometimes arises over the accepted definition of the term ‘original’ – particularly when it is used to describe a subsequent reissue of a map.
Engraved maps were published in more than one edition. Copperplates were re-used for a next issue, sometimes with slight alterations engraved on the map; mostly thanks to new information to be added. After approximately 1.000 prints the copperplate started showing signs of age or wear and was replaced (see below: How many maps were printed?).
In any of these instances the map is still “original” although it is not the first edition. The atlas of Abraham Ortelius has been issued from 1570 until 1612. During this period the atlas grew from approximately 50 maps to more than 150. However, with each re-issue of the atlas to add new maps, old maps were reprinted. Such reprints on the basis of the same unchanged copperplate are also “original” maps, but not first editions.
With regard to the coloring of a map, experience is necessary. A map in “original” or “contemporary” color (i.e., contemporary with publication of the map) may still look surprisingly fresh. Maps have a style of coloring which typifies the period. Ortelius, Hondius and Mercator, Blaeu and the French and German schools of map making all used certain colors in clearly discernable ways.
Maps, of course, that were issued in black and white may have been colored at any time since publication. These days, expert map colorists are able to color a map in the right style and with the correct colors. They may sometimes be detected on the basis residue at the reverse of the map.