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Map of Delft
A map of the Dutch city of Delft, taken from a centuries-old illuminated atlas. Photos by BAP
A good map is hard to find

2 October 2002

By Bonnie Azab Powell, Public Affairs

BERKELEY - The less we knew about the world, the more beautiful were our maps.



Saturday, October 5
9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Pauley Ballroom,
Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union at
Bancroft & Telegraph,

At least, that's the impression you get from looking through the thousands of 20th century topographical, nautical, aerial, political and other maps for sale Saturday by UC Berkeley's Geography Department and its Earth Science and Map Library. Nearly all of the cartography on sale in the University's Pauley Ballroom will be priced at $2. If that's too much for you, then be patient: they'll be marked down by half in the sale's last two hours.

"Some of them would make nice wrapping paper," says Daniel Plumlee, the department's equipment collections manager and the sale's organizer. "If we have to, we'll sell them by the pound to get rid of them."

Delft map detail  
Details from the Delft map, which is seen at the top of this story.  
Delft map detail  

That doesn't apply, however, to the items that Plumlee has set aside as "showpieces." In a room off to the side, shoppers with deeper pockets can find maps that are not only fascinating historical documents, but miniature works of art. A colorful map of the Dutch city of Delft, for example — probably dating from the 17th century or earlier — is decorated with miniature human figures and tiny, Monopoly-sized houses drawn to scale. Imagine being able to buy anything else from the birthplace of Vermeer and dating from the era of Breughel for $200.

Other rare maps up for sale include a 1918 "Strategical War Map of the Western Front" that's the size of a classroom blackboard; a map presented to the "Right Honourable Charles Earl of Traquair from his Most Obedient and most humble Servant Will Edgar"; and a complete set of the 1746 plans for the cities of London, Westminster and Southwark. The set was issued in 1967 as a limited-edition reproduction comprising 26 panels, 23 by 30 inches each.

Beautiful as such old cartography is, the department has to make room for newer items. Plumlee has been doggedly paring down the department's overcrowded map storage room on the fifth floor of McCone Hall, a tiny space that until recently held five stacks of five flat filing cabinets, reaching about eight feet high.

"It was dark in there, not to mention unsafe," says Plumlee. With the extra and outdated material removed, there's finally room to actually spread out a map and look at it. Yet space is still at a premium: Plumlee has yet another storage room to clear out to accommodate a lab expansion.

The department's sale maps were largely collected by past faculty and students and were either redundant or deemed no longer useful for current research or instruction; the wall maps are heavily used for instruction and have been replaced as they age. The Earth Science and Map Library's sale items, meanwhile, are duplicates from donations or are common, out-of-date maps produced by government agencies.

The event is held nearly every year, and it's a popular one. All proceeds get funneled back into the collection budgets of the departments involved. For example, with the $10,000 it netted in 2001, Geography was able to purchase 43 new classroom wall maps. Plumlee expects this year's sale to fare even better, as the site of the sale, the Pauley Ballroom, will allow the maps to be spread out for better perusing.

Held at McCone Hall in several classrooms, last year's sale "was a madhouse," says Plumlee. "I think some people were turned off just by the prospect of having to dig through the giant piles."

The Saturday sale will also include 2,000 scholarly books donated to the university library that were determined to be duplicates. They'll range in price from $1 to $250. At the high end are rare items like the 1933 Essays in Zen Buddhism ($150), a 1936 catalog of Egyptian scarabs ($250), and volumes one and two of Rudiger Joppien's three-volume The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages ($200).

Daniel Plumlee
Daniel Plumlee, geography's equipment collections manager, pulls out the sale's top item: a $300 complete set of reproductions of the 1746 plan of London.