The History of the Map Fair


Map fairs in London have a continuous history stretching back thirty years, and we’re proud of staging the largest specialist map fair in Europe today. Leading British mapsellers exhibit alongside dealers from the USA, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece, a suitably international atmosphere for a map fair which has become one of the most important annual events for dealers, curators and collectors from around the world. It also provides the perfect opportunity for novice collectors to examine original maps at first hand and talk to some of the acknowledged experts in the field. There is always a huge range of material on offer, in terms of price as well as subject matter, from a few Pounds to many thousands.

Since 2008 the London Map Fair has been held at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington. The historic venue is ideal, a natural home for an event devoted to cartography, although visitors with long memories will recall how the fair has evolved over time.

For many years monthly fairs were held at the Bonnington Hotel in Southampton Row, organized by members of the map-trade and coinciding with the regular bookfairs at the Hotel Russell nearby. The largest of these was in early June, which is still London’s principal ‘fair season’, and until 2003 IMCoS (the International Map Collectors’ Society) ran an entirely separate map fair at the same time. It was agreed that running two fairs in direct competition was unnecessary, and since then a single fair has been organised by the mapsellers of London Map Fairs Ltd. We continue to support IMCoS financially and also provide IMCoS with a stand at the fair and a venue for their AGM; in turn, IMCoS promotes the London Map Fair to its membership. The need for trade-orientated monthly fairs has diminished, and although for a time we organized additional quarterly fairs at the Rembrandt Hotel in South Kensington, we soon decided to concentrate our energies on a single annual event, which was initially held at the Olympia Two exhibition centre, adjacent to the ABA bookfair.      

The decision to move from Olympia to the Royal Geographical Society was not undertaken lightly, but it was felt that Olympia was perhaps more convenient for the organizers and the trade than it was for the general public. The results have been everything we hoped for, and we have seen a surge in visitor numbers. The historic and attractive premises of the Royal Geographical Society are more readily accessible via public transport and provide a magnificent and entirely appropriate backdrop, associated as they are with great names of British travel and exploration such as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary; the building’s wooden panelling, portraits and abundant natural daylight create a pleasant ambience - the map fair is a rare opportunity for non-RGS members to see inside.

The presence of the purpose built Ondaatje lecture theatre has enabled us to realize a long-held ambition of holding a series of London Map Fair lectures. So far we have been delighted to welcome the following speakers:


Peter Barber, head of Map Collections at the British Library: “Fixing the Image: The Mapping of London 297-1900”. 

Laurence Worms, bookseller and map trade historian: “Fixing the Map Trade: the London of the London Map Makers of the 18th Century”.


Francis Herbert, former map-curator at the RGS-IBG: ‘Back to the drawing board: 120 years of map-making in the RGS’, supported with an exhibition of original material from the RGS Map Drawing Office and the Society’s Collections and talks by Ted Hatch, the last draughtsman employed in the RGS map room.


Nicholas Crane FRGS, explorer, writer and broadcaster: ‘Mercator & Me: the life & legacy of the man who mapped the planet’. 


Laurence Worms and Ashley Baynton-Williams: "Not just a Dictionary": the launch of their long-awaited biographical dictionary 'British Map Engravers', with some new thoughts and fresh stories from British map-trade history.


Stephen Myers, professional water engineer and historian: “Mapping London’s Lost Rivers and the Tale of Who Hijacked the Walbrook”


Peter Barber: The Cartomania of George III and how the British Library plans to unveil its results to the world.


Author, blogger and collector of 'strange maps', Frank Jacobs:
The Future of Map Collecting in the Digital Age.


Mapseller and fair co-organiser Tim Bryars and the British Library’s curator of antiquarian mapping Tom Harper: A History of the 20th Century in 100 Maps. 


Roderick Barron, specialist map dealer: Rose-tinted spectacle: Fred Rose and his ‘serio-comic’ cartoon maps.


Dr Simon Morris, topographer interested in maps and urban development: The other side of the map - how and why users personalise maps with annotations, corrections and worse.


Alan Ereira, author and broadcaster: 'His Majesty's Cosmographer: John Ogilby, the Restoration and the secret agenda behind Britain's first road atlas'.


Alexander J. Kent, academic, editor and author: 'Cold War cartography: unravelling the secret Soviet military mapping programme'.


Alexander J. Kent, academic, editor and author: 'Cold War cartography: unravelling the secret Soviet military mapping programme'.


Paul Hughes, master mariner, marine consultant and author: 'Greenvill Collins and the Dutch, Spanish and Colonial origins of the Greenwich Meridian'.


Adam Dant, fine artist and cartographer: 'You are not here: Adam Dant's diverting maps'.


Since 2012 there have been talks by third-generation mapseller and author Ashley Baynton-Williams on map collecting for beginners, held throughout the weekend.

So whether you are a collector of thirty years’ standing, a specialist rare maps librarian or if you’ve yet to buy your first map, we look forward to welcoming you at the London Map Fair.


Tim Bryars and Massimo de Martini

Directors, London Map Fairs Ltd



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