What Is It and What’s It Worth? Atlases

What Is It and What’s It Worth? Atlases

Atlases were once indispensable tools used to help individuals navigate across seas, across the country, and to even gain important new information about their own towns. Now, though they are less often used for navigation and research, atlases provide an important historical record of the past and can be valuable collector’s items. There are over 170,000 results for atlases that were previously sold in the WorthPoint Worthopedia®. Interested in learning more about atlases? Keep reading to take your knowledge even further.

Atlases are a collection of charts and maps, typically in the format of a bound book. Atlases can focus on a single region, country, or city, or they can be as expansive as detailing an entire continent or the whole world. They can include geographic features, landscape, topography, political boundaries, streets, landowners, businesses, and more.

The word Atlas originated from the Greek god Atlas who was forced to hold the heavens up as a punishment. The first atlas was made by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman geographer, in 1475. It was called Geographia and consisted of cartography and data of the world as it was known at the time to ancient Romans. Abraham Ortelius published another early Atlas in 1570 which was titled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum or Theater of the World. This atlas had maps and images that were more uniform in design and size, and many editions of the book were printed over the following hundred years. Gerard Mercator created another atlas. It notably contained a world map created by Henricus Hondius, a Dutch cartographer. A Dutch dominance in cartography was established, and this dominance continued until the late 18th century.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, many would visit a map shop and select map sheets based on specific needs and then have those maps bound into a book rather than buying published complete atlases. Beginning in the 19th century, more atlases that had narrow scopes focused on the geography and other data of specific cities and townships appeared, also increasing the number of atlases available for purchase during this period.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, some American publishing firms had salesmen sell atlas subscriptions for individual counties. A Geauga County Ohio atlas from 1900 sold on eBay in 2020 for $199.99. By the end of the 20th century, technological advances allowed modern atlases to be more accurate and include more types of maps.

Collectors might be interested in a variety of types of atlases. Some categories that are popular for collectors include reference atlases, military atlases, travel/roadmap atlases, and navigational atlases. Desk atlases are often made as reference books and in addition to maps, they may include tables, graphs, images, and text describing an area. Regional atlases are most valuable in the region that they describe. Many county atlases were reprinted in the 1970s, and these often are sold near the price of the original versions. Reprints of atlases are most often photocopies with the sponsoring organization added onto the title page.

Seventeenth-century and 18th-century atlases are among the most collectible. Early-printed atlases are very collectible, and many of these have been reprinted due to their desirability. Atlas pages are sometimes separated from their books and sold separately as maps if the entire book is not in good condition. An atlas page picturing a map of Iowa from 1854 was separated from its atlas and sold individually for $68.80 on eBay in 2020. Atlas value is dependent on age, condition, subject, and completeness. Larger atlases and hardcover also often have more value.

Today, travel atlases are becoming more irrelevant because of GPS systems in many cars and GPS capabilities on many phones. Additionally, the values of many county histories and other resources have gone down because of their availability online. Atlases continue to be collected and sought after both for their aesthetic and their historical value.

If you’d like to learn more about atlases, we have a WorthPoint Dictionary page on atlases to check out next, and you can read more from the WorthPoint Library. There are books that mention collecting atlases in the Library, and with your WorthPoint MAPS and Library subscription, you can read all of our books for free!


Kendall Aronson is a 2019 graduate of Berry College, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Public Relations with a minor in English. She has served as the Editorial Assistant for Berry’s Alumni Magazine, the Social Media, PR director, and Assistant Arts & Living Editor for the Campus Carrier. She offers an up-to-date look at collectibles for the Millennial audience.

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