Carto-Maine-ia: Puzzles and Wraps and Oddball Maps

An exhibition of ‘cartifacts’ and map memorabilia from the eighteenth century to the present, based in large part upon materials donated by Mr. Tony Naden.


This exhibition is about the popular use of maps and demonstrates that form and function are not necessarily related. There are maps on wood, paper, cardboard, leather, ceramic, plastic, fabrics, and metal, and even some combinations thereof. The maps range in size from a shower curtain to miniature maps on stamps, and they come in all manner of shapes.

The objects fall into three types. The first type are cartographic souvenirs marketed exclusively for the tourist trade. These are usually small utilitarian objects such as trivets, plates, ashtrays, T-shirts, and tea-towels and they commemorate the unique geographical features of a specific place. Such souvenirs are very portable; they can easily be tucked into a suitcase to be taken home and there put on display as a memento of fun times in exotic places. We include among these tourist maps a variety of products, such as paper placemats and napkins favored by family style restaurants advertising local tourist attractions. These maps are especially short-lived because they are used on the spot and are rarely taken home and preserved.

The second type of map collectible comprises household objects shaped like a world globe. The image of power and worldliness conveyed by the globe is transferred to everyday objects as pincushions, lamp bases, cigarette holders, and transistor radios.

Maps permeate our lives in ways that are often unacknowledged. The third type of map in this exhibition comprises maps that are utilitarian in purpose and non-standard in form. Map games and jig-saw puzzles have been used to educate children since the mid-1700s. In the twentieth century, map puzzles have become a common form of adult entertainment. Such maps vary from the hand-crafted (hand-colored maps pasted onto wood) to the mass-produced, die-cut cardboard and plastic puzzles of the present day. Another large sub-category are maps on stamps, which are works of art in their own right and convey historical and political messages.

All of the objects on display here are worthy of being collected. They preserve whole areas of popular and material culture that are otherwise quickly lost to historical view. Museums, libraries, and archives are usually not equipped to collect ‘ephemera’ so that we must rely on private collectors to preserve our popular heritage. No object, certainly no map object, is too humble or mundane. We would like to urge all potential collectors to take the first step of rescuing today’s ephemeral objects to ensure their survival. The Osher Map Library is currently seeking representative examples of certain cartographic collectibles. For more detailed information, please speak with the curator.

Please note that there is no proper web version of the exhibition.