About Pictorial Maps

by George Glazer and Helen Glazer © 2004-2019

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Pictorial maps are a genre in which the cartography is enlivened with illustrations pertinent to the places shown: landmarks and buildings, peoples and ethnography, plants and animals, sometimes rendered in bird's-eye view. The maps often include historical events and references. Boats, airplanes and other modes of transportation, and local agricultural and manufactured products frequently appear. Generally, they include embellishments such as compass roses, elaborate cartouches, and decorative borders. The maps are usually characterized by humorous, playful or whimsical touches. Although by definition the maps are pictorial, they often include textual explanations of the illustrations. Inasmuch as the maps contain illustrations, they are usually very decorative, also serving the purpose of promoting tourism, and commemorating historical milestones and some annual events.


Cape Cod map cartouche
Decorative cartouches are frequently found on pictorial maps, such as this one on a map of Cape Cod by Coulton Waugh.

Catalan Atlas
Detail of a 19th-century edition of the Catalan Atlas (1375), a medieval example of a pictorial map.

In the Western tradition, medieval maps such as the Catalan Atlas (1375) were compendiums of historical and ethnographic information as much as they were attempts to render geography. The maps that followed during the Age of Exploration became progressively more accurate in their geographic proportions and detail, but still were often sprinkled with small drawings of sea creatures and ships sailing in the direction of the prevailing winds (e.g. Ortelius' map of the Netherlands), little trees to represent forests, native animals (notably Herman Moll's "Beaver Map" of North America), and other small pictures. That practice died out however, and if there were illustrations at all, they were pushed off the map itself into the border. Pictorial mapmaking resurfaced as a popular culture art form in the early 20th century. The heyday of pictorial maps was the 1920s through 1950s, with a resurgence in the 1970s, and they are still are made today. The style of the map usually reflects the period, notably Art Deco, which was popular in the Twenties and Thirties.

Pictorial Map, Harvard University and Radcliffe College
Edwin J. Schruers's pictorial map of the Harvard and Radcliffe campus, dedicated to its graduates in celebration of the university’s tercentenary in 1936 — the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1636.

American pictorial maps were frequently made of the world and of the United States. Some show continents and foreign countries. A large variety of maps were produced of various American states, regions, counties, cities, and towns. Universities such as Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell made pictorial maps of their campuses. The advances in technology which enabled inexpensive color printing may have given the impetus to companies and other institutions to produce such maps as promotional pieces which would be saved as souvenirs, such as a map of Hawaii issued by the Dole Pineapple company or a commemorative map of Richard E. Byrd's expeditions to Antarctica produced by Grape Nuts breakfast cereal. Byrd's expedition is also an example of a common subject of pictorial maps: milestones in human history and exploration. Charles Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight in 1927 also inspired many such maps.

Ernest Dudley Chase, America the Wonderland, A Pictorial Map of the United States
Ernest Dudley Chase was a prolific producer of pictorial maps in the mid 20th century, such as America the Wonderland, A Pictorial Map of the United States

Those specializing in pictorial maps usually were illustration artists. Many of the maps were created or commercial artists at advertising agencies, so the artists are frequently anonymous. Among the prominent illustrators who developed recognizable cartographic styles, were Coulton Waugh, Miguel Covarrubias, Jo Mora, Frank Dorn, Ernest Dudley Chase and John Held. Covarrubias was also a prolific caricaturist and magazine illustrator, while John Held was more noted as an illustrator and watercolorist. The major practitioners of this form tended to be people who combined artistic ability with the serious pursuit of historical or cultural research — Waugh, Mora, Covarrubias and Chase all authored books on historical or ethnographic topics.

Collecting Pictorial Maps

As a subspecialty of map collecting, collecting pictorial maps is in its relatively early stages, even compared to other types of 20th-century commercial maps such as road maps. Academic institutions such as the Harvard University Library are beginning to take a serious look at them, putting together exhibits such as the 2003 show at Harvard of maps by Ernest Dudley Chase. While there have been recent books utilizing pictorial maps among other types of images as part of the study of how people conceptualized Main Street in America, or particular places such as Manhattan, there is no history of pictorial maps as a genre yet written.

All this presents an opportunity to put together a first class collection for relatively little money compared to other areas of map or antiques collecting. The work of Jo Mora is right now the most collectible, but we believe that other artists will eventually be rediscovered because the maps present history in an accessible, entertaining and decorative way. For these reasons, people find them easy to relate to, and we recommend them to collectors or as gifts for those interested in particular places or historical events. Pictorial maps are among the specialities of George Glazer Gallery, and we endeavor to have a broad range in stock.

See our Pictorial Maps for Sale and our Online Archive of Sold Pictorial Maps.

Ernest Dudley Chase, Boston, Birthplace of the Telephone, A Pictorial Map of the Down Town Area, detail
Ernest Dudley Chase's map illustrations show a painstaking attention to detail and decorative flair that brings the tiny scenes to life.

Ernest Dudley Chase

Ernest Dudley Chase was one of the most prolific and renowned pictorial map artists of the 20th century, producing about 50 maps published from the 1930s to the 1960s.  Chase’s maps cover a broad range of geographical locations and varied topics including historical and current events, architecture, and technology.  They typically incorporate large numbers of minutely rendered illustrations with explanatory captions that blend a scholarly approach with wit, patriotism, and optimism.  As works of graphic art they are finely drawn and composed with a decorative flair. He gave many of his works to the Harvard Map Collection, which featured them in the exhibition "The Pictorial Maps of Ernest Dudley Chase" in 2003. According to them, Chase "designed pictorial maps ranging in scale from his own hometown to global themes of navigation, exploration, communication, and world peace. He could be alternately whimsical, didactic, and subtly allusive--often on the same map." While producing his maps, Chase worked in the greeting card industry. He authored The Romance of Greeting Cards, a history of the medium published in 1927, with a revised edition in 1956. Search our site for maps by Chase.

Pictorial Map and History of Peiping
Detail from Frank Dorn's A Map and History of Peiping, considered one of the great maps of the golden era of pictorial mapmaking.

Frank Dorn

Frank Dorn attended the San Francisco Art Institute. While living in China and serving as a junior military attache in the Thirties, he made this pictorial map of Peiping (now Beijing). He later served in the field as advisor to a Chinese army. Present with General "Uncle Joe" Stilwell during the Burma campaign of World War II, he was also part of an American plan to replace Chiang Kai-Shek as head of the Chinese government in 1943 through a faked airline mishap. The plan was not executed when FDR decided not to issue final authorization. He eventually attained the rank of Brigadier General. In the 1970s, Dorn authored two highly-regarded scholarly books on the Chinese and Burmese theaters of World War II.

Miguel Covarrubias map
Miguel Covarrubias brought the sensibility of the 20th-century Mexican muralists to his pictorial maps, some of which he painted at mural scale.

Miguel Covarrubias

Miguel Covarrubias integrated his studies in ethnography and anthropology with his artistic talents in his maps, which he produced for publication and as murals. He developed a recognizable style integrating cartography and pictorial images that was aligned with that of Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, whom he knew. Perhaps his best known works are a set of six mural-size maps of the Pacific region which he executed for the Pacific House at the San Francisco World's Fair.

Jo Mora Grand Canyon map
Jo Mora Grand Canyon map, selected from inventory of George Glazer Gallery for the book You Are Here (see below).

Jo Mora

Jo Mora made only about a dozen published maps, mainly of locations in California and the Southwest, but they were masterful enough to make him one of the foremost pictorial mapmakers of the 20th century, and the most popular among today's collectors. Born in Uruguay, he his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was a child. He was educated at the Art Students League in New York and went to work as a cartoonist at the Boston Herald at age 18. He eventually settled in California. Like many pictorial mapmakers, Mora had wide-ranging interests and talents -- as an artist who worked in many media, including sculpture, an historian and an author. In 1904, he lived with the Hopi and Navajo Indians in Kearns Canyon, Arizona. He learned their languages and documented the Kachina ceremony and other ethnological information in photographs and paintings. Between 1900 and 1949, Mora also illustrated several books for children as well as books on California history.

Waugh Old Cape Cod map
Coulton Waugh’s map of Old Cape Cod was rendered and issued by him in various versions and sizes. They were colored at the time, presumably by Waugh or by assistants in his studio.

Coulton Waugh

Coulton Waugh (sometimes spelled Colton) was a painter, comic strip artist and author. He is credited by some with reviving the art of decorative mapmaking when he exhibited a large silk pictorial map of Cape Cod in 1918 at the International Silk Show (Guadazno, 2000). His pictorial maps are largely of locations in New York and New England. He took over the strip "Dickie Dare" from its creator Milton Caniff in 1933, and drew it until 1957. Waugh also painted, taught art and wrote a seminal history of cartooning called The Comics (1947), one of the first serious examinations of the medium, as well as instructional books on cartooning and palette-knife painting.

You Are Here book cover
Pictorial maps from the George Glazer Gallery are included in Katharine Harmon's book You Are Here.

You Are Here — A Book About Pictorial Maps

Several maps from the inventory of the George Glazer Gallery were selected by author Katharine Harmon for her book You Are Here. The book is a wide-ranging collection of over 100 inventive pictorial maps from artists, cartographers, and explorers. Some depict actual places and some describe imaginary or symbolic worlds. The book was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2004. Purchase it here.

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