Saturday, September 30, 2023

Colonial Williamsburg sells more than $300K worth of historic maps

Colonial Williamsburg sold a Bishop James Madison Map of Virginia at auction for $252,000 on March 23, according to Brunk Auctions. (WYDaily/Courtesy Brunk Auctions)
Colonial Williamsburg sold a Bishop James Madison Map of Virginia at auction for $252,000 on March 23, according to Brunk Auctions. (WYDaily/Courtesy Brunk Auctions)

Colonial Williamsburg has sold six historic items at auction from its collection in March.

In conjunction with Brunk Auctions, an auction house in North Carolina, Colonial Williamsburg has sold a number of its maps, according to online auction records.

The most valuable of which is a Bishop James Madison Map of Virginia, which sold for $252,000 on March 23. Brunk’s website had estimated the map to be worth between $80,000 and $120,000.

The map is described as a “rare and important southern map” by Brunk, with black and white engraving and hand colored landscape view of Richmond. It had been printed in six portions before being assembled and placed in a painted black frame.

The map was originally acquired by Colonial Williamsburg directly from a descendant of the original printer. Online, the map is described as rare because it is one of the only known copies of Madison’s map to survive since it was issued in the six individual sheets.

However, Joe Straw, spokesman for Colonial Williamsburg, said in an email the map was sold because the museum had two copies of it and the foundation retained the better quality copy.

Straw did not respond to clarify whether the copy sold is the best existing version of the map.

Similarly, Straw said the other five maps were sold because the museum maintained more than one copy.

Jim Crowley, chief specialist at Brunk’s and the Brunk website, said the maps were sold at the following cost:

  • Fry and Jefferson Map of Virginia, estimated between $20,000-$30,000, sold at $26,400
  • Map of New England and New France, estimated between $800-$1,200, sold at $480
  • Arnoldus Mountains Map of Virginia and Florida, estimated between $1,000-$1,500, sold at $1,680
  • Willem Janszoon Blaeu Virginia and Florida Map, estimated between $1,000-$1,500 sold at $1,750
  • Jean Covens Map L’Amerique, estimated between $4,000-$6,000, sold at $18,000

Background information on each of the maps can be found on Brunk’s website.

The total sales were approximately $300,310, all of which are required by the foundation’s policy to be used to acquire other objects for the collection, Straw said.

In 2017, Colonial Williamsburg published a news release stating the foundation had “the most comprehensive collection of early Virginia Maps outside of the Library of Congress.” In April of that year, the foundation added more than 220 maps dating between 1540 and 1835 to its collection.

But the six maps sold at auction had been acquired by Colonial Williamsburg between 1971 and 1990, according to Brunk’s website.

Both Straw and Crowley said the act of selling items in that manner, known as deaccession, is a common practice for museums.

“Deaccessioning is done only to improve the collection and is never done lightly,” Straw wrote in an email. “Objects are individually considered and our Collections, Conservation and Museums team follows carefully prescribed steps.”

On April 2, Colonial Williamsburg added to its collection a number Judaica items as well as pieces that depict the early anglo-American Jewish Experience. In early March, the foundation also acquired a portrait of a British military officer who fought in America.

Straw said it is Colonial Williamsburg’s policy not to disclose acquisition cost or valuation of collection items.

After repeated requests for a phone interview, Straw opted to respond via email.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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