From a gift-giving perspective, maps have a contradictory quality about them. Although often used decoratively ("Spruce up your workplace with this lovely rendition of colonial Malaysia!"), maps are essentially survival tools, intended to guide star-crossed explorers in the most functional way imaginable.
The world at your fingertips.
The first thing that catches your eye at Metsker Maps of Seattle (702 First Ave., 206-623-8747) is the "mural format" world map ($89.95), which covers 112 square feet of wall space. Beneath this leviathan, the store's wraparound shelves hold road maps documenting pretty much every known inch of the planet (including—but not limited to—Malaysia). The map connoisseur is likely to find this collection somewhat pedestrian and will no doubt saunter into the back room, where things begin to get interesting.
Like a secret clubhouse for globes of every color and creed, the rear section of Metsker contains a smorgasbord of 3-D cartographic excitement. Inflatable globes ($6.95 for the 12-inch model, $21.99 for the 27-inch) make nice gifts for beach enthusiasts, while the millionaire next door might appreciate the beautiful illuminated globe ($950) that comes complete with a perfectly burnished wooden stand. Of course, perfectly acceptable, non-inflated globes are also available in a more moderate price range ($36-$55).
For nostalgia value, nothing can beat an old National Geographic map ($14.95)—the kind you used to pull out of your parents' magazines to scribble all over with crayons. Someone you love might also appreciate an atlas, like the Historical Atlas of the North Pacific Ocean ($40), one of the many books at Metsker with a cartographic bent. Hammond's Graphic History of Mankind, on the other hand, is a nifty vertical chart that details the so-called evolution of human beings from the Stone Age to the year 2000, indicating the rise and fall of nations and documenting their interaction through color-coded stripes that intermingle when their histories converge. This little beauty retails for $7.95, but at these bargain- basement prices, you might as well get your map-lovin' kin the laminated version, which costs a mere $10 more. (Getting a map framed, on the other hand, can make it a more appealing holiday gift, but in terms of price, that simple step can make all the difference: An extreme example is the General Map of the World, whose unframed cost [$50] makes the price of framing—$265 more!--seem absurdly extravagant.)
However advanced our society may become, maps will always exude a certain kind of romance. We all wish we could travel more often, to exciting places that might make us think about where we come from and how we came to be the way we are. Whatever your pleasure, a map store is the path to cartographic gift-giving nirvana.
VIRTUAL MAP STORES
*Kroll Map Company (www.krollmap.com)
*Altea Maps & Books (www.alteamaps.com)
*Barry Lawrence Ruderman Old Historic Maps & Prints (www.raremaps.com)