Historic Legends

Everyone knows the cliché about men and navigation. They don't mix. Men don't accept directions -- ever. They could be driving off the end of the Earth and they would still keep going, insisting all along they know where they are. Take Christopher Columbus, for instance; seems as if he always landed everywhere except for the place he wanted to be. On the other hand, nobody knows where Amelia Earhart ended up, but we'd like to think she wasn't flying blind.

Men may be loath to ask for directions, but for some odd reason they love to collect maps. Men outnumber women 2-1 at the annual Miami International Map Fair, claims Dr. Joseph H. Fitzgerald, the event's founder, who has been amassing maps for more than 30 years. But don't count women out as cartography enthusiasts. Fitzgerald says one of the most prolific and prominent collectors was Texan Virginia Garrett, who owned 900 maps, mostly of her home state.

So what's the allure of maps? Why the fascination? According to Fitzgerald women enjoy their decorative merits while men appreciate their historical value. Novices and veteran hobbyists can decide what they like for themselves when the seventh edition of the fair, which bills itself as the only event of its kind in the western hemisphere, takes place this weekend. "For three days in February we are the center of the world in maps," notes fair coordinator Marcia Kanner. Last year more than 900 people attended the gathering.

Those hip to the map world know that 30-plus dealers from all over the world will be offering colorful maps of all types, which can range in price anywhere from $15 to $150,000. (An atlas by Ortelius dated 1584 contains the earliest map of Florida and goes for a cool $135,000.) A panel discussion featuring geography professors and a mathematician, and a workshop given by Vermont's Francis J. Manasek, the author of Collecting Old Maps, are geared toward all kinds of collectors. Owners are even encouraged to bring charts from home for an expert opinion.

"Maps give a sense of history and what has gone before us," says Fitzgerald. "A map will give you a perception of how people viewed the world in those days. It's an interesting thing to look at how far we've come -- and how far we haven't!"

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman