Our Top Five Rare and historic maps sold at auction

While Google continues to chart every known crevice of the world, maps from a time when the vast mysteries of the Earth were in the process of discovery still achieve huge prices at auction.

With Sotheby's much anticipated London sale of atlases and maps just weeks away, we take a look at our top five maps ever sold at auction.

World's most expensive map

The first known map of the US to be printed in America sold for $2m at Christie's in December 2010, making it the world's most expensive map ever sold at auction. Produced by Abel Buell in 1784, just a year after the Treaty of Paris acknowledged the independence of the US from Britain, it is one of only seven known copies in existence, and only the third to be sold in 120 years.

It was bought by philanthropist David M Rubenstein, who has lent it to Washington's Library of Congress.

Apollo 17 lunar map

An Apollo 17 bearing chart map, carried on board the lunar rover, sold for $27,815 in January 2011.

During the 1972 mission's 22 hours spent exploring the moon's surface, this map was for use in an emergency should the astronauts have had to abandon their vehicle and walk back to the lunar module.

As the last moon mission, this item, which displays the entire landing site as well as compass bearings, could well prove a good investment in years to come.

China at the centre of the world

A 1602 map showing China at the centre of the world sold for $1m in October 2009. Produced by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci, the rice paper map was created at the behest of Emperor Wanli. Known as the Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography, the 12 by five foot map was bought by the James Ford Bell Trust and is on display at the Library of Congress.

Apian's 1520 'early Americas' map

German humanitarian Peter Apian's 1520 map was produced in Vienna and is one of the first to display America. Heavily inspired by the Waldseemüller specimen of 1507 - the first to use the term "America" on a map - this wood-engraved world map trebled its estimate to achieve $52,800 at Swann in November 2010.

Apian's 'new world' view

First map of Australia

The very first complete map of Australia sold for £32,000 at Lyon & Turnbull's Books, Maps & Manuscripts auction in January 2010.

French cartographer Louise Freycinet published the work in 1811, which includes 14 engraved charts. It forms part of a seven-volume account of Nicolas Baudin's expedition to Australia in 1800.


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