All Mapped Out

Richard Hopton meets Daniel Crouch from the rarefied world of antiquarian atlas dealers.

Daniel Crouch is an antiquarian map dealer. At his St James’s gallery he presides over a wondrous collection of maps and atlases, ranging from a fragment of a 14th-century Catalan chart to Harry Beck’s first diagrammatic map of the London Underground of 1932.

There are large wall maps of historic London, centuries-old mariners’ salt-splattered charts and fine, tooled, leather-bound volumes for armchair explorers. These maps trace cartography from its earliest days, when immigration and myth were the mapmaker’s guiding lights, through the first attempts to portray the earth’s surface as it actually was, to the early stirrings mapping. It is a journey that illuminates the shifting boundaries between history, geography, cartography and the imagination.

It was a simple twist of fate – a family friend had declined a job and suggested that it be offered to Daniel instead – that propelled him into the world of antiquarian maps. Thus Daniel began working at Sanders, a print gallery on Oxford’s High Street. In 2002 he was invited to set up a map and atlas department by Bernard Shapero, a well-known London book dealer and, in 2010, Daniel, with Nick Trimming, set up his own business.

Daniel Crouch Rare Books got off to a flying start when it acquired the Gestetner Collection of maritime atlases. Since then Daniel and Nick have joined the first rank of antiquarian map dealers having sold the third and fourth most expensive maps on record. Some sumptuous treasures have passed through their hands in just tow years. Amongst there are the Arcano del Mare (1646), the world’s first sea atlas, Rudimentum novitiorum (1475), the earliest known printed maps and Jacopo de’ Barbari’s magnificent bird’s-eye view of Venice (1500) which sold for more than £1m.

Inevitably, given the sums involved, the business required capital, which was put up by ‘a couple of right-thinking customers’. As Daniel says, ‘ We are a commercial venture and we do make money but a couple of thirty-year-olds don’t have a couple of million quid sitting around.’ There are only four top-flight antiquarian atlas dealers in the world, three of whom are in New York, so Daniel and Nick are members of a very select club. Collectors of these beautiful and rare objects are, generally speaking, wealthy individuals so, as Daniel says, the business is ‘ reasonably recession proof’. The future looks well mapped out.

Questions of Scale

Who has influenced you most professionally?

The late Christopher Lennox-Boyd, who employed me when I was 17 years old. His enthusiasm was obviously sufficiently infectious to keep me from a real job.

What is your ambition for DCRB?

To sell the finest maps, atlases and voyages.

Who is your favourite antiquarian map-maker?

Robert Dudley. Technically not a mapmaker himself, but his story is great fun, and the Arcano de Mare is my favourite atlas – so beautifully engraved.

If you were not running DCRB, what would you be doing?

Running a bookshop with a different name…?

Where do you most like going on holiday?

Camping with the kids.