That's Joerg Kohler's motto. Kohler, an antiquarian, runs the Old Maps & Prints shop in the Bangkok’s River City Complex.

Joerg studied art history and the antique trade in Germany before deciding to specialize in antiquarian books, maps and prints. He compares selling old maps and prints to buying shares on the stock market. “There’s no problem for me in taking them back. If a customer buys a map of Siam, and then gets bored with it and wants to trade it in for a similar map of Burma, that’s fine with me. After all, only satisfied customers come back.”

ImageKohler’s applies the following criteria in buying his maps and prints: they have to focus on Asia, be in fair to good condition, present a reasonable price for a dealer, and be original. But he says he doesn’t buy for money, he buys for art. “I look for nice pieces because you can always sell nice pieces of art.

“My prints start at 1,000 baht,” Kohler says, “and my maps start at 5,000 baht. I must sell according to international market prices. The less expensive items are usually from the 19th century, and they look a little modern. They are a link between the old and the new maps. They have a modern face, but they are made using one of the old printing techniques such as steel engraving or lithography. The maps that have a higher value show a certain discovery or an original colouring or idea for the first time.”

Describing the evolution of print and making paper Kohler says, “There are three main types of prints. The oldest is relief; the second is intaglio, or engraving; and the third is surface printing, or lithography. Only cotton and hemp were used for making paper until 1800, but then wood started to be used. The effect on the paper was very noticeable, since when you exposed it to sunlight it became brown and it would break, like potato chips; it also started to attract insects too.”

Advice for first-time buyers? “Buying art is a matter of trust, especially if you aren’t a collector. A customer will come into my place and say ‘I have this much money to spend. Give me a good piece.’ But it really all depends on how much money they want to spend.”

Shopping for a print? “It all depends on what people want. Do they want an old map or print for decorative reasons? Are they collectors? Who do they want to buy the print for? If it’s for a gift, I usually try to find out about the profession of the person the gift is intended for, and then suggest an appropriate print.

“If the customer is buying an old map or print for themselves, I think that it is important that they buy a print that they like, not just one they think will increase in value. They have to go home and look at it on the their wall every day, so it should be nice. Otherwise, why don’t they just tack up a 1,000-baht note on their wall?”

How can you spot a phoney? “Each print should have a short description of the print in question, the technique used, the publishing date, the publishing location, the name of the engraver and the name of the person who originally drew the print. Many prints come with a certificate, and the larger and the more gold the certificate contains, the more suspicious I usually am. A simple description, with all the facts one can collect on the item, is enough.”

Tips for buying and bargaining? “Never buy anything framed. Make sure you look on the back side and see if there’s any evidence of repairs or fungus. You can use these as possible bargaining chips. And, if it’s a copper engraving, you should always be able to see the size of the original copper plate that was used. If the plate mark has been trimmed, the value of the piece goes down. (This is similar to trimming the perforation off an old stamp.)

“Always ask the dealer for the name of a framer who can properly frame your print, someone who uses acid-free matte board, or acid-free matte tape, and one who knows how to fix the paper properly so it doesn’t crack, especially here in Asia with the humidity and temperature changes. A frame should also match the style of the century it comes from.”

The prints on display in Kohler’s shop have been fixed with acid-free hinges to the matte board at only two or three spots at the top of the print. Thus the print hangs loosely between the acid-free matte boards, free from contact with the glass, discouraging the formation of mould. This method allows the print to breathe and to move freely, while assuring a dust-free environment is.

Joerg recommends you return your print to the framer after about 10 years for airing and re-hinging. At the same time, the dust seal should be replaced. He points out that many prints are ruined by improper framing, which can result in mould, dust and acid damage.

He also warns that it’s getting more and more difficult to find top-of-the-line original prints. His advice is — if you have the money and if you can find one — buy it, for very soon it will increase in value; it could even become a museum piece.

Kohler’s mentor was a man named Hans Marcus. A German Jew, Marcus had to flee his homeland and hide out in much the same way Anne Frank did. The house where he was hiding had lots of books, many of them relating to maps and prints. As he had nothing to do but read, he studied them over and over again, developing a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject. Kohler recalls how a gang stole a number of prints from a museum in Britain once, and one of the gang members eventually showed up at Marcus’s shop in Dusseldorf trying to hawk the prints. Marcus immediately recognized the signature on the prints, and saw that they had came from the missing British collection. He notified the authorities, and the gang was eventually pinched.

If you want more information about old maps and prints, Sotheby’s and Christies both publish annual reports detailing items they’ve auctioned. (But keep in mind the auctioneer’s tax, and, since mostly dealers attend the auctions, prices will be higher.) Good books are hard to come by here in Bangkok, but, if you can get your hands on them, Kohler recommends the following as invaluable guides: Thieme/Becher Lexicon of Art; Brunet’s Manuel de librairie de livre; Leo Bargrow’s History of Cartography; Tooley’s Dictionary of Mapmakers and Tooley’s English Books with Coloured Plates; Cordier’s Biblioteca Indosinica; and Colas’ Bibliographie generale du costume de la mode.

Old Maps & Prints is open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 7pm, and Sunday from 1pm to 6pm.

Contact information

Tel. (662) 237-0077 (8), ext. 432
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