The History of IMCoS

IMCoS was the idea of Yasha Beresiner, map and stamp dealer in London, and he arranged a seminar in Birmingham on 6 June 1980 where an acting committee was formed with Malcolm Young as chairman, a computer expert as membership secretary, an accountant as treasurer, a journal editor and some committee members. It was formally inaugurated on 13 September that year at the National Liberal Club in London with Rodney Shirley as the first president. It was agreed that the Society would have regional meetings in England in order to gain members who had an interest in early maps be they collectors, dealers, academics, librarians, or plain enthusiasts.

Regional meetings were initially held in various cities in England and by the end of its first year IMCoS had 180 members in 21 countries. It was also decided to hold a map fair in London with an auction, a map raffle and a dinner and this was to be called a symposium. The first one was held at the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria, London, and was a great success establishing IMCoS as a much-needed forum for map collectors. A fair was held yearly, organised by the committee until 2004 when it passed to a committee of map dealers. It soon became clear to Rodney and Malcolm that if IMCoS was to be an international society there must be international representatives. These were duly appointed and the first symposium outside England was held in Amsterdam in 1982. About 28 people attended and the highlight of the weekend was a viewing of the large Polder maps of Holland which had to be displayed on the floor due to their size!

Since then, the Society has held an International Symposium every year except during Covid-19 across the continents including Europe, Israel, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Turkey, New Zealand, Guatemala, South Korea and South Africa. 2024’s symposium is being held in Malta, and 2025’s in Portland, Maine. During these events members have been lucky enough to view at first hand some of the rarest and most important maps in the world, including the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral, the Juan de la Cosa portolan world map of 1500 in Madrid, the only extant copy of van den Keere’s world map of 1611 in the Sutro Library, California, and the Madaba map made up of mosaics which is on the floor of a village church near Amman in Jordan. During a visit to Rome, we were overwhelmed by a display of portolan charts in the Vatican Library, which had been brought out solely for IMCoS members.

The Society has had a number of Chairs following Malcolm Young (1980–88): Tony Burgess, Susan Gole, Jenny Harvey, Hans Kok from Holland (our longest serving Chair so far), and currently Dr Mike Sweeting. Presidents, following Rodney Shirley (author of a number of books including the much acclaimed The Mapping of the World), have been Helen Wallis, Oswald Dreyer Eimbcke, Roger Baskes, Sarah Tyacke, and currently, Peter Barber OBE, retired Head of Map Collections at the British Library.

An IMCoS award is presented, usually annually, to an individual who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, has been responsible for cartographic contributions of great merit and interest to map collectors worldwide. This is the Helen Wallis Award. In certain circumstances a group of people or an organisation could be eligible. The first award of the special silver plate went to Valerie Scott (now Newby) who was Editor of The Map Collector and author of a series of county histories. It was presented by the ‘Grand Old Man of Maps’ Ronald Vere Tooley, who ran the map department at Francis Edwards in Marylebone High Street, London. Notable recipients include Dr Brian Harley, Professor David Woodward, Dr Helen Wallis OBE, Joseph Fitzgerald who founded the Miami Map Fair, and Catherine Hofmann of the Map Department at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

The quarterly IMCoS Map Journal has been published throughout the life of the Society under different editors. It helps to unite map collectors from all parts of the globe and includes articles by experts on a vast range of subjects relating to maps. There have been a number of formats, but the aims of the journal remain the same: to report on the events taking place within the Society and to publish a range of articles of interest to our members.

For many years an annual Collectors’ Meeting took place, usually in the UK, where members brought maps for identification, or to show to others. This event has been replaced by the much appreciated online ‘Show & Tell’ for members worldwide. The annual lecture in memory of the work of Helen Wallis also takes place annually, more usually online nowadays. Recent guest lecturers include Daniel Crouch, Dennis Reinhardt and Susan Schulten.

Annual UK events are also organised and have included visits to important map collections like the Hydrographic Office in Taunton, Holkham Hall, Norfolk, the Royal Library at Windsor, Hatfield House, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Durham and Hereford Cathedrals, and many others.

In both 2010 and 2020 IMCoS celebrated with a special issue of the IMCoS Map Journal. Although there have obviously been many changes in personnel and activities during the last 44 years, the spirit of the Society remains the same which is to “promote, foster, and encourage the activity of map collecting and the study of cartography and its history”.

Note. A history of IMCoS, IMCoS 1980–2000, A History was published in 2000, with an update in 2005. It is available to members, if copies still remain, and contains personal memories of some of our earliest members.