Maps have an emotional resonance that have made them an enduring part of our art and culture for most of history. Even the ubiquity of Google Maps couldn't kill the map obsession: maps as artwork, maps that chart a place’s psychic quality, or expose an interesting history, seem to be enjoying greater popularity than ever. When I spoke to Katharine Harmon, the author of three books on maps, for an article last month, she traced the popularity of psychic mapping back to Jasper Johns's popular Map, an abstract oil painting of a map of the U.S. made in 1961. Maps in this vein, she told me, "seem to double or triple each year."
It would stand to reason, then, that map products are not in short supply. Besides maps as fine art (and fine prints), there are beautiful books about maps, map accessories, map coasters, subway-map inspired home decor, map jewelry. Many of these map-related products happen to make excellent gifts, thanks in large part to that emotional quality. A map of a friend's favorite city, a map of your family's hometown, or a map that shows the side of your own city that appeals in a particular way to a person you love—these are all thoughtful, sure-to-be-appreciated, fairly failsafe gift ideas.
The thing is, not all map products are created equal. Many of them are actually pretty tacky, or slapdash, or even just too generic to be given as a thoughtful gift. Tasteful design (or lack thereof) will make or break a map gift. Below are our five top recommendations.
Atlas of Design, Volume 3
The fact that Atlas of Design, a book dedicated to showing the best in cartographic design, is in its third volume is testament to the enduring popularity of maps. This third version has compiled 32 maps from top cartographers in the field, and it doesn't shy away from the esoteric topics. There's a Roy Lichtenstein-inspired, Pop Art-style map of the U.S., a map charting airport workers, and one mapping out Amelia Earhart’s last flight. These maps are beautiful and unusual, but they don't skimp on accuracy. Order here for $35.
Dymaxion Folding Globe
This folding map designed by Brendan Ravenhill and produced by the design shop Areaware is a re-imagining of Buckminster Fuller's 1954 Dymaxion map. Hand drawn by the architect Shoji Sadao, the original Dymaxion map rendered the continents without breaks in any of the continental contours, and put it on an icosahedron consisting of 20 equilateral triangles. When the triangles are rearranged into a 3D object, the Dymaxion map is just as accurate as it is in 2D. In Ravenhill's vision, the map becomes a beautiful design object that folds together seamlessly thanks to interior magnets. Buy it here for $15.
Urban Gridded Dogtag Necklace
From the Brooklyn-based studio Aminimal, these dogtags are cut out in the aerial grid of your favorite city. These necklaces are nice for their subtlety: they don't exactly scream "map," but the locality puts another level of thoughtfulness into a gifted necklace. And Aminimal has managed to make the bulky dogtag into a complex and delicate piece of jewelry. They have necklaces for more than 120 cities, for $40 to $65. Buy here.
Nonstop Metropolis by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Nonstop Metropolis by author and activist Rebecca Solnit and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a beautiful book-object to gift someone this season. The book is the third in Solnit and Jelly-Shapiro's series of Atlases, all of which match essays with illustrated maps to show the overlooked histories of a city. This one is brand new and all about New York (they've also done New Orleans and San Francisco) but even for a non-New Yorker, it's beautiful and a compelling read. One essay explores the many endangered languages in Queens, another the oddly fascinating history of New York's water supply. Buy the book here for around $40.
Adopt A Building at the Queens Museum
While it's not inherent that a map-lover also be a fan of the built environment, the two obsessions do tend to overlap. For anyone who lives in New York, loves New York, loves museums, or would just rather give a donation than get another gift this year, the Adopt A Building Program at the Queens Museum is a great option. A donation buys the gift-receiver a building in the sprawling sculpture Panorama of the City of New York. Conceived by the urbanist Robert Moses and built by Raymond Lester & Associates for the 1964 World Fair, the piece is now the "jewel in the crown of the collection" at the Queens Museum. Donors receive a title deed in exchange for their purchase, and the donation goes to the operation and maintenance of the museum. Go here to donate from $50 for an apartment to $1,000 for a small commercial building, low-rise apartment building, or warehouse.