Staff from the Oxfam branch used kitchen towel to absorb the worst of the water and dry the piece before it was shown to a valuer, who recognised the maker.
The John Speed world map titled A New and Accurat [sic] Map of the World, dated 1626, features hand-colouring, astrological and astronomical diagrams, allegorical figures and portraits of famous explorers.
It was offered at the Salisbury firm’s Furniture, Works of Art and Clocks sale where it was pitched low, at £400-600, based on its staining, cockling and general poor condition. However, it was bid up to £3500 (plus 25% buyer's premium) by collectors and dealers before it being knocked down to a US buyer.
“There is a strong market in the United States for anything that pre-dates or relates to the discovery of modern America,” said Mark Yuan-Richards, works of art specialist at Woolley & Wallis. “The fact that the North American coastline is inaccurate based on what we know today gives a fascinating insight into how cartography developed through exploration and the establishment of trade routes.”
Among its significant inaccuracies is the depiction of California as an island.
Shelley Hitch, valuer for Oxfam, said: “Luckily our staff recognised the potential age of the map when it was dropped off. It was in such a shabby state that it could easily have been thrown away, but the careful way it was dried means that despite its poor treatment it has raised a tremendous amount for Oxfam and gone to someone who will truly appreciate it for what it is.”
The entire hammer price went to Oxfam as the auction house waives its selling charges for charities.