Edmond attorney Andy Lester's world is surrounded by visions of the past. An avid historical map collector, he has covered the walls and hallways where he works with images of what long-ago cartographers understood of their world.
Not just artful historical pieces, the maps serve as visual snapshots of time and real estate, often reflecting their mapmakers' skills and cultures.
Lester's maps at the Lester, Loving & Davies law firm, where he is a longtime partner, are carefully framed and include everything from a September 1893 Territorial-era map displaying plots of land available before one of the Oklahoma land runs to a Civil War-era map that carves out Oklahoma as a no man's land divided between the warring North and South.
The walls of Lester's antique-filled home also reflect his passion for cartography. Nearly every space exhibits maps that include places of historical significance to him and his wife, Barbara, as well as a series of world maps created by French, Dutch, English and German mapmakers from 1493, 1550, 1635 and later. Most of them are colorful and filled with whimsical ships, sea monsters and the personification of the winds, seasons and more.
“My undergraduate degree from Duke University was in history and my collecting grows out of my love for history,” Lester said. “They tell the history of their time. Our country is a nation based on the common law, which is based on history. Historical maps also tell about our past and how we got to where we are today.
“They are ultimately a tool designed to help people know the world. My map collection is prescriptive in describing timelines from the 1400s to today.”
He started slowly, collecting early Oklahoma-related, United States and world maps when he was in his late 20s. Lester corresponds with and has purchased maps online from professional dealers in Colorado, New Mexico, New York and England. The market for maps varies greatly, he said, but it basically mirrors what the buyer and seller are willing to negotiate and agree on.
He declined to discuss the value of his 50-plus map collection, but said such a collection can be a significant investment.
As former chairman and a current board member of the Tenth Circuit Judicial Historical Society, Lester has several of his historical Oklahoma-related maps on display at the circuit's headquarters in the Byron White U.S. Courthouse in Denver. One of the maps is of Oklahoma Territory just before statehood and another is of the state of Sequoyah, and includes a copy of the constitution that the people of Indian Territory proposed for Sequoyah. Both territories later petitioned for statehood and eventually were combined into what we know today as Oklahoma.
“Not many people know about Oklahoma's history, and we have a fascinating history,” he said. “The state of Sequoyah was the only time a territory qualified and petitioned for statehood, but didn't become a state. Instead, the two territories became one state.”
He jokes that his law partners continue to humor him by allowing him to decorate many of the hallways and conference rooms at their law office. But maps, he said, are a good investment.
“Being a map collector isn't like being a wine collector, because you assume a bottle of wine will eventually be consumed,” Lester said. “Collecting maps is somewhat similar to having a coin collection, in that maps were printed in multiples, so generally more than one exemplar exists. Still, many are quite rare.”
Oklahoma City architect Anthony McDermid, principal at TAP Architecture, said he understands why Lester is drawn to historic maps. He also loves and collects books of certain types of historical maps.
“They are wonderful paths to history and are intrinsically beautiful,” McDermid said. “I grew up in Bristol, England, where we had ordnance survey maps that were incredibly detailed about all of England. More recently, I'm fascinated by old railroad maps of the American West, which were instrumental in opening the West.”
Today, he looks for a slight tilt in landscapes to possibly see the ghost of railroad lines where railroad beds were once located. He also loves highway and interstate maps.
“Maps are dynamic and they're constantly changing,” McDermid said. “I grew up with British Commonwealth maps where the commonwealth countries were in pink and that changed significantly over time. Maps capture a brief moment in history.”
He said he sees many framed maps used to decorate offices.
“They're popular as design elements, and wonderful things to look at and read,” McDermid said. “It is almost like the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.' That's what a map says to me — it shortens the narrative.”
He recommends map enthusiasts take advantage of the Oklahoma Historical Society's website to review old state maps and to also to seek out Sanborn maps.
These include maps of Oklahoma City created every five years and compiled by the Sanborn Map Co. for use by insurance companies and used to insure area properties.
“They documented every building and business in Oklahoma City up through the 1960s,” McDermid said. “Somewhere out there, there is a map you can connect with.”
He said he connected strongly to an aerial photograph taken during World War II that designated where the Germans planned to bomb Bristol, England, which suffered heavy damage during the war.
“It was dramatic and took my breath away, especially when you see your house and where the Germans were going to bomb.”