What is a Cartifact?

Caitlin Dempsey

Updated:

If you’ve ever perused map and cartography related listings with antique dealers, you may have seen the term “cartifact” bandied about (or cartefact for British English spellers).

The term “cartifact” is not word you will see defined in a dictionary (at least not yet). It’s a term that is mostly used in the antique and map collecting realm.

Cartifact is a portmanteau of two words: cartography and artifact. Artifact (or artefact in British English) is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary simply as “an object made by a human being.” Cartifact blends the “cart” in cartography with “artifact” to produce “cartifact” for American English spellers and “cartefact” for British English spellers.

Therefore, a cartifact is an object containing a map that is used primarily for design rather than as a source of information.

Decorative maps can be seen on all types of objects.

For example:

Map Fans

Map fan from China: Da Qing yi tong er shi san sheng yu di quan tu, 1890. Source: Library of Congress.
Map fan from China: Da Qing yi tong er shi san sheng yu di quan tu, 1890. Source: Library of Congress.

More: Maps on Fans

Walking Sticks and Canes

Two images showing the front and back of a map rolled out from a walking cane with a silver handle.
The first cane map was created in 1893. Image: Geographicus via Wikipedia, public domain.

More: Cane Maps

Manhole Covers

Manhole cover with a plan of old town part of Oldenburg, Germany. Photo: Anaconda74, Public domain
Manhole cover with a plan of old town part of Oldenburg, Germany. Photo: Anaconda74, Public domain

More: Manhole Covers With Maps

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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