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Map Collectors Worldwide Honor Harold Osher

The International Map Collectors’ Society (IMCoS) has named Dr. Harold Osher of Portland the 2012 recipient of its annual Helen Wallis Award.

The award, named for the scholar, researcher, and longtime superintendent of the British Library’s Map Library, is presented to an individual “who in the opinion of the selection sub-committee has been responsible for cartographic contributions of great merit and wide interest to map collectors worldwide.”

The 2012 Helen Wallis Award was both announced and presented at the society’s annual dinner held at the East India Club in London in June.  The society has more than 2,000 international members, among them academics, map dealers, collectors, and representatives of libraries and museums throughout the world.

Map collectors Calvin and Carol Welch, of Scotia, New York, received the award on behalf of Dr. Osher, who was unable to attend the dinner. The award was presented by Tony Campbell, chairman of the Helen Wallis Award selection committee and Wallis’s successor in the British Library’s Map Library. Campbell had sold Dr. Osher and his wife, Peggy L. Osher, their first maps in 1975, when the couple ventured into his shop after viewing the nearby British Library’s “American War of Independence” exhibition. Campbell noted that, “…in establishing the Osher Map Library as a beacon for map education, a whole generation in Maine has been exposed, since childhood, to the idea that early maps are not only beautiful but also interesting and relevant.”

The Oshers donated their collection to the University of Southern Maine in 1989, where it joined the collection of the late Lawrence M.C. and Eleanor Houston Smith. The USM Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education first opened in 1994; in October 2009 its new, expanded facilities opened at the corner of Bedford Street and Forest Avenue on USM’s Portland campus.

The Osher Map Library now is considered one of the nation’s premier rare map libraries. “The admirable work of that library (OML) is well established throughout the country,” reported John R. Hébert, recently retired chief of the Geography and Map Division of The Library of Congress.

It also is a rare map library with an even rarer mission: to share its collection with K-12 students and the general public, as well as college students and scholars. At dedication ceremonies for the new library, the Oshers noted, “We always intended that our collection should be shared, not hidden.”

The founding collections of the Osher and Smith families have been augmented by gifts from other individual collectors. The combined collections now contain more than 400,000 maps, either as separate sheets or bound in atlases and books. They also include hundreds of rare globes.

The holdings include a 1494 printing, the first with a map, of Christopher Columbus’s letter announcing the success of his 1492 voyage to the “islands of the India sea”; Captain John Smith’s map of New England based on his 1614 voyage; a property plan surveyed by George Washington; and a map used in determining the boundaries of the United States of America at the Treaty of Paris in 1782-1783.

The Oshers, the Osher Library Associates, USM and other supporters continue to extend the library’s outreach activities through further development of the website and the digitization of the library’s collections.