One of the most challenging aspects of being a map dealer is maintaining your inventory. Auctions, antique stores, and even yard sales can be good sources of material, but some of the best and most desirable items come from other dealers. When Curtis Wright Maps was first getting off the ground, I knew it was important to be able to offer interesting and historically important maps to my customers, but I was worried about haphazardly buying from many sources. Purchasing in bulk from a reputable source would be a great way to jumpstart my business, I thought. And thus began my journey to Halls, Tennessee to see Dr. Murray Hudson, one of the most prolific map dealers in the United States.
I first met Murray in May of 2017 at a meeting of the Chicago Map Society. He was the presenter; a wiry, bearded man with an Indiana Jones hat and armfuls of incredible, exotic globes, ready to discuss their history and manufacture in the Windy City. I knew immediately he had to come from the south – his charming accent and friendly disposition gave that much away. I had no idea, however, that I would be taking a trip to visit that shop two years later, almost exactly to the day.
The journey to Tennessee originated as a suggestion from a colleague in the industry, Sammy Berk of New World Cartographic. A fellow Chicago dealer, Sammy had known Murray for several years and recommended a joint trip as a good opportunity to find new inventory and learn from a renowned map dealer. We hit the road early on May 20th and traveled over 450 miles down I-57 South, arriving at Halls just in time for lunch.
Nestled in low ground less than 10 miles from the Mississippi River, Halls is a one stoplight town with a quaint Main Street bisected by a county highway and railroad tracks. An old cotton gin looms over the downtown area, which unfortunately had seen more prosperous times in days gone by. However, there are several storefronts along Main Street in which can be seen dozens of maps and globes, all lined neatly in rows on the other side of the dusty glass. These are the outbuildings of Murray Hudson Antique Maps, whose main office can be found around the corner on Church Street.
After a lovely introduction and delicious lunch of local BBQ, Sammy and I got down to work. Murray has an inventory of over 25,000 maps, globes, atlases and prints and we were hoping to review a significant portion in the three days we had planned to stay. Fortunately for us, the staff at Murray Hudson Antique Maps, led by Sally Sawyers with over 30 years’ experience, had spent the past decade cataloguing and inventorying the myriad of maps in Murray’s three separate buildings. Each item was carefully photographed, described, measured and sorted into a drawer, bin, or shelf. Thanks to this exceptional organizational system, I was able to look at thousands of maps each day I was there.
Murray has an incredible breadth of material spanning a broad period of time. Atlas maps from the 17th century, government reports from the 18th and 19th centuries, plus aeronautical and road maps from the 20th century make up just a fraction of his overall offering. What sets Murray’s inventory apart is that he often includes related published text, reproduced title pages, and additional supplemental information for many of his maps and globes. This allows the buyer to have a more comprehensive understanding of the context in which the map was published and adds to the overall value (both monetary and historical) of the item. My favorite pieces I purchased included an early 20th century map of a stock car race in Philadelphia, a panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park and an 1860’s plat map of Vincennes, Indiana (my home town).
Ultimately, I ended up personally purchasing over 100 maps and prints, including souvenir pictorials, government surveys, bird’s eye views, city plans and a gorgeous art deco globe. Sammy also ended up taking home dozens of wall maps and globes, making for a very full vehicle on the return trip!
I spent two full days in the offices of Murry Hudson Antique Maps and was astonished by the number of visitors they had during my time there. Folks making a quick day trip from Memphis, map collectors from Atlanta, and travelers along I-55 crossing the Mississippi all made the trek to Halls. If you ever find yourself near western Tennessee, I highly recommend making a detour to see the maps of Murray Hudson for yourself. Although the location is inauspicious, you’ll likely find a gem or two tucked away amongst the stacks and shelves.