IMCoS was the idea of Yasha Beresiner, map and stamp dealer in London, and he arranged a seminar in Birmingham on 6 June 1980 where an acting committee was formed with Malcolm Young as chairman, a computer expert as membership secretary, an accountant as treasurer, a journal editor and some committee members. It was formally inaugurated on 13 September that year at the National Liberal Club in London with Rodney Shirley as the first president. It was agreed that the Society would have regional meetings in England in order to gain members who had an interest in early maps be they collectors, dealers, academics, librarians, or plain enthusiasts.
Regional meetings were initially held in various cities in England and by the end of its first year IMCoS had 180 members in 21 countries. It was also decided to hold a map fair in London with an auction, a map raffle and a dinner and this was to be called a symposium. The first one was held at the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria, London, and was a great success establishing IMCoS as a much-needed forum for map collectors. A fair was held yearly, organised by the committee until 2004 when it passed to a committee of map dealers. It soon became clear to Rodney and Malcolm that if IMCoS was to be an international society there must be international representatives. These were duly appointed and the first symposium outside England was held in Amsterdam in 1982. About 28 people attended and the highlight of the weekend was a viewing of the large Polder maps of Holland which were on display (on the floor because of their size).
Since then the Society has held an International Symposium every year in many parts of the world including Europe, and as far afield as Israel, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Turkey, New Zealand, Guatemala, South Korea and South Africa. This year’s symposium is being held in Chicago in conjunction with the Kenneth Nebenzahl Lectures. During these events members have been lucky enough to view at first hand some of the rarest and most important maps in the world, including the Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral, the Juan de la Cosa portolan world map of 1500 in Madrid, the only extant copy of van den Keere’s world map of 1611 in the Sutro Library, California, and the Madaba map made up of mosaics which is on the floor of a village church near Amman in Jordan. During a visit to Rome we were overwhelmed by a display of portolan charts in the Vatican Library, which had been brought out solely for IMCoS members.
The Society has had a number of chairmen following Malcolm Young (1980–88): Tony Burgess, Susan Gole, Jenny Harvey and now, Hans Kok from Holland, who has held the position since 2005. Presidents following Rodney Shirley (author of a number of books including the much acclaimed The Mapping of the World ), have been Dr Helen Wallis, Oswald Dreyer Eimbcke, Roger Baskes, Sarah Tyacke, and currently, Peter Barber OBE, who retired recently as Head of Map Collections at the British Library.
An IMCoS award has been presented each year to an individual who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, has been responsible for cartographic contributions of great merit and interest to map collectors worldwide. In certain circumstances a group of people or an organisation could be eligible. The first award of the special silver plate went to Valerie Scott (now Newby) who was Editor of The Map Collector and author of a series of county histories. It was presented by the ‘Grand Old Man of Maps’ Ronald Vere Tooley, who ran the map department at Francis Edwards in Marylebone High Street, London. The most recent recipient was Catherine Hofmann of the Map Department at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Other notable recipients included Dr Brian Harley, Professor David Woodward, Dr Helen Wallis OBE and Joseph Fitzgerald who founded the Miami Map Fair.
The quarterly IMCoS Journal has been published throughout the life of the Society under different editors. It helps to unite map collectors from all parts of the globe and includes articles by experts on a vast range of subjects relating to maps. There have been a number of different editors and formats but the aims of the journal remain the same: to report on the events taking place within the Society and to publish a range of articles of interest to our members. The Society has now entered the digital age with an informative website which has just been redesigned.
Regular activities are the annual Collectors’ Meeting where members bring their maps for identification or to show to others who might be interested. This event has been chaired in recent years by Francis Herbert, retired Map Librarian of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). Also, the annual IMCoS dinner which is always held on the night before the London Map Fair. It is here that the IMCoS/Helen Wallis award is presented every year.