The John Feathers Map Collection

This is phenomenal. When longtime Los Angeles resident John Feathers passed away in 2012 at age fifty-six, he left behind a house crammed to the rafters with innumerable maps of all forms, shapes, sizes and styles, from the very scientific to the very fanciful. Feathers had apparently been amassing them throughout his life and had built a collection of unprecedented scale and breadth for an unheralded individual cartography enthusiast. After they were discovered by a realtor charged with cleaning out the house for sale, the Los Angeles Public Library agreed to acquire it.

The Los Angeles Times described the cache this way:

Stashed everywhere in the 948-square-foot tear-down were maps. Tens of thousands of maps. Fold-out street maps were stuffed in file cabinets, crammed into cardboard boxes, lined up on closet shelves and jammed into old dairy crates. Wall-size roll-up maps once familiar to schoolchildren were stacked in corners. Old globes were lined in rows atop bookshelves also filled with maps and atlases.

A giant plastic topographical map of the United States covered a bathroom wall and bookcases displaying Thomas Bros. map books and other street guides lined a small den.

All told, the hoard was so massive that it instantly doubled the institution’s own map collection, which itself had been the result of a century of acquisitions.

This short film from The Los Angeles Review of Books features the LAPL’s map librarian Glen Creason talking about the collection, how he came to be aware of it, and the intellectual wealth that it represents. Creason is obviously passionate about the form, and it shows. He says: “They’re not just a bunch of lines on pages. They’ll give you an idea of how people lived if you look hard enough.” The film includes long, gorgeous pans of many items from the collection, and the variety of different types of maps from different eras is a marvel to behold.

Creason also shares maps from the library’s collection once a week at Los Angeles Magazine’s Citythink blog.