Barry Ruderman: ABAA, lost without his maps
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Barry was born in Rialto, California, April 23, 1962. He attended Eisenhower High School (1980), the University of California, Riverside (BS in Economics, 1984) and the University of San Diego School of Law (Juris Doctorate, 1987).
From age 8-13, he ran track and cross-country. Thereafter, he played soccer for his high school and at UC Riverside, leaving him with a continuing passion for national and international play. Even today when others are asleep he can sometimes still be found cheering European competitions in the middle of the night.
He practiced Commercial Insolvency Law from 1987 to 2003 including a year as law clerk for a Judge in the Southern District of California (1987-88). Then, beginning as an associate he rose to become a partner at Weeks Rathbone Robertson & Johnson, (1990-1997), then becoming managing partner [1997-2003]. Thereafter he became in-house counsel for a financial services company from 2003-2007.
Today he lives in La Jolla, California, with his wife Kathy. They have 3 daughters (Montana, Sophomore at USC; Liberty, Freshman at Seattle University and Simona, 8th Grade) and 3 stepsons (David, Sophomore at Belmont University, Jordan, 11th grade and Isaac, 9th grade). “The 6 children are definitely a great source of pride and watching them leave has been challenging.”
His interest in maps were re-kindled in his last year of law school, when in researching a law review article on the law of the sea, he reviewed Supreme Court briefs utilizing 17th and 18th Century Sea charts as source information for boundary disputes for the waters between states.
He would buy his first antique map in 1990 and track his interest in maps back to cross country-driving trips with family in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. His fascination with the book, The Phantom Toll Booth, where Milo's map became symbolic of the prospects for using a map in the quest for knowledge and adventure, was an early talisman of what would become his collecting passion.
His first antique map, or, as W. C. Field’s might have described it, “the fatal glass of beer,” was purchased on a ski trip to Taos, New Mexico in February 1990 when he made a buy from George Robinson. By mid-1991, he had accumulated probably 30-40 maps and decided it would be fun to try to sell at local antique shows and book fairs.
In 1995, he exhibited at his first real map fair, in connection with the International Map Collector's Society's annual meeting in San Francisco. In mid-1996, at the suggestion of a friend he launched RareMaps.com, one of the first on-line websites exclusively dedicated to antique maps.
“I was very fortunate, in that in an era of static websites and nascent e-commerce concepts, my website designer insisted upon using a database and a dynamic script which allowed pages to be built on the fly, then still a relatively new concept. I was also fortunate that my mother had insisted that I learn to type -- so my 70 word per minute high school typing skills, plus being home at night with young children during the rest of the 1990s, gave me lots of time to add maps to the website.”
By 1999, the business had outgrown the family garage-office and he established an open shop on Prospect Street in La Jolla. “My first real employee was my mother-in-law -- a good sport! At that point, I was still practicing law 40 (60?) hours a week. Since that time, the business has grown to 6 full time staff, including Alex Clausen, former head of Swann Galleries Map & Atlas Department, and Katie Parker, PhD., who is now actively launching our next venture, where we hope to promote the publication of well illustrated on-line articles about antique maps and the history of cartography."
And, as to the future, his and the map field’s, he provided this essay:
My business was started as a hobby. In the early 1990s, I had a vision that I would retire and become a (gentleman?) map seller after I finished practicing law. As the business grew in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was always a hobby first for me, even after we started adding employees and it became clear that RareMaps.com was on a path to becoming a real business.
When I finally started working for myself in 2008 (I was employee number 4), I never really changed my outlook. I try to surround myself with people I like and who enjoy what they do--20 years as a lawyer and corporate counsel taught me the importance of surrounding myself with happy, loyal people. To this day, I like to think that I'm still a hobbyist. While my hobby has, for many years, been an all consuming passion, I still feel that its not real work--just a pure labor of love.
From the start, I've built RareMaps.com in the model of my style of collecting. I loved reading and researching my collection, so I made it a point to try to provide meaningful descriptions and context to the material I sold. To this day, the vast majority of all the research and written descriptions are my work, typically done after dinner, in earlier years surrounded by children doing their homework. Its always been a great source of pride that I typically satiate my interest in researching and writing without regard to value or intended pricing--as long as I was enjoying myself, the process was its own reward, regardless of whether we priced an object at $250 or $250,000. Over 20 years, we've created over 50,000 descriptions. This commitment to research and writing is certainly a significant factor in the success of RareMaps.com, as we would soon learn that both collectors and web search engines love real content and large images.
From my years as a lawyer, I tried to bring a client oriented approach to selling maps. A sale was nice, but creating long-term relationships was far more interesting. Having started as a collector who valued (craved?) time talking to and corresponding with dealers, I understood how much I valued talking with and learning from dealers, many of whom were generous with their time and prioritized good advice over instant sales. This is true of both private clients and institutional clients. I take great pride in directing collectors to material offered by other dealers when appropriate. Professional service and integrity pay far greater dividends over time than any single sale.
Just as important, I enjoy sharing information and learning from my clientele. While not every collector will become an expert, many collectors develop, over time, a greater appreciation and knowledge of their collecting areas than the dealers who serve them. The opportunity to grow with and learn from my clientele is just one of the many intangible benefits of being a part of the map trade. Having spent 25 years as a passionate map enthusiast, many of my best friends are the dealers, collectors and scholars who I've come to know over the years, both professionally and socially.
In one case, my relationship with David Rumsey has led to a partnership with the Rumsey Library at Stanford University, to which we donate all of our digital images (over 50,000 and counting) and where starting in 2017, we will sponsor a multi-day Symposium and Speaker Series devoted to utilizing antique maps in multi-disciplinary studies in the digital age.
My vision for the business is to maintain our role as one of the primary antique maps sources for collectors and institutions, and increase our role as dealers in atlases and important travel books. Over the past 5 years, we have become very active selling atlases and books with maps, although we've done so quietly, primarily working with our existing client base. Over the next year, we anticipate more actively offering atlases and books through our website and open shop in La Jolla.
Over the long term, I hope to continue to enjoy what I do and marshal a business which will outlive me. Whether its through promoting my younger employees to management roles or otherwise, the business has grown to a point where it shows the prospects of continuity and survival beyond my lifetime.
At the same time, it’s important that the charitable aspects of the business continue to expand. I'm hopeful that the Stanford Symposium and Speaker Series and on-line publishing will expand into other projects. I am an advocate for digital philanthropy--helping collectors identify institutions who would benefit from acquiring high resolution digital images of the collector's collection, and thereby allowing the collector to insure the long term existence and continuity of their collections in a means accessible to the entire world and even allowing the for the collector to contribute their thoughts and scholarship as part of the corpus of the collection. As an admirer of the great collectors of the past, this last part offers a chance for modern collectors to perpetuate their unique visions and stories as an integral part of their collections, preserving not just the collections but the personal aspects of their collecting interests, insights and observations for future generations.
We are also working on a collaboration to create a scholar exchange program and I'm hopeful that we can create a scholarship program around the on-line publishing business. I would also like to increasingly partner with institutions to help with major restoration projects, trying to utilize our broad client base to raise awareness of the need not only to fund acquisitions, but also to conserve and preserve existing treasures. Our first such project, helping the National Library of Australia fund the restoration of one of its prize sea atlases, was completed in 2016.
Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps
7463 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, California 92037
Here are links to his site: