ANTIQUE HONG KONG maps, a rarity highly sought after by a small community of collectors, have become increasingly popular because of China's growing affluence and the turning of the world's attention to its arts and culture. Chris Bailey, an avid collector of antique Hong Kong and China maps and other Hong Kong-themed prints, has been building up his collection for the last eight years. 'China's opening up [of markets] with the rest of the world in recession has led many people to move into China and hence has driven up the interest in Chinese arts and history,' Mr Bailey said. 'Prices of top-end maps have definitely gone up over the last 10 years. I know because the cost of my sourcing has also gone up.' The price of a Hong Kong map made in 1841 by Captain Edward Belcher - a hydrographer for the East India Company - has shot-up to about HK$50,000 from HK$15,000 10 years ago. However, the increasing value of old maps does not apply across the board and values are hard to predict. Mr Bailey established his company Picture This! with his wife, Pamela, earlier this month. The company deals mainly in old maps and prints. Mr Bailey had been an investment banker for 14 years but wanted to find a new direction in life. Economic strength in a country boosts demand for its maps because of the increasing spending power of its people and interest generated overseas. 'In this part of the world, old Hong Kong and Singapore maps are sought after and until the economic downturn in Japan, it was also high in demand,' Mr Bailey said. China's entry into the World Trade Organisation has drawn a lot of attention from businesses and collectors. '[A number of] people doing business in China are map collectors and they are shifting their interests to maps on China.' Other than collecting maps for investment, people like to collect them to learn about the history, geography, progress and growth of a country as well as to use them for decorative purposes. The value of a map is determined by factors such as rarity, decorativeness and condition, Mr Bailey said. Made solely for information purpose, the most valuable and expensive maps are those which come in a complete set in an atlas, and some of these are valued at more than HK$1 million, according to Mr Bailey. Single maps are highly valued for decorativeness, over and above the information displayed. They usually come in larger sizes as they were first made to be hung on walls. 'However, as many of these maps did not have the protection of the inside of an atlas, a vast majority of them have been lost or deteriorated over the years,' he said. An old single world map or one of the United States can sell for up to HK$300,000, while maps of Asian countries, including those of Hong Kong and China, range between HK$20,000 and HK$80,000, with good ones averaging about HK$50,000. Following the establishment of Hong Kong as a British colony in 1841, it became a focus for map-makers and other maps and prints of the area were drawn - including street, road and topographic maps. These were produced for the Colonial Office in London, as tourist guides and for transport companies such as Hong Kong Tramways. Mr Bailey suggests for a start, investors should only buy what they like, because old maps are not highly liquid and it is possible to get stuck with an item for quite a while until a buyer comes along. Over the years Mr Bailey has invested more than HK$2 million in buying old Hong Kong and China maps and prints that he keeps at his home in Repulse Bay, where he occasionally invites over friends and business contacts to view his collection. Next month he will host his first exhibition and sale, featuring more than 400 maps, prints and engravings of Hong Kong and China covering the last 200 years, all sourced from overseas, at the Mandarin Hotel. Many of the maps and prints of Hong Kong were drawn from a Westerner's perspective and produced in countries such as England, Germany and France. These maps highlight how Hong Kong was viewed in decades gone by. Mrs Bailey said: 'I never saw anything like these in Hong Kong before. As local Chinese, we are not exposed to these kind of things and I learnt about the production process of these maps and prints. I learnt more about the history and cultural connection between the East and the West. I was fascinated.' Among Mr Bailey's engravings are illustrations from publications such as the Illustrated London News and The Graphic, two London-based weekly journals, which depict the social lifestyles of the Hong Kong Chinese as well as those of the colonial classes - often with a heavy dose of humour. These are more sought after by less-serious collectors.