Photo Essay: Meet the Darden Couple — and the Antique Maps — Behind Old World Auctions

12 December 2019

By Jay Hodgkins

Photos by Tom Cogill

University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumni Jon and Eliane Dotson realized they both had plans to go to business school soon after meeting in California. After they each independently decided Darden was the right choice and were both accepted, they moved to Charlottesville, earned their MBAs, married shortly after graduation and were both off into the corporate workforce as members of the Class of 2004 — Eliane in marketing at General Mills and Jon in finance at Best Buy.

However, when Eliane’s father — an avid map collector for more than 50 years — learned that online map auction house Old World Auctions was up for sale, Eliane and Jon saw a unique opportunity to take a new path as small business owners.

Today, they operate the Richmond, Virginia-based business together and invited The Darden Report into their offices to showcase Old World Auctions’ rare maps and share insights about a world that has long drawn passionate collectors.

Eliane and Jon: A stack of maps from the 17th to 20th centuries featuring decorative elements. The earliest printed maps, which catered to an aristocratic market, were filled with images of sea monsters, mythological figures and sailing ships. As the centuries passed, maps became used by a wider audience and the engravings became more simplistic and utilitarian with a focus on geography. Then in the 20th century, as maps began to be used for education, marketing, propaganda and tourism, artistry again took center stage with geography serving a supporting role.

Eliane and Jon: This fascinating political caricature map was published at the outbreak of World War I and depicts each country in Europe as a “dog of war.” Created by G. W. Bacon & Company, Hark! Hark! The Dogs Do Bark! satirizes the role of the principal countries in the conflict, such as a dandified French poodle, an aggressive German dachshund and a patriotic British bulldog.

Eliane and Jon: A French armillary sphere by Charles Francois Delamarche crafted in 1805. It presents a Ptolemaic view of the universe with Earth at its center.  The large universal sphere surrounds the Earth and includes the 12 constellations of the zodiac and celestial equator.

Old World Auctions shipped maps to winning bidders in 53 countries in 2019. Most maps are shipped in tubes, carefully rolled in packing paper to protect them during transit.

Eliane and Jon: People ask us if it was a difficult decision to go from a well-paying, stable corporate job to running our own business. While there are certainly trade-offs, we’ve found the experience to be overwhelmingly positive for us. As business owners, we have autonomy, responsibility, no office politics, and great work-life balance. Plus we rarely have to sit in meetings!

For us, the transition from the corporate world to the small-business world was fairly smooth. Darden certainly played a role in our ability to adjust to this new opportunity, as it prepared us to handle all aspects of running a business.

Eliane and Jon: This map of the southeastern United States, Caribbean and northern South America focuses on the travels of Girolamo Benzoni, an Italian conquistador and merchant who spent 15 years exploring the New World. Centered on the disproportionately large islands of the Caribbean, the map also provides an early delineation of Florida and is one of the earliest maps to detail northern South America. Titled Occidentalis Americae Partis, by Theodore de Bry, this map appeared circa 1594 in a series of publications known as Grands Voyages, which illustrated voyages of discovery and travels of exploration to the western hemisphere.

Three different styles of bindings covering a 300-year period. At top: a vellum-bound volume from 1556 describes the ancient world. Middle: a marbled leather example from a 1714 publication on the Holy Land. Bottom: a typical leather binding from an 1835 English atlas of the world.

Eliane and Jon: As small business owners, we constantly pull from our coursework at Darden. How we think about business strategy, how we frame problems and how we identify solutions are all based on our learnings at Darden and in the corporate world. We have also had great success in leveraging the Darden alumni network, which has been generous in sharing their time and expertise. Having such a small business with only four employees, it is valuable for us to have a sounding board to help us think through key business decisions.

Eliane and Jon: A close-up of the Americas from Johannes van Keulen’s world map, circa 1680.  Typical for an early map, the vast majority of the interior of North America is blank, reflecting a lack of knowledge of the region. A fictitious east-west mountain range appears to block settlement to its south. Numerous place names are found along the western coastline, including Quivira and Anian, but the Alaskan peninsula is not depicted (as it would not be discovered for another 100 years).

Maps in the auction are stored individually in archival sleeves and organized in flat file cabinets.

Eliane and Jon: We were on different learning teams and both have great memories of working with, learning from and supporting the members of our respective learning teams (sometimes late into the night!). We have found that this style of working has translated to our current business. The two of us are our own little learning team: We leverage one another’s strengths, brainstorm and problem-solve together and divide responsibilities. And after nine years of running a business together, we only occasionally drive one another crazy.

Eliane and Jon: When we talk to people about antique maps, everyone finds them fascinating, but most have never considered buying or collecting maps. People are surprised when they find out how affordable maps can be. It’s not difficult to find a 400-year old map for $100. Another unique feature about maps is that they are more than just representations of geography; they tell a story and document society, history, politics and our evolving view of the world. There is as much diversity in the map world as there is in the art world. There are maps to match every interest.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia