Tips of the Trade
Raging for Roadmaps
This map collection is worth a high-octane $20,000.
This "Grizzly Gasoline" map is rare, and therefore valuable.
Bright ads set maps apart.
Its pristine condition adds value to this nostalgic Shell map.
Road Maps of Yesterday
Some collectors seek high-falutin' antiques from accented lands: a rare Rene Lalique hood ornament, a hand-blown Venetian vase from ancient Rome, a rare etching scratched out by Rembrandt himself.
A road map for collecting road maps: some people love them even if they are hard to refold
Well, those are not the people who collect American road maps. That's right, the paper maps you unfold once, unfold twice, and unfold a few more times to find out how to get where you're going. The ones that filling stations on the blue highways, once paved cement-gray, gave away free to drivers who gassed up.
"You see these wonderful images on these maps from the days when motoring was a joy and not a torture," says Noel Barrett, an independent appraiser in Carversville, Pennsylvania, referring to the appealing pictures of Sunday drivers and family vacationers from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. "They evoke a nostalgia from a wonderful time in our past."
We asked Noel for a newer map: the one collectors need when accelerating toward a purchase of vintage road maps. Noel's suggestions follow.
Routes to Road Maps
Map collectors are as eclectic as their automobiles. "There's a lot of what we call 'cross-over collectibility' in maps," says Noel. That means that lots of people who collect road maps are also on the road to collecting something else. For example, the "petroliana" crowd seeks out anything to do with gas stations: pumps, oil cans, wooden station signs—and sometimes road maps. For others, road maps are a rest stop on their hunt for "automobilia": cars, automobile advertisements, hubcaps, etc.
"Some people look for road maps by obscure oil companies that don't exist anymore," Noel adds, pointing to a "Grizzly Gasoline" map from the extensive collection of his friend, Peter Sidlow. Other collectors travel miles for vintage road maps of their home state, or the state they were born in, or from every state in the Union. History lovers, especially those with a passion for the evolution of macadam roads, pick up maps to see how the pavement geometry in a region has evolved. In the segment on road maps Noel did at the Las Vegas ROADSHOW, Noel waved a map featuring the friendly mug of 1930s satirist Will Rogers promoting Route 66, where so many motorists have sought their kicks. States Noel: "Will Rogers and Route 66 collectors will love this one."
Before you jump in the old Chevy and join the automotive parade of car collectors, Noel urges you to slow down. "There are tons and tons of road maps out there," Noel says. "I don't want to give the impression that all of them are valuable." Most are not. "Lots were used, folded, and refolded until they fell apart," Noel says. "Those aren't valuable. It's the ones in really super condition that get the value." Among those, the ones that elicit the most enthusiastic honks are maps with bold colors on their covers. "The value is in the advertising graphics on the outside of the map," states Noel. "What I find exciting is how colorful and graphic they are. Look for pizzazz. The more graphic punch, the better."
The Right Price
Prices for maps are incredibly reasonable, or simply outrageous, depending on your attitude toward these humble car-worn ephemera. Noel says that for $35 to $75 collectors can get some "pretty nice" maps. The rare classics in the field, such as the pristine-looking Shell map with the car shown here, can sell for as much as $300 to $400, pretty much the top of the line in the field of map collections. Notes Noel: "In order to achieve that kind of value they have to be in really, really, topnotch condition."
"The ones with the nice images and graphics of roadside America are the ones you want," Noel says, noting that older maps tend to sell for more than newer ones. "Those with just text are not valuable." He adds: "Collecting roadmaps is one of these new markets that's really fun. It's really in its heyday right now."
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Collectibles category:
Space "Junk": Buying, Owning, and the Law (Houston, 2006)
Is This the Real Rudolph? (Providence, 2006)
An Audience With "The King"
On Track With Railroad Ephemera
Calling All Elvis Fans! ... Got This Photo? (Memphis, 2005)
Cornucopia of Crate Labels
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.