Grading Road Maps

Adapted from Proposed Grading Scale for Road Maps (2002) by consensus of the Board and Officers.

The first gas station road maps, first given away around 1914, are just becoming official antiques. As such, condition plays the primary role in assessing value, since numbers of maps issued/surviving are unknown in almost all cases. Although maps deteriorate with age, (a NOS map from the 1930s can disintegrate when opened for the first time) grades should not accomodate this. A map with fold separations and foxing is merely GOOD, whether it is a 1928 Parco or a 1978 Phillips.

Some styles of maps, i.e.“Foldex” maps (a patented folding/navigation scheme, produced in America by Rand McNally), are nearly impossible to find in mint condition because of the single layers of paper at the sides of the front and back covers. Small format maps such as those from Texaco and Sinclair tend to show more damage at the creases and have often been misfolded. The collector should not make allowance for these defects, but acknowledge their existence.

Debate exists, also, about how to consider routing as may have been applied by professionals such as
AAA trip planners and oil company travel services. One thought would be to apply the simple letter r as a suffix to the determined grade.

Description Grade
Never used. Absolutely crisp: no soil, wear, or creases. Station stamp is acceptable, as are small wrinkles introduced in printing. Age toning acceptable only if even. Seldom seen except with contemporary maps. MINT (M)
As above, but used. Professional routing marks or a minor annotation okay. Creases show usage, but map has not been misfolded. Light pencil acceptable if not in printed area. EXCELLENT (E)
As above, but wear is evident. Corners of inner creases may be beginning to separate, but less than 1 cm. May be rippled from water damage/high humidity but may not be stained or foxed. Any dogear creases are not torn. There may be single tack holes. Map may have been misfolded. VERY GOOD (VG)
As above, but separations extend less than half a panel span. If tears are not on a crease, each is less than 1 cm. Writing may be significant but does not damage cover design. Map may be brittle but can be still opened flat without damage. Soil or scuffs can be present, but food or oil is absent. Fading is extensive. Minor foxing can be present, or minor insect damage, i.e. “silverfish skinning,” not affecting information. GOOD (G)
As above, but problems are cumulative. Insect damage affects either the map or cover graphics. Extensive calculations, separations short of panel loss, or extensive foxing present. Map is still usable for navigation. FAIR (F)
As above, but damage extensive. Insect damage affects either the map information or cover graphics. Panels may be completely separate. Map may require isolation to prevent spread of oil stains or mold. Map may not be usable for navigation, but may still be valid for study. POOR (P)

What level of restoration/repair is acceptable among map collectors? Some say none. Is this realistic in a world with wood pulp paper, air pollution and ozone alerts?
Frankly, the average collector neither has access to, nor money to properly restore maps. But often thoughtless damage is done after the map leaves the glove compartment. Dealers must price them: we hope they use Post-It™ removable notes, as long as the paper is in good condition. If they are concerned about price tag switching, we hope they use a pencil, lightly, in a clear area of the map.

What about other markings? The Factis™ extra soft eraser can be home-handy for removing price information on unprinted areas of the cover. Erasure is difficult on the map itself, and on colored areas, especially the red on 1950s Mobil maps, it may remove the ink. Better to think of this as part of the map’s history. “Magic Markers” originally contained solvent-based ink. Even if the solvent is known (it may have been toluene or xylene), do not attempt to remove routings and station stamps. First, these solvents are toxic and flammable. Second, the ink on the map can be affected. Many of us “know” how to remove ball-point pen ink from fabrics. It doesn’t work on maps. Cellophane tape damage is not reversible.

What about cleaning? Some collectors, especially with a background in conservation or archives, have been known to “wash” maps. If this is done thoughtfully, to salvage a brittle or pop-polluted mess, it is acceptable; but it should be noted in the collector’s records and must be disclosed at transfer or sale. This may become as controversial a topic as refinishing antique furniture. However, philatelists use a wet soak to remove cancelled stamps from envelopes. They use solvents to wet stamps to examine watermarks. But, removal of the cancellation, besides being illegal for US stamps in the USA, is not considered ethical. A similar “line in the sand” needs to be drawn by cartophiles.

There exists a dry cleaning procedure for those maps that are dirty, but not brittle or torn. There are red rubber wallpaper cleaning sponges which do an excellent job of removing surface dirt. Use them with a light hand, in one direction. Picture yourself removing lint from a velvet dress. They do not appear to leave any residue, and over the course of ten years, the maps treated thereby do not appear to be aging at an accelerated rate. However, they should be used with extreme caution, if at all, on maps with large areas of red or orange.

If a map is “foxed” (spotted with a rust colored mold), do not attempt to clean it. There are restoration specialists who can fix foxing. It is probably too expensive a procedure, given the current price of road maps. Being fungal, foxing is a transmissible defect. Store these maps in Mylar bags to prevent their contact with other paper items.