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Tender Loving Care

You’ll get more enjoyment from your maps – and enhance their value as collectibles – if you’ll remember these four words: TAKE CARE; DON’T REPAIR.

Most maps are printed on paper, and paper is a particularly fragile medium. It can be damaged very easily if it is not stored correctly and handled carefully.

Knowing the factors that are harmful to paper is the first step in learning how to take care of your maps.

Light, especially sunlight and illumination from fluorescent lamps. Prolonged exposure to the ultraviolet light from these sources will cause your maps to fade, become brittle or to turn brown.

Humidity. Under damp conditions, mold will grow and brown spots will appear on your maps, a problem known as foxing. A too-dry environment, on the other hand can dry out the paper, making it brittle and turning it brown.

Pests. Insects such as silverfish and cockroaches will actually eat their way through your maps, leaving behind holes with ragged edges. Bookworms are particularly fond of the glue in the bindings and covers of your atlases. And mice can gnaw their way through whole piles of paper in just a short time.

Acids. These destructive agents are found not only in the chemicals used to size papers and inks and dyes but also materials that may come into contact with your maps, including wood and cardboard.

High temperatures. Too much heat will bake your maps and cause yellowing and embrittlement.

You should take care to store your maps and atlases where they won’t be vulnerable to these threats. A dark, well-ventilated closet would be ideal. Map drawers, or flat files, commonly found in libraries are great, too, but most of us don’t have the room or the budget for such fixtures.

Use a moisture-control agent like Damp-Rid to reduce the humidity and “roach motels,” to keep the bugs away. These items are readily available at your local supermarket.

Folding maps issued by state highway departments, AAA and the various oil companies can be stored in poly sleeves. A useful size would be 4-1/2: X 10: - and if you use a backing board, make sure it is acid-free. Larger sleeves can be used for your other folding maps, such as those issued by National Geographic Magazine. And labels to identify the maps can be affixed to the sleeves; that way you won’t have to write on the maps themselves.

Inevitably, you’ll want to frame one or more of your favorite maps. You may do this yourself or take the job to a reputable frame shop; in either case, insure that proper conversion procedures are followed, including the use of acid-free mats, mounting boards and hinging materials. And when you hang your framed map on the wall, try to avoid direct sunlight.

In addition to taking care of your maps by proper storage procedures, you should also learn how to handle them. Much damage is done to maps by treating them roughly or carelessly.

I shudder when I visit a “dealer” whose inventory is a loose stack of maps tossed into a cardboard box; these precious pieces of paper being pawed over by the curious are falling apart before his eyes and he doesn’t seem to care. “They don’t have any value until they’re sold,” seems to be the attitude. I feel as if I should buy the whole lot, just to rescue them from certain destruction – but, unfortunately, my budget doesn’t permit this.

Improper handling can lead quickly to ripping, tearing, chipping – which is damage to the edges of the map – and soiling. Road maps are common victims of misfolding, resulting in creases and separations along the folds. You can usually restore a misfolded map to its original folds by opening it up on a large, flat surface and looking for the original fold lines.

Following the suggestions above and using common sense in the storage and handling of maps will help you keep them in good shape for years to come.


Besides learning how to take care of your maps, you should also avoid temptation and don’t repair them.

I have seen countless examples of how an innocent separation along a fold has been turned into a disaster by a “repair” with adhesive tape. Common, drug-store variety cellophane tape contains chemicals that damage and discolor paper. Equally unsuitable are electricians tape, duct tape, and sticky-back label material. Don’t laugh, I have seen them used; they ultimately ruin the map they’re meant to fix.

So, unless you’re prepared to get real serious about your paper mending procedures,

which at the very least means getting your hands on some archival-quality acid-free tape, it is best to leave the repairs undone – or left in the hands of an expert.

I’d be happy to answer any specific questions you may have.

Charlie Neuschafer can be contacted at: New World Maps, Inc. PO Box 541389, Lake Worth, FL 33454 or at

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