Vintage Service Station Maps - Buying Guide

Today we’re going to take a look at another collectible,Vintage Service Station Maps. From the 1950’s through the early 1970’s most gasoline stations in the United States often gave away promotional state and local maps. With the arrival of the first gas crisis in the mid-70’s and the appearance of self-service stations these maps went away. Today, the humble Service Station Map has become a popular collectible item for both map collectors and service station memorabilia collectors.

Guide Continued Below…

Let’s begin by looking at a little history of the Service Station Map. The first free road maps were handed out during the early days of motoring in the 1920’s and perhaps even earlier. Maps from this time period, between the World Wars, are particularly rare and often sport highly decorative designs. The Service Station Map became common after WWII and into the baby boom of the 1950’s. Gasoline companies such as Standard Oil, Sinclair, Gulf and others used these maps to promote their companies to the increasing number of people who were traveling by car around the US. In the late 1960’s the quality of these maps declined due to poor profit margins and heavy competition in the market. This was accelerated by the gas crisis of the the 1970’s. By 1980, the free Service Station Map had all but disappeared.

A Vintage Service Station Map by a merged or defunct oil company are prized by some. For example, Sinclair Oil and it’s famous dinosaur logo. These long gone companies offer collectors and nostalgia buffs a view into what is often seen as the more relaxed, even idyllic, world of the 50’s and 60’s. Some try to collect a full series of maps from a particular station. People also enjoy viewing these maps to see how things have changed in the past 50-60 years and their historical value.

As with many other vintage paper products, the Vintage Service Station Map is graded on it’s condition. Most of these maps will be in only poor to fair condition since they were often stored loose in the glove box of a car and have marks, creases, tears and other damage from use. Good ones may have some evident usage but have only minor damage or markings. Very good condition to near mint Service Station maps are a rare find since this would be a map that is only showing it’s age and very minimal usage. When you’re buying a Vintage Service Station Map you want to find out the basic grade as well as all of the specifics about any wear and damage.


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2008-08-06 13:09:29

Some of these Vintage Service Station Maps are beautiful, particularly the one that I’m seeing currently in your eBay listing — the Sinclair roadmap of Kansas and Nebraska. I know that part of the world well, since I did my graduate degree in Kansas and then worked in Omaha for a couple of years. Nice nostalgic way to revisit my younger days… although the 1950s is a little before the time that I was in grad school!

Comment by jfc
2008-08-07 07:43:58

Hi Pest, :)

We had a shoebox full of these maps when I was a kid. I loved looking at them. GPS kind of takes the fun out of it although I do like the look at the map sites like Google Maps from time to time.

Comment by Bunn Coffee Makers
2008-08-06 13:34:50

The glove box in my parent’s Chevy Malibu was stuffed with old Service Station Maps from all over the country … who’d have thought that they’d become valuable collector items?

Comment by jfc
2008-08-07 07:45:53

Hi Bunn,

If my Mom reads this article (she reads most of them here) she’ll probably end up finding our old shoebox full of maps and listing them on eBay. :)

Comment by trade show booths
2008-08-06 22:20:28

hi Frank, great article on Vintage Service Station Maps. I did a road trip across the US about 25 years ago shortly I got my drivers license. I stopped at my uncle’s place in Montana on the way. He wanted to know my route, then he went and got a map for every state I had been through and would be going through. I think he had maps for every state. He then penned in the roads he would take and things to see. It was an awesome trip but that’s another story. I just wish I still had that stack of maps he gave me. I think they got lost in a move… ~ Steve (aka Mr Trade Show Booths)

Comment by jfc
2008-08-07 07:48:31

Hi Steve,

Back in those days you could buy customized maps with your routes drawn on them. Ever hear the phrase, “Taking the scenic route”?

I remember my Dad had a pen like thing that you could roll across the map and get the mileage between points for when the miles weren’t printed on the map.

Comment by trade show booths
2008-08-07 10:01:09

hi Frank,
I think I remember seeing a “mileage wheel pen” device. That was back in the day before GPS and internet, when slide rules, protractors, and compasses ruled the world! (I used the later two, but never the former).
I recently finished reading the Patrick O’Brien / Jack Aubrey book series (Master and Commander was one of them). Imagine the 1800’s and navigating the sailing ships around the world. It was a little more difficult than today…
~ Steve (aka Mr Trade Show Booths)

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2008-08-07 12:50:28

I think the AAA still offers a service similar to this, called a TripTik … we used one once on a long drive from the Midwest to the West Coast. Not as lovely as a vintage service station map, but quite efficient IIRC.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Comment by jfc
2008-08-07 13:18:55

Hi Used Apple,

The TripTik is a good service, or at least it used to be. They would not only tell you the best routes but provide relatively current information about your routes. This is something that’s hard to get from current Internet maps or GPS systems or the few print maps that are still around. There have been several incidents, particularly in the western US, where bad GPS course routing or incorrect/incomplete maps, on and off line, have led people into dangerous and deadly situations, like that CNet editor in 2006.

2008-08-08 00:43:07

Oh how we used to beg our Dad to get gas at the Big Dinosaur Sign station! Those photos of vintage maps for auction sure do bring back the memories. Memories of my parents getting lost, and my Dad refusing to stop to ask for directions, and my mom trying to make sense of the map while my Dad drove around in circles. A good GPS unit can really take the fun out of a road trip.

2008-08-09 08:01:47

I love maps of all types and the old Vintage Service Station Maps are would seem to very collectable. We used to have old AA maps in NZ but I don’t think the service stations actually put out their own maps so Vintage Service Station Map don’t really exist

2008-08-13 13:06:58

These old maps are great. Sometimes lakes are shown that don’t exist anymore, and sometimes I cannot find a lake that I know is there! Interesting how the landscape changes for development. And remember William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways? He probably loves these maps as well.

2008-08-14 22:06:39

I like paper maps and the old ones are so fun to look at. I really like looking at the maps from before the interstate highway system was completed.

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