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A Visual Presentation of Map Indices

and a call for scanned images of Map Index covers


Combining my fascination with metadata and my general love of maps, the National Geographic Map Index series is one of my favorite portions of my overall collection.  The maps, with positioned letter/number grid around their borders, together with the alphabetized list of place names and grid locations make perusing those maps easier and, at least to me, more enjoyable.  That map/list combination is also the making of an Atlas; and ironically, the Atlas Series of map supplements during the late fifties and the sixties was what killed the “Golden Age” of Map Indices, the period of the “shaded seal” with its globe.  After that series of maps, and the printing of the multiple-index for them, the Society moved on to printing Atlases.  They did try to reboot the Map Indices three different times, each one fizzled out; and by 1990 they came to an end.  It is a little nebulous as to the exact number of Map Indices in the series but I peg it at 103.

I recently scanned the covers of my Map Index collection (sadly I only have 90) and posted them here at the ‘Corner in an Album.  I also included two cover images of Indices not in my possession.  I am asking any collector out there who have any of the Map Indices I have listed below to send me (or post) scanned images of the covers.  The list is of all the Indices I still need (hint, hint).  The two for which I have images are of poor quality and I could use better.  I should be able to “drag n’ drop” the images into the Album in their proper places (I hope, it is a little twitchy).  Sadly, albums only hold 100 images, so if I get all 103, I’ll have some decisions to make into how to fit them in.


First, here is the Album.  Enjoy at your leisure.


And here is a list of Map Indices for which I need Cover images:

  • 1918 – Western Theater of War
  • 1921 – New Europe
  • 1934 – Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies
  • 1938 – South America
  • 1967 – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand
  • 1968 – United States
  • 1968 – Southeast Asia
  • 1969 – West Indies and Central America
  • 1975 – World
  • 1978 – World (Revision)
  • 1980 – United States/Portrait USA (Revision)
  • 1982 – World/Ocean Floor
  • 1985 – United States/Federal Lands (Revision)


The history of the Map Index series is very easy to see as portrayed by their covers.  It starts with experimentation.  The first one had an odd size.  They soon conformed to a standard size and the “golden age” began in the ‘twenties.  That age lasted from (at least 1929) and ended in 1958.  It can be broken up into two periods, the first has a shaded seal displaying a globe at the top of the cover.  That spanned 1929 to 1942.  Later in 1942, the seal was moved down to the center of the cover.  It stayed there until 1958, when the Atlas Series of map supplements choked out the supply of maps needed for individual indices.  The first reboot attempt occurred in 1961 with the printing of the only Non-supplement Map Index ever issued, the one of the USSR.  The cover still had the yellow border, but the seal was missing leaving a plain white background.  There were only two more of those indices printed, the last in 1965.  Starting in 1967, a second reboot was attempted, this time with a hip new cover.  It not only contained an image of the map being indexed, but also a small image of the cover from the National Geographic in which the map was a supplement.  There was a total of nine of these indices, the last being issued in 1971.  The last and final reboot of the Map Index series occurred in 1975 with the issue of an index for a map of the world.  It was followed a year later with one of the US.  Those two maps were revised and reissued about three years after the first.  The three-year cycle continued with the maps being revised and the back pictorial changing every other cycle.  The fifth pair of World/USA Map Indices were the last, and by 1990 the end of a fascinating series had finally come.


Yours in collecting,

Tom Wilson


Note: I am posting this discussion in the Maps and Pictorials Group as well for a more permanent record.

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Stellar job, Tom : - )

Beautifully done Tom!



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