When Maps Reflected Romance of the Road

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THE road map today is mostly virtual — an electronic image on a screen, at home or in the car, provided by Mapquest or a built-in satellite navigation system. Setting out on a long journey, I half expect to see the marker pins of a Google map rearing above the highway like giant hat pins, shadowing the pavement ahead.

Perhaps it is the contrast with digital maps that makes old-fashioned paper road maps seem rich and wonderful again. Those colorful guides once found in every glove compartment are gaining desirability not just as collectibles but as cultural records — even in archives as august as those of the Library of Congress.

C. Ford Peatross, curator of architecture, design and engineering collections in the library’s prints and photographs division, recently joined John Margolies, an expert on modern road maps, for a presentation in New York of Mr. Margolies’s artifacts of the road. Mr. Margolies’s maps, along with matchbooks, menus and other ephemera make up only part of a collection recording life on the road in America in the (mostly) 20th century.

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