FOLDEX MAPS - the ones with the Miracle Folds
by IAN BYRNE
Many collectors will have some of the 1950s Mobilgas maps in their
collection that are headed
"MIRACLE FOLD ROAD MAP" on the cover.
Earlier editions, such as my 1951 Map of Montana & Wyoming, add the
"Produced Under License From FOLDEX Limited"
"U.S.A. Patent No. 2179172".
The word Limited may give the game away,
for the concept was not originated in the US, nor unique to Mobil, and
there are a whole host of Foldex maps to be found.
Before I look at the maps, it may be wise to describe the Foldex system
briefly. Instead of each fold of the map having a uniform width, the
folds become progressively narrower, so that the lower ones overlap the
ones above. Each fold has a number which can be seen when the map is
first opened, and a key showing which part of the map relates to which
numbered fold. (It's a great deal easier to use than it is to
describe!) On the Mobilgas maps, the key is printed on the innermost
fold, above the index. However, most Foldex maps had card covers and
the key was then usually printed on the inside of the card cover.
It is not clear why miracle fold maps failed to take off in the US.
Most likely, the company using the system had to pay an extra royalty to
Foldex to use its system and for maps that were given away free, there
would be little incentive to do so. The Mobilgas examples all have
standard Rand McNally cartography and it is unlikely that Rand would
want to invest in new paper folding machines to cater for the unusual
The foldex system was used also by US army in 1944 for a serie of European maps
Over in Europe it was a different story though. The Foldex map was
invented by an Englishman in the 1930s, but it was in France that it
prospered. In 1935, Mr Rene Costard (a retired musician) established
Foldex S.A. with the English inventor and they persuaded Shell to
finance the first maps which were to be distributed through their
network of service stations. These carried a simple red and yellow
cover with a white map showing the area included and covered France in
10 sections (with section 1 including Belgium). Most Foldex maps are
undated (and are actually very hard to date as they were most common in
an era when there was little by way of roadbuilding) but the earliest
French ones unusually show the main Routes Nationales in grey, with
secondary roads in red. (The very earliest are dated: I have one
example from 1936 when the cover price was 8Frs.) This pre-war series
is also distinguished by a small black & white photo of the region on
the rear cover.
After the war, the rear covers were simplified to include just a Shell
logo (of the design used up to 1948) and the map inside was updated to
show the new road numbering based on "N" and "D" (Departmental) roads in
red and yellow, replacing the earlier "N" and "C" (communal). It would
be a mistake to imagine that all Foldex Shell maps were of France. I
have a 1938 map of French North Africa which gives prominence to
AeroShell and post-war maps of Belgium & Luxembourg and Britain. In all
these cases Foldex was also responsible for the cartography, which was
printed in four colors and prided itself on a high level of detail.
Early maps showed power lines that might pose a hazard to aviators, but
later maps showed an absurd number of sites that might be of interest to
touring motorists. This probably reached its apogee on a late 40s or
early 1950s Shell map that included no less than 39 different symbols
for Archaeolgical and Architectural sites alone. The cartographers felt
a need to distinguish between electric and steam railways, between piers
and jetties and between well-preserved or fragmentary ruins. The legend
is shown here and, as might be imagined, makes the map quite hard to
Shell also sold maps for other countries that - like the Mobilgas US
editions - used the Foldex miracle fold with local cartography. But in
the mid-1950s Shell realised that the Foldex maps it sold, with their
card covers and maps printed on one side of the paper only, were more
expensive than the competition. They gave local suppliers more freedom
to design maps, and used Mairs of Stuttgart and George Philip & Son of
London for most cross-border issues.
Foldex did not lose the Shell business completely, though. In France
from the late 1950s onwards, Shell issued free
- maps with
colorful covers and a gazetteer of interesting places to visit on the
reverse. Although these are shown as being "copyright Shell Berre", many
also note in the margin "Printed by F.F." The F.F. is none other than
Foldex France and later series in the 1970s and 80s explicitly
acknowledge Foldex's production.
However with the loss of its largest customer Foldex moved to publish
maps under its own name. Copies of these from the 1960s and 70s can
often be found in Europe, most commonly of single countries. Foldex also
gained a few contracts from other oil companies. The only example from
the 1950s I know of is an isolated Esso of Belgium produced by Foldex
Ltd, the British arm. Then, in Britain, both Cleveland and Gulf issued
Foldex maps around 1963. The former had two sections on flimsy paper
printed in France: they are extremely hard to find in good condition.
The latter was Gulf's first map of Britain and was a classic Foldex
design in a card cover, printed with a color photo of a new Gulf station.
The new French brand ELF, formed from the merger of Caltex France and
the French state company ERAP also used Foldex for its inaugural map
issue in 1966, splitting France into four sections.
In 1969 Rene Costard died and his wife assumed responsibility for the
business. By the early 1970s a new brand name was being used - RECTA-
Foldex and the Miracle Fold was generally abandoned. More oil company
issues of France were produced for Fina and TOTAL during the 1970s but
since then Foldex has concentrated on maps for sale through book stores.
It has created an extensive series of European maps sold in Britain
under the brand of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and elsewhere under
the RECTA-Foldex name.The maps sale in Britain not directly by Foldex France
but by agreement with others company.
The company itself was sold to the large Swiss
Kummerly & Frey
, but the new name is
and remains in use at
I am grateful to RMCA member Pascal Pannetier for his information on
Foldex; he has been lucky enough to meet Madame Costard recently and
found out much of the history of this company with its distinctive maps.
The Miracle fold has recently been revived in Europe under the name
QuickMap and I have recent examples from Esso and Hydro-Texaco in
Norway, and from Q8 and OK in Sweden. The most enthusiastic
cartographer using it appears to Folia/LegindKort, which is responsible
the last three named examples. But to bring us full circle, in 1990
Mobil in France used the Miracle fold with Recta-Foldex cartography.
© 1998 IAN BYRNE