FOLDEX MAPS - the ones with the Miracle Folds


Many collectors will have some of the 1950s Mobilgas maps in their collection that are headed
"MIRACLE FOLD ROAD MAP" on the cover.
 carte Foldex
Earlier editions, such as my 1951 Map of Montana & Wyoming, add the footnote:
"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 design.

The foldex system was used also by US army in 1944 for a serie of European maps
 Foldex Army maps  Foldex Army maps example  Foldex Army maps in

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.

 carte Foldex1935-1938

 carte Foldex  carte Foldex

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.

 carte Shell

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 use.

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 "cartoguides" - 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 cartographers Kummerly & Frey , but the new name is BLAY-FOLDEX and remains in use at the moment.

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