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Title Pages

Most editions of fire insurance maps contained prefatory material that is useful or necessary for interpreting the maps and which now has historic value in its own right. In particular, the map indexes and the descriptions of a city's fire protection services of a city provide insights into various aspects of the development of urban America. The amount and nature of such introductory material varies widely from city to city and over time, reflecting changes in mapping policies of the Sanborn Map Company, the size of the city, and the rate of change within the city. The following discussion highlights major features of the prefatory material, but not all elements will necessarily be found in the fire insurance maps for a given city or town.

Small-town maps that comprised only a few map sheets were generally issued in loose-leaf format and did not have separate title pages. The first page of such editions, however, would include the names of the city, county, and state. The county name was important for differentiating towns of the same name within a state. It is important to note that because of divisions of counties or changes in county boundaries, a city may now be part of a county different from that in which it was originally mapped.

For large-city maps issued in one or more volumes, the title page often presents a visual delight of ornate typography and design. As cities became denser and larger over time, the Sanborn Map Company occasionally altered the presentation of the coverage of a city. A single volume could be divided: for instance, volume 1 from an edition in the late 1800s might become volume 1, North and volume 1, South in the 1920s. Also, the coverage of the suburban portions of a city could be shifted from volume to volume. Researchers need to be aware of such changes reflected in the titles to insure that they are using the volume that covers the portion of the city in which they are interested.

An important component of title pages for large city atlases is the listing of incorporated and unincorporated places covered in the volume. This is particularly common on the fringe areas of towns from the 1920s onward, where suburban developments and new additions to the territory of a city were frequently given their own names in local usage. Such place names have been listed in the index of Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress. These names can also be searched through the search engine available on the Library of Congress Web site.

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  February 7, 2011
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