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.