Dating Oil Company Road Maps

Cartographers' Codes | Logo designs

1997 Jet map of Scandinavia

So you have just found a nice European petrol map...but how do you date it?

Start with the copyright date if there is one...
Well, the obvious answer is to look for a copyright date, usually on the bottom margin of the map. Some maps make it even easier by putting the year right up on the front cover - the problem here, though is that the map was probably actually produced a year earlier than the cover date! (See, for example, the 2001 Aral atlas shown on the introduction page which was on sale in May 2000.)

This Jet map clearly comes from 1997; it is less obviously of Scandinavia.

Cover dates may sometimes be for a year after the copyright date or printers code.

There are also some maps where the copyright date is misleading. For example, National Benzole sectional maps of Britain with a yellow cover can often be found carrying a 1959 copyright date. Closer inspection reveals that they can be major differences in the road network shown inside - far more than could have been built in a single year. And after a couple of years they reverted to no date at all. I believe that the clue is to turn the map over and look for a line of xs on the rear cover. If there are none, then the map really is from 1959. But if there are more (between x and xxxxx) then the approximate year can be calculated by adding 1959 to the numbers of xs.
The old logo, shown here, is always from 1959 if dated. Maps with the blue square sign can be younger.

1959 (exactly) Section 3 map of Britain

late 1970s Texaco map of Ireland

Another map with a misleading copyright date is the Texaco map of Ireland with the cover shown left, produced for them by Orell Füssli of Zürich. This is marked 1958, but that date actually belongs to the first edition of the map - which was drawn for Caltex, not Texaco. Although no-one knows the exact date of the version with the Texaco cover, it is probably from the late 1970s, as the same cover was then used on a map created by the Irish Ordnance Survey and dated 1982. Of course the Irish road network changed quite slowly, but even so there were some changes in the 24 year period!

...then look for a cartographer's code...
If there is no copyright date, there may be a cartographer's code or, more rarely, a petrol company code. The ones that I know of are described below, but they probably cover less than half the maps without copyright dates. Mostly, they are based on the final two digits of the year, but there are some variations.

...or compare the road network to a map with a known date...
The third main way of dating maps is to compare the road network shown with a dated map from another company or, perhaps, from an annual automobile club handbook. This works quite well from 1960, when most European countries were building motorways and bypasses at a significant rate, although there are sometimes confusing stretches of "planned" motorways that were never built at all. It is less helpful for older maps and these are the ones most likely to have no date shown on them.

Comparing road construction quite well in Germany, where many 50s and 60s maps are undated but those sold by Esso usually have a clear revision date in the panel containing the legend. In general Esso maps tend to be more likely to be dated than most other brands, possibly because they were generally quite large sellers and there was little chance of a service station being seen to offer an out-of-date map. Smaller brands, which could afford to update maps less frequently, often leave off any indication of date.

The series of three sectional maps issued by Esso are especially useful as they were regularly updated. This example comes from 1953.

1953 Esso map of South Germany

Some maps lack an obvious date but show new sections of road with an anticipated completion date. In these cases it's a fair bet that the map was issued either in the earliest year so shown or in the year before. (This is a common way of dating Mairs maps if they lack a specific date code.)

Two websites that can be most helpful in identifying when motorways were opened are the UK's Roader's Digest and the Dutch Wegenwiki. The former includes detailed information on all classified roads in the UK, including dates when alignments changed. The latter concentrates on motorways, but has a global reach.

...and if all else fails, go by the style!
Finally, as a last measure, it is often possible to date larger company maps by reference to the style of cover, as the multi-national brands tended to use a common design across national borders. A similar technique uses changes to the company logo to set earliest or latest possible dates, but the bands can be very broad and there are sometimes national exceptions to a corporate branding. (Although it does not apply to Europe, Shell continued using an old logo on the cover of Australian maps throughout the 1950s.)

Once again, a problem lies with smaller local brands where there may be no record of sign changes, and there it may be necessary to look for clues such as service station design or models of car on the cover. This is very imprecise - as an example globes were not used on petrol pumps in Southern Europe after the mid-1950s, but they continued widely in use in Britain until the late 1970s.

Specific Dating Codes on Maps

Top of PageUnlike in America, where the major cartographers kept strictly to a code, most European cartographers apply their codes less uniformly.

Geographia (UK and Ireland)
Many maps use the Cumberland code, where the numbers 1 to 0 are represented by their position in the word CUMBERLAND:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
The code is then placed inconspicuously as a M.YY (or MM.YY) code somewhere in the index of places. There is no consistent location and whilst the code appears on maps drawn for Texaco in the 1970s, it does not appear to have been used on the predecessor Regent maps from the 1960s.

Geographers' A-Z Map Company (UK)
A-Z produced very few maps for petrol companies and this code does not apply to their common street atlases. The code is to relate the numbers 1 to 0 to the reverse alphabetical sequence JIHGFEDCBA. As with Geographia, the code then takes a MM.YY form, (so JACE=10/86, for example) usually placed in the bottom left of the map itself.

Dutch Falkplan
Older Netherlands maps from Falk, Falkplan or Falkplan-Suurland are almost always undated. From the 1970s, most carry an inconspicuous numeric code in a bottom corner. Initially the dates appear to be at the end of the code - 5221173 appears on a Shell map bought new in 1974, so would appear to be November (or January?) 1973. However more recent maps have longer codes such as 1198298036 or 0901201274. It appears that the first 4 digits are simply MMYY (so the examples are from a November 1998 AVIA map and a September 2001 Total map). More recently again, the code seems to have been extended to 12 digits, with a Shell map of the Netherlands reading 011312110125. It may be that this is a January 2013 map, based on the first 4 digits, but circumstantial evidence suggest that it might be earlier, perhaps from December 2011, if the first 8 digits represent MMYY-MMYY.
The same systems seem to have been used on Falkplan maps of Belgium; so that a code of 7070382 is a March 1982 edition (used on a stock map in Mobil covers), but 02893837 is a February 1989 Shell map (customised for Dutch, not Belgian, Shell). 110808090114 may then be a 2008 or 2009 Dutch Shell map of Belgium.

JRO-Verlag maps take their name from Joh. Roth, and were widely sold as both commercial issues under the JRO name and as the base map for oil company issues. The former are found from at least the 1930s through to the 1970s. In the early 1960s the company claimed to operate an 8,000m2 warehouse with 500 employees. Their maps are generally undated, although there is often one or more code letters in the bottom right-hand corner. A sequence of NW-Deutschland maps from the early 1960s appears to run K...R...E, leading me to guess that the code might be based on the surname of their main cartographer, Dr. Ernst Kremling. By the end of the decade it appears to incorporate the year, with successive maps reading 6D9 (1969?) and 7D0 (1970?). Please let me know if you have any more information.

Mairs Geographische (Germany and elsewhere)
Mairs maps usually contain an 6 to 9-digit numerical code in the bottom right of the margin. The fourth and fifth digits (on 6 or 7 digit codes) or fourth to seventh digits will usually give the year(s): eg 1036739 is a 1967 edition (of Switzerland) and 601727360 is a 1972-73 edition (also of Switzerland). Occasionally an oblique is placed between the two years as in 60868/6910 (a 1968-9 of Greece). Later editions sometimes include a period of validity such as "Laufzeit 1987-89"; in this case the earlier date is usually the year the map was produced. If it just says "Laufzeit bis 1995", then it is likely to have been produced two years in advance of the date indicated.

Date code from 1958 K&F map of Switzerland

Kümmerley & Frey
The two digits for the year often appear in the extreme bottom left or right hand corner of the map. There are normally no other codes on the map. The example shown comes from a 1958 BP map of Switzerland - note how the code is almost hidden by the mountain hachures.

Busche (on Aral maps)

Busche maps almost always quote an edition number of the format "Ausgabe IV/7". The Roman numerals relate to the major revision and the Arabic to the minor revision. For German sections of IV/n, add n to 1955. For III/n, the year is probably found by adding n to 1946. Unfortunately, each other map series started at I/1 for its first edition, so is no clue to the date. Less frequently revised maps also appear with less than annual revision numbers - ie. they are strictly related to version and to not any time period.
The outline of Germany on Aral maps can also be misleading. This clearly still shows the pre-1939 borders, but the map itself dates from 1959 or 60. Most other cartographers accepted the new borders rather quicker than Busche.

ca1959 Aral map Ausgabe IV/7

Pre-war BV maps use full stops in "B.V." and are of either 8 or 12 sections. The 8 section series came first, and has reached its fourth edition (Ausgabe) by 1935. This final edition includes a marginal note in German that BV products are more widely available than shown on the map due to the acquisition of Derop. Earlier maps in this series have red roads in the town plans; later ones use orange. The next series can generally be dated by a note showing the date at which the autobahn network is correct, and only the 1936 edition has reference to Deropol at the bottom of the front cover.

BP maps (any cartographer)
Maps produced for the BP Touring Service (ie not local issues) often contain a single capital letter on the rear cover or, more rarely, on the margin of the map. As some BP maps also carry a firm date, it is possible to match the letter to the year (although there are slight variations between letters). After 1976, BP started again with A, but the repeated letters are only rarely found.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  W  Y  Z
50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76

Pre-war Shell maps from Germany
These all have a printer (or cartographer) reference of ZRK followed typically by four numbers. Provisionally I believe the code to be (where N represents a variable number):
Rear of 1936 Shell sectional map ZRK 4NNN 1934  
ZRK 5NNN 1934 or 5  
ZRK 5NNNa or b or 6NNN 1935 or 6  
ZRK NNNN/7 1937  
ZRK NNNN/8 1938  
ZRK NNNN/9 1939  
The rear cover above comes from a 1936? section 7 (Hannover) of Germany and is referenced ZRK 5688 b.

Hints from Logo Design and style

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Esso has been remarkably consistent in its logo design: that in use today is recognisably the same as the version introduced around 1936. On the page linked here I attempt to date undated British maps from ca1949 to 1958, when a copyright date was first introduced onto maps. Otherwise, if there is an outline map of the area with a turquoise background it comes from 1962-1965; if there is a white background it comes from 1965 onwards. (Both backgrounds can be found for 1965; the white cover style continued in use in the Netherlands at least as late as the 1982-3 edition.)

1965 Esso map of Switzerland

1965 Esso map of Greece
1965 or later

Up until 1930 there were a number of more or less naturalistic versions of the Shell (the pecten, a type of scallop, had been used by the company since 1904). In 1930 it was standardised but still not used too often on maps. Only with the first version bearing the word SHELL across it, introduced in 1948, did it regularly appear on maps. This 1948 pecten was noticeably rounded with shading, but by about 1952 it had been flattened into a simple red and yellow device. In 1963 the Shell was placed into a square red controlled background - except in Switzerland, although it had sometimes appeared on a red square on the corners of maps during the 1950s. This classic design only lasted in Europe until 1971 when the more modern simplified and wordless Shell appeared. On station signage this still appeared on a red square (although on station buildings a red outlined Shell on a white background was also used). The latest revision took place in 1995 when the colours were intensified and the red controlled background was lost in favour of a white, non-illuminated one. The dates quoted here apply to Europe but not to the USA.

The main changes to the BP logo have been:
1930-47 BP Logo
1947-58 BP Logo
1958-89 BP Logo
1989-2000 BP Logo
Current BP Logo
Current logo
Prior to 1930 the "BP" lettering was already distinctive, but it variously appeared in a Union Jack, inverted triangle or on its own. In general maps were not produced prior to the introduction of the shield.

Avia's website helpfully includes a timeline for its logo. In essence it can be summarised as:
1931 - Script red Avia
1946 - Propeller logo with red AVIA beneath in white oval
1957 - Rocket logo with red AVIA beneath in white oval on red rectangle
1974 - Red AVIA above thin and thick red bands in white rectangle
1998 - Italic red AVÍA (with dotted i) above thin and thick red bands in white rectangle
On the 1974 logo, the thinner band was initially green in France.

Gulf (USA)
Although not from Europe, this site also has a page on how to date early Gulf maps from 1915-1926.

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Text and layout © Ian Byrne, 2000-18

All original copyrights in logos and map extracts and images are acknowledged and images are included on this site for identification purposes only.