A recent article on CityLabs commemorated November 11, 1926 – the day when all the old national road trails were first renumbered as the U.S. National Highways System that survives pretty much intact to this day. The article also featured this great map that was produced at the time, and a link to a very high-resolution scan of it over on the Wikimedia Commons.
Being a subject close to my heart (as this highway system is the basis of not one, but two of my “subway map” projects), I downloaded the map and began perusing it eagerly; seeing where the system had changed and where it remained the same. As I looked, I began to see that while the quality of the scan was good, and the content of the map was fascinating, the map itself was in a pretty sorry state. Basically, it looks like you’d expect an 88-year old map to look — dirty spots, fold and crease marks, ink that had rubbed off on other parts of the map when the map had been folded, and so on.
So I thought I’d do a bit of restoration work and clean this awesome old map up a bit. I used to do quite a lot of photo retouching and image compositing in former design roles, so I’m certainly no stranger to the tools available in Photoshop for this type of work. Most of what I’ve done is a combination of the Spot Healing Brush (for easy spot and line removal) and the Clone Stamp tool for more detailed work, or where blemishes were right up against actual printed parts of the map. After that, I applied a High Pass sharpen to the whole map, which both sharpens edges and adds a little more contrast, and finally added a Curves adjustment layer that just brightens the map up just a bit.
The important thing was to not overdo anything: I erred on the side of caution when deciding to remove any element, and I haven’t removed that “old map” feel from the piece. I’ve included a gallery of before (to the left) and after (to the right) images below, so you can get an idea of the work involved. There was a lot of ink that had rubbed off into other areas of the map where it had been folded, including the whole title of the map, which appeared in reverse across much of Mexico. This and crease marks were what I worked hardest on to remove. All up, I’ve probably spent 40–50 hours lovingly restoring this fantastic map.
As the map is out of copyright (produced by the Federal government and also more than 75 years old), I’m also offering prints for sale in my online store for $39. The prints are 34″ wide by 22″ deep, printed on a 24″ x 36″ sheet. It’s also the perfect complement to my U.S. Highways as Subway Map poster, so I’m also selling them as a combo pack: both maps for $68, a savings of $10 compared to buying them separately.1926 U.S. Highways Map – $39 U.S. Highways Combo Pack – $68