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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Old West Time-Life Books and Van Arsdale Maps by Kaye Spencer @prairierosepubs #westernromance

[Note: I wrote this article for the Western Fictioneers blogspot four years ago. This version has improved images, and the pertinent information has been updated.]

In 1976 or thereabouts, I came across two advertisements in the back of a paperback book (probably a Louis L'Amour novel). If you’ve ever read original Pocket Books paperbacks, you’ve seen these forms. They looked similar to this one, and the items for purchase were varied:

Example of ad in the back of Pocket Book paperbacks

One of these advertisements was for a set of a Time-Life books about the Old West, and the other advertisement was for Old West maps drawn by Perry C. Van Arsdale. I sent off my money order with the order form each month, and when the new volume, I read it cover-to-cover and back again. They probably cost around $13 each.

Over the years, I've carted this set of books around throughout my many moves. They’ve made it through a basement flood; a partial house fire; an aquarium slowly leaking on the shelf above them; toddlers with crayons and scissors; and puppies with sharp teeth. ;-) I still rely on them in my writing.
Here is a picture of my set:
Time Life Books "Old West" - Kaye Spencer's collection
For the maps…

I purchased four Van Arsdale maps in 1978-ish. I don't recall how much they cost at the time. Maybe $10 or so. They, too, have their battle scars, but they're all still in good shape. My four originally purchased maps are: Pioneer Texas, Pioneer Colorado, Pioneer New Mexico, and Pioneer Arizona. I kept the four maps rolled together and in a mailing tube until 2012. So about 35 years after purchasing, my dad mounted them in barn wood frames with protective glass which, by the way, makes it difficult to take a picture without reflections. Consequently, the pictures I’m using here are of an unframed Van Arsdale map of the U.S. Southwest.

Sadly, the Van Arsdale map website appears to have disappeared. However, here is an article that tells a bit of history of how these maps came about: HERE  Briefly, in 1960, Professor Van Arsdale was helping his granddaughter with a project involving the Santa Fe Trail, and he discovered her textbook had incorrect information. He set out to remedy this.

Van Arsdale map of the American West-Southwest - Kaye Spencer's collection

The close-ups offer an idea of the details.

Example of dates and locations

Zoom of the surrounding area where I live in Springfield, Colorado
States from top Left and continuing Clockwise:
Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas Panhandle, New Mexico

Back when I bought the set of books and the four maps, I really couldn't afford them. But something urged me to buy them, but not in an impulse purchase sort of way. My commitment for the books was about two years, and I bought the maps one at a time as I could afford them. It was more of a "you need to buy these, because you'll use them in your writing someday".

That bit of intuition proved true. I’ve plotted my character’s travels using these maps as my guide, while relying upon the information in the Time-Life books for historically accurate information even when I occasionally took (and still take) a bit of literary license to fit my stories.

I treasure my Time-Life Old West books and my Van Arsdale maps as I treasure and appreciate my oldest and dearest friends. They've been with me through the clich├ęd 'thick and thin', and they've never let me down.

What writing treasures do you have that you turn to for research help?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

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--MetaFilter. Community Weblog. Perry Van Arsdale’s maps of US historic events. April 27, 2013. May 8, 2018.
--Image. Books and Maps. silverhairster.


  1. I love maps, and do the google map thing when I want to see the topography of an area, if I can't walk it myself. I have paper maps of rail, trail, and highway that have overlays for each. It's fascinating. Still, I would love to have the Van Ardsale Maps.

    I also use the 'original' material I find in the options my library has for background, but love the Time-Life books also. Doris

    1. [If my reply posts twice, I apologize. Blogger is glitchy today.]

      I would love to have a research-worthy library within a reasonable driving distance. One of the drawbacks of living on the edge of "off the grid" is doing without some of the those conveniences. So, I have a personal research library, and I depend upon google for the rest. *sigh*

      Thanks for stopping by. *hugs*

  2. These are great! I have a collection of similar books. Love them.

    1. Kristy,

      What I appreciate most about the Old West Time-Life books is being able to look up a topic and find the date(s) it occurred.

  3. Kaye, I found those TIME LIFE books in a used bookstore for $5 each. I bought what they had. I think there are a few missing, but not many. Would love to have a set of those maps. What a treasure.

  4. What a wonderful set of books. I'd love some of those. The maps are a treasure.

    1. Old maps and historically accurate maps have so much history in them that it's another research rabbit hole to tumble into.

  5. I have the Pioneer Texas map Framed and came across this looking for info on it. Does anyone have an idea of what the value may be on it? I have no need for it and plan on selling it.