$520 To Restore A Piece of History

On our November income statement, we showed a $520 purchase in our shopping category for heirloom restoration and promised an explanation later. Here’s the story behind that spending and why we feel that $520 is a bit of an investment in preserving both friendship and local history.



Here’s part of the map – the detail on it is amazing when you consider it was made in the 1930’s!

Where Did The $520 Go?

The heirloom that we had restored was a map. Now, this isn’t just any map. It’s an old developer’s map of a nearby island that was probably printed in the 1940’s. It’s HUGE – about 10 feet long, and when we moved into our house, we spent about $600 to have it mounted and framed so we could display it as the central (well, really the only) piece of art in our living room.

At the time, $600 was a lot of money for us.  Mr. PoP was earning minimum wage and we were putting thousands into repairs on the lovely older home we had recently purchased out of foreclosure.  But we loved the piece, and we were very sad to realize this summer just how drastically it had faded in the 3 years it was mounted in the living room.


Why Did We Love It So Much?

For starters, it’s just such an awesome piece of art. Our home isn’t big, so when the only thing you have on the walls is a 10 foot long map that is upwards of 60 years old, it’s pretty freaking cool.

Beyond that, there’s also a lot of sentimentality involved in the map, too. It was gifted to us during our home search by a good friend, D, who had quite literally used the map as his own little monopoly board on the island. D is in his late eighties now, but during the 60 years he’d lived on that island, he’d used this exact map (this very copy!) to map out all of his land purchases over the years. This map represents so much of his personal history that we treasured the sentiment behind the gift as much as the gift itself.


How To Restore A Faded Map

When we first started researching what to do about the map fading, paper restoration firms that Mr. PoP tracked down online were quoting us as much as $3,000 to restore the map. But – and there’s always a but – there was no guarantee that it would work or that the map wouldn’t be destroyed in the process. Now, spending $3,000 wasn’t my idea of a good time, but the prospect of losing the map and its history forever seemed like a huge risk for that high of a price. We pulled the map off the wall and tried to find another way.

Since we love public records so much, Mr. PoP tried to locate a copy of the original map in public databases of maps, but this map was primarily meant for developers.  It was never recorded in the public records.

Eventually, through tireless research, Mr. PoP found the map. We knew our copy was probably purchased in the 1950’s and had likely been printed in the 1940’s, but Mr PoP figured out that the map was originally drawn in the 1930’s. (Incredibly long ago for this area!) Amazingly, a local surveying firm still had the original map in its storage which they had purchased from the cartographer who created it over 70 years ago. When Mr. PoP saw the original linen map rolled out onto a conference table, he admits that he almost cried with joy. =)


$160 to the surveying firm got us a high quality digital scan of the original map. The remaining $360 went to a local graphic designer with a print shop. He was able to take D’s original map, and scan the portions of the map that had all of D’s real estate notes. (His notes hadn’t faded nearly as much as the original ink!) The graphic designer combined them into one new digital image, and aged the digital image so the colors matched how it looked when we first got it several years ago.

The graphic designer then printed it on acid free paper that shouldn’t fade. But even if it does fade somewhat in 10 or 20 years, with the completed digital image in our possession, printing a new copy would be relatively cheap and easy. So this is definitely now a “buy it for life” purchase.

The map is now back on our wall in all its glory. Yes, technically it’s a reproduction, but we have the original copy safely tucked away for preservation as well.

A Values Based Spending Decision

For us, this $520 is not just another thing we spent money on. We feel like our spending here reflects how much we value

  1. the unique area where we live and its local history
  2. our friendships with people like D who have been so kind as to share much of what they have learned over many years with us.
What spending decision (or non-spending as the case may be) have you made lately that aligns best with your values?



63 comments to $520 To Restore A Piece of History

  • That is so cool! I have never heard of anyone restoring a map before, but I really like the idea.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Using Coupons to Save MoneyMy Profile

  • That is really cool! Hubby loves maps and I’ve actually been keeping my eyes open for a good one for his birthday coming up. I can appreciate the importance of it for you guys.
    Catherine recently posted..Our Cash Christmas BudgetMy Profile

    • Thanks, Catherine! That’s cool that your hubby likes maps. Every once in a while, we see old framed ones in thrift stores. Have you checked there for the hubs’ b-day?

  • I love maps as artwork! In fact, I was on Etsy a few days ago looking to purchase one. To me, it was worth every penny!
    Terah@The Credit Report Chick recently posted..A Staggering Statistic About Credit ReportsMy Profile

  • I think any amount of money spent on something one-of-a-kind for your home is a great investment. Neat!

    • While there are possibly other copies of this map floating around (though realistically not many since it hasn’t been printed for sale in a good 60 years), this one is the only one that has our friends’ notes on it – and keeping those is definitely one of a kind in that regard and very special to us. =)

  • That is an amazing idea for an art piece, and a great story to go along with it.

    I’m glad that you found a solution for under $3,000. It seems like such a risk to spend all that money and possibly still lose your treasured map.
    Alex recently posted..Happiness Experiment 38: Nasal StripsMy Profile

  • Brian

    That’s really very cool!

    I don’t think spending money on art is ever a waste, especially when it means something to you and you like it!

    • It definitely means a lot to us – I think a lot more than if we had spent the combined total that we’ve spent so far on it (~$1100 for the original frame + restoration) on some random piece that we picked out from an art show to match the colors in the room.

  • I think it’s a good use of funds for something that you absolutely LOVE and will hang on your wall for years!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..5 Ways to Stop Collection CallsMy Profile

  • You will have that forever and get enjoyment out of it, so I think that was well worth it. We love landscape photography and I have gotten to know a local photographer who does amazing photos of our area. I’ve purchased a couple (they’re huge) for around $500 each, one was for my husband’s 40th birthday. He’ll remember that much longer than if I’d gotten him a shirt. We are not spending money on things like that right now until more debt is paid off, but I can seem myself buying others in the future.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Options for Diversifying Your InvestmentsMy Profile

    • That’s so neat that you’ve gotten to know a local photographer and enjoy having his stuff in your house. I totally agree that gifts like that stay in the heart and mind way longer than a shirt for work. =)

  • That’s awesome! This is so different than just buying some other “thing”. You’ll get years of enjoyment out of if and I am sure a great discussion piece. Definitely worth the cost in my opinion.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Working From Home – A Mom’s PerspectiveMy Profile

    • It’s definitely cool – and I think I speak for both of us when I say that it’s pretty cool to explain to guests who don’t know D where the map came from and the story behind it.

  • That’s crazy. Were the original map restoration quotes of $3K for restoring the original or for making a reproduction? I think the reproduction is a neat thing for your wall bcause if it fades or if some kid accidentally hits it with a baseball bat when he’s playing ball in the house like he’s not supposed to, then you wont’ have to worry that the original has been ruined. you’ve got the original safe.
    TB at BlueCollarWorkman recently posted..Surprises While Fixing a Covered BridgeMy Profile

    • My understanding is that the $3K estimates were for a chemical process on the original to bring the original ink out – then there probably would have been hand-painting in any ink that they couldn’t darken chemically. (That’s the process that might have hurt the paper.)
      Hand painting that would have taken forever and been really costly to do the whole thing. The pic on this post is probably the same size that the equivalent image would be on paper, about 3″x3″ – so imagine hand painting all those tiny numbers in, and then imagine doing it about 500 more times to fill in the whole 10ft x 3ft area.

  • That is a very beautiful project! I wish I had heirlooms here, mine are stored in France and I hope to use them someday.
    Pauline recently posted..13 money resolutions for 2013: #4 stop wasting!My Profile

    • It is nice – and no doubt you’ll be able to use all of yours someday, too. But that’s part of the trade off you’ve made for your lovely nomadic lifestyle!

  • This is awesome! I love the outside the box artwork-especially with the sentiments that are attached.
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..2013 Financial, Personal and Household GoalsMy Profile

  • Iforonwy

    Well done you! As a retired archivist I salute you!

  • That’s pretty freaking sweet! Over Christmas, my spouse and I dropped $1100 in framing for four antique maps that we purchased on eBay. I’m kind of excited to see how they look in all their glory. Since we purchased them, they’ve been sitting safely in a shipping tube. The maps themselves were rather affordable, but yikes is framing expensive.
    That’s a pretty amazing focal point for a room, I bet it looks really sweet.
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Ways to Save on Weddings Post-ChristmasMy Profile

    • Yeah, the framing is definitely crazy expensive. And ours is so big and oddly shaped that it was a total custom job. How are you going to mount them? We put ours on a linen/muslin type fabric backing with a simple thick dark wood frame and it looks old and modern at the same time. =)

  • That’s pretty rad. We have a really old family Bible somewhere in a closet – not too sure what to do with it; we don’t want to restore it but don’t think it’s worth all that much.
    eemusings recently posted..The elements of a perfect bankMy Profile

    • That’s cool – Our family bible was eaten by the dog when I was a kid, so there went that tradition! Does yours have pages that have births/deaths/marriages, etc? Those might be cool to try and save if the rest of it is falling apart.

  • That is a very very cool story.

    We spent a few thousand dollars recently to finally take a honeymoon after beign married for almost three years. We didn’t have a large wedding (got married in a courthouse) and so to us, saving up for the honeymoon was a big thing for us and totally worth it. Yes, we could have paid off a chunk of student loans with the money, but we have unforgettable memories.

    • Thanks! Glad the honeymoon was so worth the money. It’s impossible to tell (since we can’t travel back in time), but I wonder if you guys got more out of it by waiting a few years and working more for it rather than swiping the credit card on it after you left the courthouse.

  • That’s awesome, I always tell people it’s ok to spend money on the things you like and still be able to save money. You just can’t like everything :)

    Cool map though, I really like retro pieces of artwork/posters. Old = cool right? haha
    Harry @ PF Pro recently posted..Guest Post: Being AverageMy Profile

  • That’s amazing! I think that being frugal is important so that when an opportunity like this presents itself, you can be prepared to fully take advantage of it.
    Jordann @ My Alternate Life recently posted..Beware The CouponMy Profile

    • That’s totally how I feel. I’d much rather have the cash to do something cool like this than to have a few pairs of $200 jeans. =)

  • Wow that’s pretty awesome. I’m not a big fan of putting art in our house unless it means something to us. I can relate to how you feel about this map.
    My wife purchased a crystal necklace a few years ago that we would normally never buy. However, the woman who made the necklace donated 1/2 the profits to scoliosis research and the necklace was a symbolic representation of the condition. Since my wife had pretty drastic surgery as a child for it, it’s pretty important to us.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Money Mistakes I Made Over the Last DecadeMy Profile

  • My goodness, that is an amazing story! My former husband would have loved it. He adores maps, and this is just the kind of thing he would like. You may have created something that will be worth a lot of money, given the addition of your friend’s notes. That really is a remarkable thing, and his notes add to its historic value.
    Funny about Money recently posted..Pre-Spring GardeningMy Profile

    • I’m not sure if it’s worth a whole lot monetarily… I think if we ever were at a point where we couldn’t have it in our house and couldn’t store it for future use, we’d probably donate it to the local historical society. Their collection is pretty sparse since “history” isn’t something this area really has a lot of.

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  • What a lovely story and a beautiful map. I’d say that was money well spent. A historically significant piece you can pass along to your kids kids someday, love it!
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Reasons You Didn’t Get Hired-Part IIMy Profile

    • Kids’ kids? We don’t have any kids yet, so the idea of having grandkids sounds slightly terrifying! Thanks =) But it’s definitely a special piece that we have every intention of holding on to for a very long time.

  • Does the map have resale value? If you were to ever put the map on sale, do you think you will make up for the cost?
    Rohit @ The Money Mail recently posted..Roth IRAMy Profile

    • Funny asked about money, too. I don’t know how much value it would have in terms of resale as I’m not really up on art as investment or resale. But we’re not ever planning on selling it, so the point may be moot for us.

  • The frame I think would be one of the most expensive parts, but in the end totally worth it. Money well spent.
    Eddie recently posted..Don’t Let Your Post-Holiday Gift Cards Collect Dust!My Profile

    • Yeah, the framing was pricey – around $600, and that was with a “friend of a friend” discount through a local framing shop. They said they’d typically charge closer to $900-$1000 for that kind of work.

  • What an awesome idea, Mrs Pop!!.. I think it is great to have a large piece of historical data hanging in your living room as art. I bet it looks amazing!
    Jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..How to Handle an Epic FailureMy Profile

  • Jonathan

    I’d love to see a picture of the final product hanging on the wall!

    • I’ll see if I can get a decent one this weekend – the proper way to view it is midday when the natural light is shining through the skylights into the room =)

  • That is awesome! My g/f and I recently got a reproduction of a map of our area from the early 1900s to hang on our wall. I think something original like that would be so cool to have & I wouldn’t think twice about spending that money to restore & preserve it.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Should I Contribute to a 401(k) With No Match?My Profile

  • Truman

    Love your blog but this post leaves us readers really wanting a photo of the art.

    • Ahh, didn’t mean to be a tease with just the small pic. I see the big one so often, that it’s the detail that I get so amazed with. As I told Jonathan above, I’ll try and get a good picture of the whole thing in its naturally sunlit glory this weekend (darn winter hours means it’s already dark when we’re getting home from work these days).

  • CF

    I’ve seen something similar at a local restaurant in Vancouver. If done correctly, old maps can be quite beautiful.
    CF recently posted..Financial Goals: 2013My Profile

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  • Hi. Just read this interesting post.
    I’ve just bought a 1890 original map of where I live in a desperate condition but its fantastic. It’s the original linen backed 11feet by 6feet map and is very detailed with plot markings and a vast amount of info.
    I will be looking to get it restored and hung in one of our rooms ASAP.

    • Hey Nick-

      This sort of thing is probably our favorite piece of “art,” local, original, and at one time very useful! Because yours is an original, consider having it scanned and then uploaded to a map collection at a local libary. That way, if the restoration job goes badly you still have a copy that can be printed and hung…

      Mr. PoP
      Mr PoP recently posted..He Said, She Said: A Big OopsMy Profile