The Mapback Index

About the Mapback Index

The Dell Mapbacks

The Dell "mapbacks" were paperbacks published by Dell in the 1940s and 1950s. They were primarily genre books—mostly mysteries, Westerns, and romances. Many of them were written by authors who were famous at the time; many by authors who became famous later; and quite a few were written by authors who never published another book. The front covers were striking, and the back covers featured stylized maps of locales that featured in the books: sometimes whole towns (real or fictional), sometimes neighborhoods, often apartments or other buildings that were the scene of a crime.

A note about the maps

Many of the maps are uncredited. Of the few that are, most are credited to artist Ruth Belew.

The Index

The Mapback Index started out as an Access database, around 2001 or so. I've been collecting mapbacks since I was 13—a friend lent me a copy of Faith Baldwin's The Incredible Year, and I was fascinated by the map on the back and the "cast of characters" in the front (not so much by the cover, which in my opinion is not very impressive...sorry, S. B. Jones!). About the time I got my driver's license, I discovered a thrift store in my hometown that had a spinner rack full of pulp novels, and I realized that the map wasn't just a one-time thing: there were LOTS of mapbacks. I was in pulp heaven. I bought as many as they had (for a dime each!), and thus my collection was born.

In 2001 I was working at the University at Buffalo, which has a fabulous collection of pulp paperbacks. The other thing it has is a copy of Dell Paperbacks, 1942 to Mid-1962 and Putting Dell on the Map, by William H. Lyles, who had worked at Dell. Once I discovered those books I knew I wanted to catalog my mapbacks. After about a year of obsessive eBay searching, I finally obtained my own copies of Mr. Lyles' work, and began entering my own books in a database. I was a web developer at the time, and I had some idea that I would like to put it online, but didn't really pursue it until about a year ago, when I was looking through some old files and found a SQL dump of my Access database...right before I went to a comics and vintage show and acquired some more mapbacks. It just snowballed from there, as these things do.

The site is free to use and will never have ads. It's sheerly a labor of love. The images are small and low-res on purpose; they are intended to be fun to look at and to be inspired by, and to be a reference for collectors.

Features (current and future)

As of now (May 2018), the database is nearly complete. I've entered more than 400almost 500 of the roughly 580 books that have maps on the back cover and their authors. I'm scanning the covers of my own books first, but I'm also seeking permission from others who have posted scans to other sites for their images so I can convert them to the same size and scale as my own. Here are the things you can do currently:

  • Look up books by title, author, cover artist, Dell number, genre, or copyright date in the complete index.
  • Get information about the authors and artists from their own pages.

Here are the things I'm still working on:

  • JUNE 2018 PRIORITY:Adding a search bar so people can search by author, title, etc. DONE!
  • Getting more cover scans! Including my own.
  • Completing the data entry.
  • Making the site more responsive and accessible.
  • Adding index pages for the authors and cover artists DONE!
  • Reporting on my database schema, like the good folks over at ISFDB, whose schema helped me figure out what to do about pseudonyms.
  • Making a printable checklist you can take along with you when you go out looking for books, or save it to Google Docs if you don't want to print it out (it's pretty long).
  • Adding eBay listings to the book pages. DONE!

A Note About the Tech

This site is in part a way for me to revive and update my web development skills. Since the time I was a full-time web developer, everybody has started using frameworks and other awesome and sensible practices that make the web not just prettier, but also more secure and more fun. I haven't used any of those things here, for two reasons: 1) I wanted to see if I could still remember the things I used to know, like PHP and mySQL; 2) At the same time, I wanted to update my skills in those areas. PHP has changed quite a bit (for the better) since I was using it regularly. HTML5 and CSS3 are no longer cutting-edge; they're standard (and becoming more so with every browser update). Responsive Web Design—a thing I've been rabid about implementing since the early days—is de rigeur these days.

Before I start using new frameworks, I wanted to make sure I still knew the "plain vanilla" methods. So this site is hand-coded in HTML, CSS, and PHP, with a MySQL database. Later I'll (probably) redo it with more modern tools, but right now I think it's more important for it to go live than to be state-of-the-art. It's kind of old-school, but so am I. :-)

Resources and Links

  • Bookscans, a fabulous source of cover art and information about vintage paperbacks. The proprietor, Bruce, has generously granted me permission to use his cover scans.
  • Lyles, William H. (1983) Dell Paperbacks, 1942 to Mid-1962: a catalog-index. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • Lyles, William H. (1983) Putting Dell on the Map: a history of the Dell paperbacks. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • An interesting article that includes the distressing story of Mr. Lyles.