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How to Make an Atlas More Interesting With Postcards

I have been collecting postcards all my life—just like my father did before me. I now have many thousands of them, both vintage and modern.

How to make an atlas

How to make an atlas

Illustrating an Atlas Using Postcards

I wanted to find a way to introduce my granddaughter to the elements of geography as well as provide some entertainment, and I hit upon the idea of an illustrated atlas. Obviously, you can buy illustrated atlases—but it's much more fun, and incidentally more instructive, to make your own. It's a great occupation for a winter's afternoon.

I thought about what to use for illustration but of course, I have the ideal resource: postcards! And plenty of them. There is an added benefit too because it's yet another way of storing/displaying your postcards. In effect, you are making yourself a postcard album, arranged geographically. However, you could also use pictures you cut out of magazines or photos you have available for this project. As someone mentioned in a comment, tourist brochures would provide great photos.

The photos in this article are all my own.

Step 1: Choose the Atlas

At first, I was going to pick up the first secondhand atlas I could find locally so I went touring around all the local charity and secondhand shops. I looked through so many atlases that I feel I've become an expert!

You need one which isn't too big. If it goes into too much detail for each country, it might be difficult to find illustrations relevant to each page. The one I chose is very roughly 30 cm by 20 cm (or 12 inches by 9 inches). Not every country has a page to itself and while maybe that would have been better, I had to go with what I could find.

In the end, the most important thing, though, was the binding. A hard-bound book would be very inflexible and wouldn't accommodate very many postcards. Even a softback, although it would bulge more easily, still wouldn't allow for very many inserts before it would bulge out of shape and never close. I decided a spiral-bound one would be ideal and that's what I used. The spiral gives a great deal of flexibility.

I spent longer than I should have trying to find the right atlas until I thought of eBay and that is exactly where I found exactly what I needed. It's well worth a look.

Of course, it doesn't have to be a world atlas. It just depends on what illustrations you want to use and what you have available.

A spiral-bound atlas provides more flexibility

A spiral-bound atlas provides more flexibility

Step 2: Prepare the Atlas

As well as the spiral giving more flexibility for card (or picture) inserts, it is easy to tear out unwanted pages. It dawned on me that there is a large index at the end and that in this case, for my purposes, it really isn't a necessity. So I decided that I would tear it out.

It hurts me to mutilate a book but I decided it was for the greater good. As you can see, this is another advantage of having a spiral binding because it's very easy to remove the pages without leaving any trace of the dreadful deed. It's quite a simple matter to pull out the pages, but I'd advise you to pull just a few at a time. If you try to pull too many at once, you are in danger of bending the spiral, and it's virtually impossible to get it back into shape.

I decided to remove the atlas index

I decided to remove the atlas index

Step 3: Gather Materials

You could of course attach the cards directly onto the pages but I prefer to use plastic protectors for the cards. It saves the cards from being damaged and it allows you to change them from time to time if you feel like it.

Here's what I used:

  • Plastic protectors for the postcards
  • Sticking tape
  • Scissors

This is a simple project!

Choosing your postcards

Choosing your postcards

Step 4: Choose Your Postcards

This is the fun bit! You need to choose appropriate cards for each page. It is also the most time-consuming part of the process, for me at least, because you discover cards/pictures/photos you had forgotten about. It's a slow process but also very enjoyable. Then there is the great debate about which images are going to look best or give the most typical impressions of the country in question.

Personally, I believe your best choice is to use single views even though I know many people do like multiviews. I don't know if it is because my eyesight isn't what it used to be, but I find it hard to look at several small pictures on one card.

You can go on debating which to choose almost indefinitely so this is one of the reasons I advocate using plastic envelopes for the cards so that you can switch them around to your heart's content if you change your mind later on.

Step 5: Attach the Cards

For myself, I found it easier to attach the cards (or the plastic sleeves if you are using them) to the outer edge of the pages but if your fingers are more nimble than mine, I dare say you could also attach them to the inner edge. You could alternate sides of course and so make room for more cards by avoiding having the extra thickness all in one area.

The idea is to allow postcards to be flipped over. This can be so that you can see the stamps or read the message as well as the image. Alternatively, you could use twice as many cards by inserting them facing in opposite directions in the protective sleeves. If you are using photos or other images maybe cut from magazines, it may well be better to insert them back-to-back because the other side will be blank in the case of photos, or have unrelated text if from a magazine.

Finding, selecting and arranging the cards in the correct position is fascinating and really very educational. I learnt a lot in the time I spent putting this together, not least where countries are in relation to each other. I may have had a vague idea before I tried this project, but I'm slightly ashamed to admit I wasn't always right!

View from the side

View from the side

Fill the Pages!

You can see here how the atlas looks with only a few postcards inserted. The pages are starting to separate and make the cover bulge. You can imagine how much fuller it's going to get so you really do need to have the flexibility of spiral binding and the extra space left by removing index or other superfluous pages.

© 2014 SheilaMilne

Have you ever made anything like this? What do you think of this idea?

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on August 04, 2014:

What a fun way for kids to learn and explore. Thanks for your very creative idea :)

Jeanette from Australia on August 03, 2014:

This looks like it would be an excellent idea for homeschoolers. I would have loved to do this with my children, but they've finished their homeschooling now.

RinchenChodron on August 02, 2014:

No, but I wish my parent or grandparent had devised such a great exercise to help me learn about the world! Great idea.

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on August 02, 2014:

What a fun idea. I love to travel and i collect postcards. I think I will give this one a try.

StrongMay on August 02, 2014:

@StrongMay: Actually, I have a collection of maps from the places I've been. Maybe I can utilize those!

StrongMay on August 02, 2014:

I love this idea! I like to travel a lot and send postcards to family, but now you've inspired me to pick some up for myself!

burntchestnut on August 02, 2014:

A great idea. You might also include some pictures cut out of tourist brochures if you aren't interested in keeping them. They could be glued onto some of the atlas pages.

Scott A. Butler from England on August 02, 2014:

This looks incredibly fun. Much more fun than my scrabble coasters. Thank you for sharing this lens. :)

Merry Citarella from Oregon's Southern Coast on August 01, 2014:

What a fun and clever idea! I bet your granddaughter loved it. Just looking at all the photos would no doubt entertain. Enjoyed this very much.