Curator's Choice: Royal Geographical Society

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Two days before Napoleon's defeat by the allied armies at Waterloo, two things occurred that threatened the outcome. The Prussian Corps holding the villages of Fleurus and Ligny were eventually routed by the French and Field Marshall von Blucher became trapped beneath his own horse. Eager to claim war trophies and military intelligence, one of the French chef de Grenadiers, V. Coutan, ransacked whatever the Prussians had left behind. One of the items Coutan found proved to be of interest to himself and later generations, namely a map of Germany from 1815, which is my curatorial choice.

The history of the map now switches to London where, in 1854, William Frederick De La Rue (a wholesale stationer of 118 Bunhill Row) was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The following year, at a meeting of the RGS Council on 8 January 1855, it was recorded in the minutes that a letter had been received from WF De La Rue, 'enclosing a map of Germany found by Colonel Coutan of Paris in the sabretash of General Zieten, 16 June 1815.'

The map itself was engraved by Johann Carl Ausfeld and published in Frankfurt by Friedrich Wilmans in 1808. The use of the map to allied commanders was in its depiction of the frequency of the postal service and the distance (in German miles) between principal towns. The most notable characteristic of Ausfeld's engraved style is the incredibly tiny and delicate calligraphy, which is a feature of all of his maps within the RGS Map Room.

Francis Herbert is Curator of Maps at the Royal Geographical Society, London, SW7 (071-589 5466). The RGS Map Room is open to the general public 10am-5pm, Mon-Fri

(Photograph omitted)