Rare first edition of 200-year-old William Smith 'map that changed the world' found

Discovery comes alongside the 200th anniversary of the map, on which all geological maps are based

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The Independent Online

A rare edition of one of the most important maps ever made has been found by archivists and made available online.

The 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales, made by William Smith, was initially thought lost. It was the first geological map of a nation ever produced, showing the geological strata of England, Wales and a part of Scotland.

The map is thought to be one of the first ten copies made, and is one of about 380 hand-coloured copies of the map that were made by Smith. The find has been made public as a number of geological groups celebrate the 200th anniversary of the map.

Smith pioneered the science of stratigraphy, helping to map the layers that make up the Earth, and has been called the Father of English Geology. The map served as the basis for all the geological surveys that followed in Britain and around the world.


“Smith’s importance to the history of our science cannot be overstated,” said  John Henry, Chair of the Geological Society’s History of Geology Group. “His map is a remarkable piece of work. It helped shape the economic and scientific development of Britain, at a time before geological surveys existed.”

An early copy of the map was recently made available for sale at £150,000, but the Geological Society says that it is difficult to estimate exactly how much the newly-found map would be worth. It was discovered by one of the society’s archivists, during an audit of the society’s holdings.

“The map was found among completely unrelated material, so at first I didn’t realise the significance of what I’d uncovered” said Victoria Woodcock, who found the map last year. “Once we had worked out that it was an early copy of one of the earliest geological maps ever made, I was astonished. It’s the kind of thing that anyone working in archives dreams of, and definitely the highlight of my career so far!”

The map has no serial number, and so is a first edition, and can also be dated by the lack of features that were present in later editions.

Because the map was lost for so long, it has had little exposure to light. That means that the bright colours that were originally in the map have been preserved.