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Early copy of William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales found

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Previously believed to have been lost, archivists at the Geological Society have uncovered A rare early copy of William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales.

The map is the first geological map of a nation ever produced and shows geological strata of England, Wales and part of Scotland. According to Geological Society, the copy of the map is thought to have been one of the first ten produced by William Smith as it doesn’t carry any serial number and lacks a few geological features that are believed to have been added by Smith in later versions. Smith produced an estimated 370 hand-coloured copies of the map in his lifetime.

“The very first batch of maps Smith produced did not have a series number or signature” says John Henry, Chair of the Geological Society’s History of Geology Group. “Other indications that it is a first edition is the geology depicted on the Isle of Wight, the lack of an engraved line on the Welsh border, and lack of granite around Eskdale in the Lake District.”

William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales

Often called ‘the Father of English Geology’, William Smith pioneered the science of stratigraphy and geological mapping. His map of England and Wales became the basis for all future geological maps of Britain, and influenced geological surveys around the world.

“Smith’s importance to the history of our science cannot be overstated” says Henry. “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.”

Although it is difficult to estimate the value of individual William Smith maps, an early copy was recently made available for sale at £150,0005. The newly discovered map was found by the Society’s then Archive Assistant Victoria Woodcock in 2014, during an audit of the Society’s archives led by Geological Society Archivist Caroline Lam.

“These maps are extremely rare” says Henry. “Each one is a treasure, and to have one of the very first produced is tremendously exciting.”

The new map has been digitised and made available online in time for the start of celebrations of the map’s 200th anniversary.