March 2015 | Nate Pedersen

First Edition of First Geological Map Recovered

A first edition of William Smith's 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales - previously considered lost - has been recovered by archivists with the Geological Society. Smith's map was the first geological map of a nation ever produced, illustrating the geological strata of England, Wales, and much of Scotland. The map recently discovered at the Geological Society is one of the first ten hand-colored maps produced by Smith in 1815.

The map was found during an audit of the Society's archives in 2014.  Victoria Woodstock, the map's discoverer, said, "The map was found among completely unrelated material, so at first I didn't realise the significance of what I'd uncovered. 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 was identified as a first edition from its lack of serial number and from geological features that Smith would update in later editions. Its value is difficult to estimate, although another early copy recently was offered at £150,000.

Remarkably well-preserved owing to its lengthy disappearance, the map has now been fully restored, digitized, and made available online at the Geological Society's website as part of the bicentennial celebration of the map's publication.

For more on the story of William Smith and the creation of the first geological map, see Simon Winchester's excellent book "The Map That Changed the World."  Winchester was interviewed by Fine Books & Collections for our current issue.