The geological maps of William Smith: a review

Staff: T. Sharpe
William Smith Map
The Museum holds the largest collection of William Smith maps in the world. These are critical documents to the history of the science of geology and the evolution of its understanding in Britain.

It is nearly 70 years since a survey of the 27 extant copies of William Smith's famous geological map of 1815 identified five different issues. The number of copies printed is unknown, as is the number which survive today, and it has long been considered that production of the map was short-lived, from 1815 until about 1817. They are considered rare, and in recent years, the maps have become highly collectable and now command significant prices at auction. This review will examine as many surviving copies as possible to establish the validity of the five issues and to answer the questions of its production. The review will also take into consideration the production history of the Smith's later county maps and of the geological maps of his contemporaries George Bellas Greenough and John MacCulloch.

Preliminary results suggest that about 350 copies of Smith's 1815 map were printed, that perhaps 150 survive, that there are at least six issues, and that it was produced at least until 1836. Two new variants of MacCulloch's map have been recognised in addition to four previously recorded.