Cartographic Craftsmanship

Posted on Updated on

by Sam Balistreri-Daum


One aspect of the 19th and 20th Century nautical charts that continues to amaze me is the craftsmanship.  I am currently working on the AGS Library’s set of Argentinian charts.  Working with charts in a variety of languages means learning the various nuances of how the language is used in cartography, especially abbreviations. One abbreviation that had us scratching our heads for a little while was “dib.”, which we would see in the bottom right margin of the sheet accompanied by a name.  I later found that this stood for dubujado or drawn and was again impressed by the level of craftsmanship and precision that is involved in cartography, especially in the days before computers.


While cataloging the Argentinian charts I came across a chart containing keys for abbreviations, signals and topographic and hydrographic symbols used in the drawing of the charts in the series.  This is a reference guide for those who would use the charts.  Note the variety of styles that were done by hand before maps were engraved and then printed (click the image for an enlarged view).




…And now for something different but related. How did a cartographer learn the skills necessary to draw maps?  For an example of this we turn to the Practischer Entwurf eines neu zuerrichtenden Urbariums (1792).  The book contains practical illustrations of (fictional) maps meant as a “how to” guide for cartographic drawing.  This volume contains beautiful colored examples of cartography, but perhaps the most fun are the fictional places depicted on the maps.  One map features such locations as Schmaltz Aecker (lard lands), Hader Aecker (discord lands) and a section labeled Anger that despite translating to “green” is actually colored in yellow.






USGS Copper Plates

Posted on Updated on

by Angie Cope

The technology of making maps has changed radically over the years and at the AGS Library, we endeavor to preserve the tools used in that process. In the summer of 2014, the United States Geological Survey made hand engraved copper plates available to libraries and universities via the Federal Surplus system. The plates were used in the engraving of maps and diagrams between 1880s to the 1950s. Three copper plates were used in the construction of each topographic map. Civil divisions and public works were represented in black, water features in blue, and contours and miscellaneous features in brown.

AGSL already owned a Milwaukee 1:62,500 set of plates and now is fortunate enough to add three additional sets to their holdings. The plates acquired this year are for Bayview, Whitewater and Waukesha topographic maps dating from the early 1900s. These will help AGSL, Special Collections and various UWM departments in teaching about history of earth science data collection and compilation, maps and mapping techniques, and engraving and printing techniques.​



 More pictures of the plates can be seen at the AGS Library Flickr photograph page.


The AGS Library also has a nice exhibit of mid to late 20th century tools used to make a map. Can you identify the Rapidgraph Pen & Ink set, the Leroy Lettering set, the classroom Stereoscope, and the Symbol Drawing Templates?


2014 tools of the trade display
Click on the image for a larger view.