USGS Copper Plates

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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.