Historic Maps of America Up for Auction

Engraved copper map with inset closeup
When cleaned and preserved, the plates make for a beautiful display item.

130 years ago, as U.S. Geological Survey field crews traveled the country mapping every inch of terrain they could, they took their results and engraved them onto copper plates for printing topographic and geologic maps, cross sections, and other illustrations. The practice continued into the 1950s when new mapping and printing techniques took over. Since they aren’t being used anymore, USGS has offered them to GSA to sell on GSA Auctions.

We have over 480 sets of plates covering land from Alaska to Maine, Hawaii to Florida. These are truly unique items, perfect for any cartography, geography, history or nature buff out there. Would you like a map of Bryce Canyon, Utah? We’ve got it. Fire Island, New York and Hackensack, NJ – right here.

A number of Federal organizations, State and local government agencies, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations requested sets from their regions be set aside, so not all states are available.

The plates look beautiful when framed, and we’ll even share with you the techniques the government has used for decades to clean and prepare them for display.

Bidding closes on Wednesday, April 1, so act fast! For more details, visit GSAAuctions.gov.

Additional Resources

Photo Gallery Captions

  1. A portion of the engraving on the plate used to print points, lines, and text in black ink. Engravings on the plate are left-to-right reversed. This plate was cleaned and treated to improve the visibility of the engraving. The plate was used to print the Washington [D.C.] and vicinity, 1:31,680-scale topographic map. Photo: USGS
  2. Mounted and framed display of engraved copper plate, with inset closeup.
  3. In the past, each USGS topographic map typically required 3 individual lithographic stones for printing, one for each color shown on the map. Photo: USGS
  4. A topographic map was typically made by overprinting images from engraved plates with black, blue, and brown inks. The printing process reverses the mirror image on the engravings. The images are for the Roanoke, Virginia, 1:62,500-scale topographic quadrangle map. Photo: USGS
  5. The steady hands of a USGS engraver touching up left-reading lettering. Photo: USGS
  6. Tools of the trade for a U.S. Geological Survey engraver- the burin and the hand lens, resting on a contours engraving. Photo: USGS
  7. With great precision, an engraver carefully cuts away small ribbons of copper to create the contour plate for a US Geological Survey topographic quadrangle. Photo: USGS
  8. Field crew in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, 1903. Photo Credit: A.E. Murlin/U.S. Geological Survey