From the 1880s to the 1950s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published maps depicting transportation routes, cultural borders, topography, hydrography and geologic cross sections. And the stunning handmade engravings used to create these maps will be put on sale for the general public this summer.


The engravings, mostly made from a copper alloy or zinc, are color-separated—which means there is one engraving for each color used on the final printed maps. Topographic maps, for instance, were comprised of three plates: black ink for boundary features, brown for contours and blue for rivers and lakes.

Most of the plates are 17 x 21 inches and weight about 12.5 pounds. But maps using multiple engravings can weight closer to 40 pounds.


The first round of sales, which will make approximately 100 sets available, is scheduled for early summer. A second round, selling a larger though undetermined number, will take place a few months later.

According to the USGS:

Those interested in obtaining engravings need to understand the phases of the process; know how to request the engravings; plan the logistics to receive, pack, load, and transport them; and be ready to request a donation or to make a purchase offer when the engravings become available.


The engravings will be available through a process managed by the U.S. General Services Administration. For more information on how to purchase them, the USGS is posting weekly updates.