USGS Map Engravings for Sale This Summer

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Between the 1880s and the 1950s, the USGS produces engravings used to reproduce topographic and geologic maps within the agency.  Many of the excess engravings are being readied for sale or donation by the USGS.  The metal engravings are mostly copper alloy with a few made of zinc.  Most of the plates are 17 x 21 inches and weight about 12.5 pounds.

The engravings are mainly of maps showing cultural, transportation, boundary features, topography, hydrography, or geology.  A select number of the engravings are scientific in nature, showing such information as geologic cross sections.  These engravings are hand made and are the mirror image (left to right reversed) for printing.  Therefore, the text and words are reversed on the engravings.  The directions of east and west are also flipped as a result, with east being on the left side of the engraving.

The engravings are color-separated which means there is one engraving for each color used on the final printed maps.  If the map was of a single color, there will be only one engraving.  For topographic maps, the custom was to have three engravings: black ink for cultural, transportation, and boundary features, brown for contours, and blue for water features such as rivers and lakes.  Engravings will be sold or donated in sets.

The engravings are tentatively set to start selling in summer of 2014.  There are two rounds of sales planned by the USGS.  The first round will make 100 sets of engravings available, the second round will make a larger but yet undetermined number of engravings for sale.

How do interested individuals and agency acquire these engravings: From the USGS information sheet about the map engravings sale:

Those interested in obtaining engraving s need to understand the phases of the process ; know how to request the engraving s ; 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.

State and local governments, certain non – profit educational and other organizations, and public agencies interested in receiving a donation should establish their eligibility now with their State Agency for Surplus Property (SASP) . The SASPs are listed at 51.


The engravings will be available through a process managed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) . USGS will post supporting information weekly at

More information about this process is available from the six page information sheet provided by the USGS: Engravings of USGS Maps and Other Illustrations to be Available for Transfer, Donation, or Sale.

A portion of an engraving (top) used to print the black ink for a USGS topographic map (bottom) . (Photo courtesy of Bruce Geyman.)
A portion of an engraving (top) used to print the black ink for a USGS topographic map (bottom) . (Photo courtesy of Bruce Geyman.)


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