The International Map of the World

On the 31 March, 1910, Bartholomew printed a proof version of the ‘conventional signs and styles of type for the international map on the scale of 1:1,000,000′. But what exactly is the International Map of the World?

International Map proof conventions

The philosophy behind the idea reflected its late nineteenth century times. The venture was to be educational, edifying and essentially philanthropic; an international map of the world would ultimately benefit the common good of humanity.

The idea was proposed by German geographer and geologist, Albrecht Penck (1858-1945) during the 5th International Geographical Congress, held in Berne in 1891. There was a general feeling that the great period of exploration was coming to an end and that the time was right to consolidate the knowledge that had been gained. At its heart, Penck’s idea was simple – for the assorted national mapping agencies to work together to produce a map of the world, on a uniform scale, using common conventions and symbols.


A not inconsiderable time later, in November 1909, Penck’s idea finally began to creep closer to realisation. An Inaugural Conference was held, formally establishing the International Map Committee. Some 24 delegates met at the Conference, representing 11 nations. The United Kingdom contingent consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel C. F. Close, Head of the GSGS, Colonel S.C.N. Grant, Director General of  Ordnance Survey and Dr J. Scott Keltie, Secretary of the RGS.


Bartholomew may have lacked a presence on this committee but they were nevertheless called upon to produce the proof, and later the final copy, of the conventions and symbols that the International Map Committee had agreed upon.

The proof copy is slightly quirky, incidentally showing some of the pitfalls that could befall even Bartholomew during the printing process, but by the final copy the lines were straight, the problems fixed.


History shows us that the International Map of the World was not to be. Essentially, it proved too difficult for these agencies to collaborate effectively, the final straw coming when the United States abandoned the project and decided to go it alone. However, fragments such as this proof serve to remind us what might have been.

Just for fun, the conventional symbols for assorted landscape features are shown below. Can you identify them? Answers on a postcard!