Please note that this text details only a few map series. The Illustrated Guide to Ordnance Survey Map Series will have more information, but is a work in progress. This text will be kept available until the Illustrated Guide is completed.

This text was prepared in August 2005, and may not be up-to-date.

Ordnance Survey Maps:
Notes on Cover Design and Chronology

Please note that minor design changes, such as the position of a price or sheet number/name, are not necessarily always noted in this text.

If you are interested in further study, you may like to seek out a copy of Map Cover Art by John Paddy Browne, published by the Ordnance Survey, 1991. [ISBN 0-319-00234-9]

Use these links to jump to the relevant part of this page:
Notes on dating maps by their covers
National Map Series (Pre-1945)
National Map Series (Post-1945)

Notes on dating maps by their covers

It is important to realise that maps and covers, in most cases, were produced separately and usually weeks, months, or years, apart. This means that a given print run of a map can (and almost invariably does) exist with more than one cover style. A map can have lain for several months or, in extreme cases, years, before it is given a cover and sent out to the shops. The covers themselves can also wait for long periods after being printed before being applied to maps.

Unfortunately, this means that one can usually only date a map to within a few years. However, if this is taken in combination with, say, the printing date of the map (where that can be determined), and other factors, it is usually possible to come up with a reasonably accurate date for production of the map. How long it took to get from the Ordnance Survey to the shops, and then the customers, is largely a matter of luck! There is the added problem that old stock can still be left on the shelves of shops, so an accurate date of purchase is still more difficult to ascertain, unless it has been written on the cover by the original owner!

One useful feature of some of the earlier OS map covers (between c.1912 and c.1953) is that they carry a royal crest and the initial of the reigning monarch. Almost all OS covers which carry these initials have ‘G.R.’ for one of the Kings George (V or VI). If you have a cover which carries ‘E.R.’, however, it is almost certainly one of the somewhat scarce examples which were only produced for a few months during 1936 while King Edward VIII was on the throne. You should, of course, use other dating evidence to confirm that this is indeed the case - such as the currency of each map series and the style of cover.

Between about 1956 and 1968, Ordnance Survey printed a month and year of production on the inside flaps of some of their map covers. This referred to the production date of the covers only. However, this can usually help to provide, if nothing else, an ‘earliest possible date of production’ for the map.

National Map Series (Pre-1945)

The Ordnance Survey had begun to publish maps folded in covers very late in the 19th century, firstly using a very simple title on red-coloured card. (Figure 1). In 1906, the red design was ditched, because the dye was liable to run when wet, and instead a similar design in white was used (Figure 2); later a simple diagram of the coverage area of the sheet within was printed on the front of the cover. (Figure 3). The designs were the same no matter the scale of map inside, and the blandness of the designs were in stark contrast to rival publications. Indeed, it is probable that Ordnance Survey lost custom to other publishers as a result.

Figure 1: Ordnance Survey red ‘General Purpose’ cover.
(‘Map Cover Art’)

Figure 2: Ordnance Survey white ‘General Purpose’ cover.

Figure 3: Ordnance Survey white ‘General Purpose’ cover, with coverage area map.

As the First World War ended, a young artist named Ellis Martin was employed by the Ordnance Survey to breathe new life into their map covers. He designed a whole new set of covers to market the maps. These first appeared around June 1919, and were elaborate engraved designs printed in black on buff card. (Figures 4, 5, 6). Within 6 months a coloured border was added so that the covers did not appear to soil so quickly. (Figures 7, 8, 9). The Third Edition covers were used both for England & Wales maps and Scottish maps. The design for the quarter-inch Third Edition for England & Wales and Scotland had colour from its inception in 1919. (Figure 10). A modified design was used for the Quarter-inch ‘special’ sheets, introduced around 1924, replacing the blue of the original cover with a reddy-brown. (Figure 10a).

Figure 4: 1-inch Third Edition cover (1919).

Figure 5: 1-inch Popular Edition cover (1919).

Figure 6: ½-inch cover (1919).

Figure 7: 1-inch Third Edition cover, with red border (c.1920).

Figure 8: 1-inch Popular Edition cover, with red border (c.1920).

Figure 9: ½-inch cover, with green border (c.1920).

Figure 10: ¼-inch Third Edition cover (c.1920).

Figure 10a: ¼-inch Third Edition special sheet cover (c.1924).

In 1924 the Scottish Popular Edition came into being, and was given a very patriotic-looking Ellis Martin design. (Figure 11).

Figure 11: 1-inch Scottish Popular Edition cover (1924).
(‘Map Cover Art’)

The Ten-Mile Map (1:633,600) was first published in large sheet format in 1926, with another Ellis Martin cover design. (Figure 12). In 1932 the cover was revised, after the series was reduced from three to two sheets and redesignated the Ten-Mile Road Map of Great Britain. (Figure 13).

Figure 12: 10-Mile Map of Great Britain cover (1926).
(‘Map Cover Art’)

Figure 13: 10-Mile Road Map of Great Britain cover (c.1936).

In the early 1930s, the basic cover was enlarged so that the folds of the map within had greater protection from being rubbed when folded. (Figures 14a, 14b, 14c).

Figure 14a: 1-inch Popular Edition enlarged cover (c.1931).

Figure 14b: ½-inch enlarged cover (c.1931).

Figure 14c: ¼-inch enlarged cover (c.1931).

In 1931, the Fifth (‘Relief’) Edition of the 1-inch map was launched. This was first given a very elaborate cover, designed by Ellis Martin. (Figure 15). This was only short-lived as it was felt the new cover put people off buying the map. Instead, Ellis Martin came up with another design (Figure 16), very similar to that of the Popular Edition. Later this was altered again, and blue used instead of red, for the ‘non-relief’ 1-inch Fifth Edition. (Figure 17).

Figure 15: 1-inch Fifth Edition, with original cover design.
(‘Map Cover Art’)

Figure 16: 1-inch Fifth Edition, with ‘hiker’ design.
(‘Map Cover Art’)

Figure 17: 1-inch Fifth Edition, with blue ‘hiker’ design.

The Quarter-inch Fourth Edition was introduced in 1934, with a new cover design to match, again by Ellis Martin. This featured a motorist beside a signpost, studying his map. This was the tallest of all Ordnance Survey maps when folded as sold, at 12¼ inches tall. (Figure 18). During the Second World War the cover was altered slightly to reflect the period, with a red sky instead of blue. (Figure 19).

Figure 18: ¼-inch Fourth Edition cover (c.1935).

Figure 19: ¼-inch Fourth Edition, War Revision cover (c.1942)

During the war, the War Revision one-inch maps were published without covers, to keep costs to an abolute minimum.

National Map Series (Post-1945)

For the post-war national map series, Ordnance Survey completely redesigned the covers. Gone were the elaborate engravings of Ellis Martin, to be replaced by comparatively stark, bleak designs which presumably reflected the era. Later designs did bring back a modicum of art, but never on the scale of Ellis Martin’s classic inter-war designs.

The post-war national series cover designs are shown here in scale order:

1:25 000 First Series
This was a new almost-national series of maps, created from the six-inch surveys of 20-odd years previously. The first cover design, printed on buff card, was used from November 1945 until around 1949/50. (Figure 20). Thereafter the same design was printed on cream-coloured card. (Figure 21). In 1955, a new design was introduced, to incorporate the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth II. (Figure 22). In 1965 another new design was produced, which is unmistakably of the era, referred to now as the ‘magnifying-glass’ cover. (Figure 23). This cover had two variants: one with England & Wales design (Figure 23a), and one with Scotland design (Figure 23b). This was only short-lived as, by 1970, a rather utilitarian design had replaced it. This new design incorporated Ordnance Survey’s new logo, and differed mainly by colour only from the other national map series covers. This cover was printed on the map sheet itself and the map folded with the cover outwards. (Figure 24). This cover remained unchanged until the series was completely withdrawn in 1989.

Figure 20: 1:25 000 First Series cover (Nov 1945 - c.1949/50).

Figure 21: 1:25 000 First Series cover (c.1949/50 - c.1955).

Figure 22: 1:25 000 First Series cover (c.1955 - c.1965).

Figure 23: 1:25 000 First Series cover (c.1965 - c.1970).

Figure 23a: England & Wales.

Figure 23b: Scotland.

Figure 24: 1:25 000 First Series cover (c.1970 - 1989).

1:25 000 Second Series
First introduced in December 1965, the Second Series was first published in a variation of the ‘mangifying-glass’ cover. (Figure 25). As with the ‘magnifying-glass’ cover for the 1:25 000 First Series, this came in two variants: one with an England & Wales design (see Figure 23a above), and one with a Scotland design. (see Figure 23b above). Few sheets of the Second Series were published in time to receive this cover, however - in 1971 a new bland design was introduced, incorporating a very simple diagram of the surrounding area. (Figure 26). Another new design was introduced around 1979/80, showing the new tag for the series (‘Pathfinder’), and incorporating a map of the surrounding sheets based on the 1:625 000 route-planner mapping. This cover was printed on the map sheet itself. (Figure 27). The next design, introduced around 1987, did away with the area map and reverted to a diagram of the surrounding sheets, using the new consecutive numbers for the series. This cover, again, was printed on the map sheet. (Figure 28). At first, these covers had no GB outline on the cover, but it was re-instated as a black outline later in 1988. Sheets revised or reprinted after 1993 were given a cover with the Ordnance Survey logo in a box. (Figure 28a). Five sheets were revised after 1996, and were given a cover with the new Ordnance Survey logo and revised style. (Figure 29). For the sheets with direct-printed covers, each new style of cover would only be printed on a sheet when the whole sheet was reprinted, therefore not all sheets will exist in all cover varieties. The series was phased out from 1996, and was completely replaced by the Explorer series in March 2003.

Figure 25: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (Dec 1965 - c.1971).
(Dave Bailey)

Figure 26: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (c.1971 - c.1979/80).

Figure 27: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (c.1979/80 - c.1987).

Figure 28: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (c.1987 - c.1993).

Figure 28a: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (c.1993 - c.1996).

Figure 29: 1:25 000 Second Series cover (c.1996 - 2003).

1:25 000 ‘Explorer’ Series
Designed primarily as an experimental series at first, Explorer maps used the latest 1:25 000 Second Series mapping, with revisions and added colour. The first covers, from 1994, followed the style of the time, with a cover photo, sheet title in white and the Ordnance Survey logo in a box. The orange colour of the Explorers distinguished them from the other series with similar covers. (Figure 30). In 1996, a new logo for Ordnance Survey meant a new style for the map covers, and the Explorers followed suit. (Figure 31a). A subtle change came later, in the form of the Ordnance Survey website address, printed below the logo. This first appeared around the year 2000. (Figure 31b). From 2002, when the Outdoor Leisure series was integrated with the Explorer series, a small note on the rear sheet index explains that the sheets numbered with ‘OL’ prefixes were formerly Outdoor Leisure sheets. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 legislated new powers for the public to roam on areas of so-called ‘Access Land’. These rights are coming into effect between September 2004 and December 2005, in stages, in 9 regions of England and Wales. The Ordnance Survey, as the national mapping agency, was given the task of detailing the extent of these areas of Access Land on their maps, and chose the Explorer for the task. The first 32 of these revised sheets were published in mid-September 2004 (to co-incide with the introduction of rights in two areas of England) in a new-style cover. (Figure 32).

Figure 30: 1:25 000 Explorer Series cover (1994).

Figure 31a: 1:25 000 Explorer Series cover (c.1998).

Figure 31b: 1:25 000 Explorer Series cover (c.2001).

Figure 32: 1:25 000 Explorer Series cover (2004).

1:50 000 First Series
Being nothing more than a stop-gap between metrication and the full Second Series, nothing revolutionary appeared on the covers during this series’ life. They started off virtually identical to their 1-inch Seventh Series predecessors, apart from the fact that magenta was the colour and the covers were slightly bigger. These first appeared in March 1974. (Figure 33). After the 1:50 000 maps were tagged ‘Landranger’ in 1979, that title appeared on the covers. (Figure 34). The First Series was not around for very long - the last updated sheet was published in 1985 and the series was completely replaced with the publication of the last Second Series sheet in January 1988.

Figure 33: 1:50 000 First Series cover (1974).

Figure 34: 1:50 000 First Series cover (c.1980).

1:50 000 Second Series
These redrawn versions of the 1:50 000 First Series were distinguished on the covers only, at first, by the addition of the words ‘Second Series’. (Figure 35). The Landranger tag appeared first in 1979. (Figure 36). In 1985, the cover was redesigned, and photographs appeared of a selected spot covered by the map. (Figure 37a). Very soon this design was revised to allow ‘Ordnance Survey’ to be seen at the top of the cover in a shelf of maps. (Figure 37b). From 1993, the Ordnance Survey logo was put inside a box on the cover at the first available cover reprint. (Figure 38). Then, in July 1996, with a new logo for Ordnance Survey came a new look for the map covers. (Figure 39). In 2002, the cover was again redesigned to look ‘fresh’ and ‘modern’, including a silver strip along with the familiar magenta colouring. (Figure 40).

Figure 35: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1978).

Figure 36: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1981).

Figure 37a: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1985).

Figure 37b: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1987).

Figure 38: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1995).

Figure 39: 1:50 000 Second Series cover (c.1998).

Figure 40: 1:50 000 Second Series sheet cover (2002).

1-inch New Popular Edition of England & Wales
Some of the early sheets in this series were printed in 1940, but none were published until September 1945. The very earliest covers were put on the maps in 1940, but stored until 1945. These covers had hand-lettering, and they are very scarce, being found on only a few sheets. (Figure 41). The standard covers were introduced in 1945, using letterpress lettering. (Figure 42). A slight ‘softening’ in design of the lettering was introduced around 1949/50. (Figure 43). After Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, references to ‘G.R.’ were taken off the cover of the New Popular Edition. (Figure 44). This design stayed in use until the series was superseded by the 1-inch Seventh Series.

Figure 41: 1-inch New Popular Edition cover (1940, published 1945).

Figure 42: 1-inch New Popular Edition cover (c.1946).

Figure 43: 1-inch New Popular Edition cover (c.1950).

Figure 44: 1-inch New Popular Edition cover (c.1954).

1-inch Popular Edition of Scotland (Post-War editions)
Since the 1-inch New Popular Edition did not extend into Scotland, the Scottish Popular Edition sheets were revised and printed with the National Grid. The cover design was very similar to that of the New Popular Edition of England & Wales. (Figure 45).

Figure 45: 1-inch Scottish Popular Edition cover, Post-War design.
(Dave Bailey)

1-inch Seventh Series
This series set new standards for clarity of detailed mapping, and proved very popular. The first Seventh Series covers, appearing in 1952, were simple in design, but still able to command the respect deserved of Ordnance Survey products. (Figures 46, 47). From January 1957 the covers in England & Wales were revised to incorporate the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth II. (Figure 48). In 1960 the cover was lengthened to allow the map inside to have only one horizontal fold in the middle. (Figure 49). It was not until 1963 that the covers for the Scottish sheets of the series were given the Queen Elizabeth II design. (Figure 50). The next change was the introduction of cover lamination from April 1966. This helped to preserve the covers better. (Figure 51). The production of cloth-backed maps was abandoned in February 1968, and in 1969 the cover for the 1-inch Seventh Series was completely changed to the new Ordnance Survey ‘house style’. (Figure 52).

Figure 46: 1-inch Seventh Series cover (c.1953).

Figure 47: 1-inch Seventh Series Scottish cover (c.1959).
(‘Map Cover Art’)

Figure 48: 1-inch Seventh Series cover (1959).

Figure 49: 1-inch Seventh Series cover (1963).

Figure 50: 1-inch Seventh Series Scottish cover (c.1964).
(Jonathan Swann)

Figure 51: 1-inch Seventh Series cover (1967).

Figure 52: 1-inch Seventh Series cover (c.1970).

Quarter-inch Fourth Edition (Post-War editions)
The Fourth Edition sheets had the National Grid added and a new cover, similar to the 1-inch New Popular Edition covers. (Figure 53). The only significant change was the removal of the ‘G.R.’ on the crest after 1952.

Figure 53: ¼-inch Fourth Edition cover (c.1951).

Quarter-inch Fifth Series
The sheet lines having been recast to gridlines of the National Grid, the Fifth Series was completely redrawn, and introduced in 1957. The scale was also metricated to 1:250 000. The first cover design was very similar to that of the 1-inch Seventh Series design of the time. (Figure 54). In 1965, to go with Ordnance Survey’s other bold designs of the time, a new design was introduced. (Figure 55). Following suit, this came in two variants: one with an England & Wales design (see Figure 23a above), and one with a Scotland design. (see Figure 23b above). Again, this design didn’t last for long; the ‘house style’ was introduced in 1970. (Figure 56).

Figure 54: ¼-inch Fifth Series
Original cover.

Figure 55: ¼-inch Fifth Series
1960s-style cover.

Figure 56: ¼-inch Fifth Series
‘House style’ cover.

Text prepared: 7 August 2005
Page last updated: 22 June 2008