Books from my collection.

Found in Books: The War Map

Today a find that was, at least to me, completely unexpected. It was well hidden and I only happened to notice it because I was wondering, for some reason I don’t recall, what my book looked like underneath its dust jacket.

Here’s the book in question: a fairly worn copy of Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. It’s the second British edition from 1947.

 

My worn copy of Russell's History of Western Philosophy.

Fig. 1: My worn copy of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.

 

I peeled off the dust jacket, to find a fairly bland gray hardcover underneath. I was very much surprised, though, when I noticed what was on the back of the dust jacket. I think it’s best to just show you:

Partial map of eastern Austria on the back of the dust jacket.

Fig. 2: Partial map of eastern Austria on the back of the dust jacket.

 

(You can click the image above to see a larger version.) Did you see that one coming? Apparently these dust jackets were printed on the unused backs of old maps. If you look carefully, you can even see the old folds of the map, although the printer did a good job hiding these in the folds of the dust jacket.

Detail of the old map, showing the towns of Knittelfeld and Judenburg.

Fig. 3: Detail of the old map, showing the towns of Knittelfeld and Judenburg.

Two main towns featured on the map are Knittelfeld and Judenburg, as you can see in the picture above. Near the top of the map we also have Waidhofen an der Ybbs. This places the map in the eastern Austrian Alps. Since this seems to be the westernmost section of a larger map, I’m guessing the original map covered all of the Alps east of here. If you’d care to see things in context, I marked some of the locations found along the edges of the map on Google Maps here.

Given the year (1947) this book was printed, I can think of one reason why the British might have had maps of Austria lying around. Let’s zoom in on the map’s legend for a moment, shall we?

The partial legend of the map.

Fig. 4: The partial legend of the map.

Have a look at the top left corner:

“Geographical Section, General Staff, No. 4346
Published by War Office, 1944”

The War Office was the precursor of the British Ministry of Defense and the reason this map was created isn’t hard to guess. In 1944-45, the Allied forces were busily taking back Austria from the Germans. This map was perhaps printed to aid ground troops having to make their way through the mountainous terrain of the Alps.

This particular map was probably never used. It was presumably left over after the war, and the printer had them lying around or bought them cheaply and then reused them to print dust jackets. The size of the map happens to lend it fairly well for that purpose and the folds in the map happened to be just in the right places to hide them in the dust jacket’s folds. Still, it’s a really neat little piece of history!

I’ve never seen this before and I couldn’t find any other instances of maps on the backs of dust jackets reported anywhere. If you’ve seen this sort of thing elsewhere, I’d love to hear about it, so let me know!

Marco is a theoretical physicist, currently engaged in unraveling the sequence-dependent dynamics of DNA molecules and working towards his PhD. Other passions include literature and history.

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