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{LaB} » Geological Modeling Throwback

Geological Modeling Throwback

Thomas Sopwith, a civil engineer and surveyor from the 19th century fabricated three-dimensional teaching models to represent the earth strata. The smooth, wooden models were pocket-sized, approximately 4”X 4” X 2”. Various tree species were used to capture the thicknesses of layering rock and mineral strata as well as the fractures occurring within layers.  Each model combined 500-600 pieces coated with lacquer.  Once a solid object, Sopwith whittled each fabricated piece into a designated landscape shape.

The beginning of his model-making career began as a cabinetry tradesman. Sopwith apprenticed with his father (a cabinetmaker) followed by obtaining an education in surveying and engineering. This educational combination enabled him to explain earth layers through tactile, models. Sopwith’s first models were designed to explain mineral layers to mining companies. The high quality detail proved to be an apt educational tool thus his models were fabricated for university students. The three-dimensional models were sold in a set of 12, with a leaflet, and key. The accuracy and attention to craft made the Sopwith models well regarded by academics and mining professionals of the time period.


Thomas Sopwith's Models

Photo Credit: Christie’s

Thomas Sopwith Model Collection

Photo Credit: Lapworth Museum of Geology

“Historical Collection: Thomas Sopwith.” University of Birmingham’s Lapworth Museum of Geology. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2013. http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/lapworth-museum/collections/historical/index.aspx.

Hyslop, James. “Thomas Sopwith’s Geological Teaching Models.” Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, 2006. Web. 5 Feb. 2013. http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/models/geologicalmodels/.

Turner, Susan. “Thomas Sopwith, The Miner’s Friend His Contribution To the Geological Model-Making Tradition.” Academia.edu. N.p., 8 July 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2013. http://www.academia.edu/1678733/Turner_S._2010._Thomas_Sopwith_the_miners_friend_his_contribution_to_the_geological_model-making_tradition.

A Two Volume Set of Sopwith’s Geological Models. 2010. Photograph. London. Christie’s. 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2013. http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/a-two-volume-set-of-sopwiths-geological-5309932-details.aspx.

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