The engraved copperplate is the only known 18th-Century rendering of William and Mary's Ancient Campus and of other structures that would become the principal buildings of Colonial Williamsburg.
The Bodleian Plate was discovered in England by historian Mary F. Goodwin, just before Christmas, 1929. Goodwin was conducting research for the restoration of Williamsburg when she located the plate at Oxford University's Bodleian Library amid a large collection of books, manuscripts, prints, copperplates and other objects bequeathed to the library in the mid-18th Century by Richard Rawlinson, an English antiquarian and collector.
"The discovery of the copperplate-or perhaps more accurately, the recognition of the subjects and realization of its significance-came just in the nick of time to correct the restoration architects' design for the west roof of the Wren Building," said Louise L. Kale, executive director of the historic campus. "The image of the back of the Wren, on the middle register of the plate, provides the only known image of the five small transverse roofs across the back of the building. Roof construction was halted when the plate was discovered, and restoration architects redrew the plans based on the image in the plate."
The plate was characterized by Colonial Williamsburg benefactor John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as "the foundation upon which we have based the restoration of the Wren Building and the reconstruction of the Governor's Palace and the Capitol. Without it, we would have been acting in the dark; with it, we have gone forward with absolute certainty and conviction."
The curators of the Bodleian Library later presented the copperplate to Rockefeller. It is now a part of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation collections.
"You can imagine the excitement," says Kale, "of learning, through archaeological investigations all these years later, that the garden in front of the Wren Building was rendered on the copperplate with as much accuracy as were the buildings."