15 July 2021
Well, from today, you can find an additional 32,000 images, comprising George III’s collection of atlases and albums of views, plans, diagrams, reports and surveys, produced between 1550 and 1820. These have been uploaded to Flickr with a Public Domain attribution for you to search, browse, download, reuse, study and enjoy.
What have we added?
So much! Here are some highlights:
Complete cover-to-cover digitisation of major 16th, 17th and 18th century atlases by Joan Blaeu (lots of Blaeu), Jan Janssonius (again, lots of Jansson), Abraham Ortelius (a few Ortelius atlases here), Jodocus and Henricus Hondius, John Speed, Moses Pitt, Thomas Jefferys, Mary Anne Rocque, Nicolas Sanson, Pierre du Val, Herman Moll and others. Most have never been released in their entirety anywhere online before.
Albums of 16th century prints and drawings of Roman architecture and antiquities assembled by Cassiano dal Pozzo.
How can you access them?
The first release of 17,000 images - the collection of individual maps and views, was released in one big bundle. It made sense to release this disparate group of items this way, but we appreciate that searching Flickr for specific images is not especially easy (see below, Explore, for a solution. Of course, it can be interesting to browse if you are not sure where you want to end up!).
Responding to your feedback, this second release has organised the bound atlases and volumes of prints into separate albums. The images within the albums retain the order in which they are encountered in the physical copy. The titles of the albums are made up of the constituent volume's author, title, date and shelfmark, so we hope this will make the searching experience a good one. Batching into 500 or fewer images will make downloading easier for you too.
Every image on Flickr is accompanied by metadata which includes a link to the corresponding British Library Explore catalogue record. The links are reciprocal, meaning that you can search for specific items via Explore (key tip: add ‘George III’ to your search term (free text) in order to bring up only maps and views in the K.Top). When you have found the record for the item you require (look for the record for the volume or album, rather than the record for an individual map of view within that volume, which will not contain the digital link), select ‘I Want this’ and then ‘View Digital Item’, which will take you to the relevant image(s) on Flickr.
We hope you will find everything to your liking. However, as with any large release of digital images, you may encounter the odd hiccup for which we apologise. Please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to put it right.
Although Flickr Commons now includes pretty much everything from the Topographical Collection, there is a small handful of images which we have still to release. We're working on it!
In due course, all of this content will become available on the British Library’s own dedicated Universal Viewer, while a dataset of the entire collection will also be released on the British Library's research repository.
We are keen to hear how you are using it so please let us know and provide feedback via social media @BLMaps or by emailing us at email@example.com.
Finally, a word of thanks to our colleagues at British Library Labs for their tireless perfectionism and dedication in developing these Flickr pages.
Now off you go and explore.
13 October 2020
Today we release 18,000 digital images of historic maps, views and texts from the Topographical Collection of King George III into the public domain.
The collection has been digitised as part of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the collection which was presented to the Nation in 1823 by King George IV. This is the first of two planned image releases.
For the first time, anybody who wishes to can remotely view, search, research and enjoy one of the world’s richest and most varied public collections of the history of place.
The idea of remote or virtual travelling is a particularly common one today thanks to the seamless interfaces of online map viewer that simulate the idea of airborne travel and evoke the excitement of discovery. However, the idea of virtual travel has a long history, and is well illustrated by the travel-averse king who resided in his palaces and viewed the world through his collection of maps and views. This is the Google Earth of the late 18th century and the journeys it can take you on are no less informative, intriguing, and instructive of the many facets of past eras.
What is K.Top?
The King’s Topographical Collection (K.Top) is one part of the Geographical Collection of King George III (the other parts are the Maritime and Military collections). The nucleus of the collection was assembled from 1660, but added to considerably after 1760 by the king’s librarians and agents. The collection was presented to the British Museum (from 1973 British Library) as a distinct part of the King's Library in 1823,. For more on the history of the collection see this post by Felicity Myrone.
What is in it?
It’s probably easier to list what isn’t in this collection. It totals around 40,000 printed and manuscript maps, views, charts, texts, architectural plans, prints, atlases and ephemera. The collection is arranged geographically, with around 40% dedicated to the British Isles, one third covering the Europe of the Grand Tour, and 10% for British areas of influence such as North America, the West Indies and India.
What themes does it include?
Too many to mention, but here’s a sample: landscape, tourism, antiquarianism, architecture, rural life, fine art, agriculture, medieval and church studies, urban planning and development, industrialisation – canals and transport, military history, the history of collecting, the history of cartography, the Grand Tour, royal palaces and stately homes, science and invention, the history of exploration, American Independence.
As a product of the 16th-19th centuries, the collection is also associated with imperialism, and the role of maps in facilitating imperialist activities both practically and ideologically. We hope that the release of this material will facilitate research and greater understanding of these aspects of the past.
How can I access it?
18,000 images are available via the file-sharing site Flickr, which you can find here https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums/72157716220271206
Images from the collection are also tagged George III Topographical Collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/georgeiiitopographicalcollection
There are links to full Marc cataloguing records on Explore the British Library. To view a digital image from the catalogue record on Explore, select 'I Want This' and then 'View Online Digital Item.'
How about georeferencing?
Glad you asked. For those of you who like a challenge, we have made all of the maps from this release available on our Georeferencer Tool. See how you get on with geolocating the maps. Some will be easier than others.
What can I do with the images?
You are free to study, enjoy, download and remix these images as you see fit. When doing so, please bear in mind any potential cultural or other sensitivities associated with them. Importantly, we’d really like to know what you are doing with the images so please let us know @BLMaps or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear from you.
Who do we have to thank?
So very many people. Here goes:
Generous trusts and individuals including the American Trust for the British Library, Art Scholars Charitable Trust, Blue Rubicon, Viscountess Boyd Charitable Trust, Christies Education, Coles Medlock Charitable Foundation, Cornwall Heritage Trust, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, Dunard Fund, The Eccles Centre for American Studies, Englefield Charitable Trust, Edward and Dorothy Cadbury Trust, Hadfield Trust, John R Murray Charitable Trust, Ken Biggs Charitable Trust, Samuel H Kress Foundation, Langtree Trust, London Historians Ltd, London Topographical Society, Maunby Investment Management Ltd , PH Charitable Trust, Peck Stacpoole Foundation, Pitt Rivers Charitable Trust, Reed Foundation, Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, Swire Charitable Trust, Swinton Charitable Trust, Trefoil Trust, Turtleton Charitable Trust, Cyrus Alai, Caroline and Peter Batchelor, Michael Buehler, Tom Boyd, Richard H Brown, Claire Gapper, William B Ginsberg, Jaime Gonzalez, Martin Halusa, Jerome S Handler, Peter Holland, Tina Holland, Arthur Holzheimer, J Michael Horgan, John Leighfield, Norman Leventhal, Sri Prakash Lohia, Tom and Hilary Lynch, Lynda Partridge, Robert E Pierce, Carolyn Ritchie, David Rumsey, J T Touchton, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Peter A Woodsford and others who wish to remain anonymous.
Dedicated project staff Felicity Myrone, Hugh Brown, Alex Ault, Mercedes Ceron, Kate Marshall, Magdalena Kowalczuk, Oliver Flory, Grant Lewis, Rebecca Whiteley, Marianne Yule, Sileas Wood, Tom Drysdale, Tamara Tubb, Fred Smith, Jeremy Brown and Emily Roy.
Also very dedicated British Library colleagues Louise Ashton, Filipe Bento, Kate Birch, Michele Burton, April Carlucci, Alan Danskin, Silvia Dobrovich, Adrian Edwards, Roger Gavin, Tony Grant, Karl Harris, Mahendra Mahey, Scot McKendrick, Victoria Morris, Magdalena Peszko, Gethin Rees, Sandra Tuppen, Mia Ridge and Joanna Wells.
And finally, none of this would have been possible without the efforts of Peter Barber, Head of British Library Map Collections until his retirement in 2015, in promoting the research value, relevance and importance of the King’s Topographical Collection to existing and new audiences.
08 July 2020
We have come to the fourth and final qualifying group of our British Library world map world cup, and in it we have four extraordinary and breathtaking examples of cartography from between the 11th and 20th centuries. I hope the following descriptions, links and images will provide you with what you need to make your difficult choice.
Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals tomorrow, Friday July 10th.
1.Beatus of Liébana world map. Drawn in Burgos, Spain, between 1091 and 1109 (Add.MS 11695)
The 15 surviving 'Beatus' maps are included in textual commentaries on the Apocalypse of St John (from the New Testament Book of Revelation) written by the Spanish theologian Beatus of Liébana (fl.776–86). The British Library’s example, arguably more powerful and brooding than the others, is a diagrammatic image with powerful pictorial elements. These include fishes swimming in the sea encircling the world, the‘molehill’ mountains and the unforgettable image of the Garden of Eden at the top of the map, in the east. It was produced in northern Spain (in the monastery of San Domingo de Silos) in around 1109, and as a result reflects Islamic pictorial influences that had spread from northern Africa.
Link to digitised example: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/beatus-world-map
Further reading: Peter Barber, 'Medieval world maps; in Paul Harvey, The Hereford World Map: medieval world maps and their contexts (London: British LIbrary, 2006).
2. The Contarini-Rosselli world map. Engraving, published in Florence in 1506 (Maps C.2.cc.4).
This is the earliest surviving printed map to show any part of the Americas. It was published in Florence in 1506, only a decade or so after Christopher Columbus's first voyage in 1492. The map, which is by the Venetian Giovanni Matteo Contarini and Florentine Francesco Rosselli, has been celebrated for its American content ever since this only known copy was purchased by the British Museum in 1922. But it is an extremely early and partial glimpse of eastern America: Newfoundland and Labrador are shown cemented on to Kamchatka, Cuba and Hispaniola are floating next to Japan, and South America is joined to the vast Southern Continent.
Link to digital copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/first-known-printed-world-map-showing-america
3. Aḍhāīdvīpa. Painted in Rajasthan in 1830 (Add.Or. 1814).
This is a map showing the structure of the world of Jainism, a religious system founded in northern India in the sixth or seventh century BCE. The map, which is in Sanskrit, was painted onto cloth in Rajasthan in 1830, and like many of the European medieval mappamundi, it illustrates a fusion of human and sacred geography. At the centre is the recognisable, terrestrial world of people (Mount Meru is at the centre, as it is in the Korean Ch’ ōnhado maps). Surrounding it is the spiritual world: green concentric-ringed continents illustrated by lunar symbols and separated by fish-filled oceans, beyond which is the outer land of the jinas or prophets.
Link to digital copy: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_Or_1814
Further reading: Joseph E. Schwartzburg, 'Cosmological mapping' in The history of cartography volume two, book one: cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
4. Self determination world map, by F. Klimesch. Published in Berlin in around 1919 (Maps CC.5.b.29).
The only 20th century world map to make it into our World Map World Cup competition (not that there aren't many great 20th century world maps, just a mere 16 places to fill), is a German map produced in the wake of the peace treaties following the defeat of Germany and the end of the Great War, 1914-1918. It shows the victorious allies Britain, France, Russia and the USA as soldier figures, holding leashes attached to their respective national beasts. These beasts have been placed over the colonies they controlled.
The title explains why: 'What would be left of the entente if it made serious the right of self-determination of their own people and let go of the reins!' The map calls out the Allies' decision to confiscate German colonies under the principle of 'self determination,' but to retain theirs regardless. Given the century-long process of decolonisation that ensued, and ensues, the map is profoundly and powerfully prescient.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/was-von-der-entente
06 July 2020
Hello and welcome to Group two of our British Library world map world cup.
In every world cup there tends to be a group of death. This group is the football equivalent of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain all together. So I hope the following descriptions, links and images will provide you with what you need to choose between them.
Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps). The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals on Friday.
1. Vesconte-Sanudo Mappamundi.
Drawn in Venice or Genoa in around 1325 (Add. MS 27376*).
This map is an extraordinary hybrid between a traditional 'mappamundi' and a portolan or sea chart. It was drawn by the Genoses chartmaker Pietro Vesconte to illustrate Marino Sanudo's mysteriously-titled book 'Secret book of the Faith of the Cross.' The book was presented to Pope John XX in order to persuade him to give his blessing to a Christian Crusade to invade the Holy Land. Other maps in the book illustrated the route to the Holy Land and the goal of the proposed mission: Acre and Jerusalem.
The world map is particularly clever because, most unusually, it consciously played down Christian iconography in order to present the Pope with an image of Christianity in crisis.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/liber-secretorum-fidelium-crucis-by-marino-sanudo
2. World map by Pierre Desceliers, 1550.
Drawn in Dieppe, 1550 (Add.MS 24065).
Descelier's map is perhaps the crowning achievement of the Dieppe School of French chartmakers; a large planisphere focused upon navigational information (it has dual orientation indicating that it was to be viewed upon a table) but also corresponding to the idea of a visual encyclopedia of everything occurring in the world. The map contains the arms of Henri II of France and the Duc de Montmorency and could have been owned by either. Of particular interest is its depiction of areas of North America then only recently encountered by Jacques Cartier and the unusual arrangement of South East Asia and Australasia entitled Java La Grande that would flummox Europeans up to and beyond the journeys of James Cook two centuries later,
Further reading: Sarah Toulouse, 'Marine cartography and navigation in Renaissance France' in The history of cartography volume three, part two: cartogrpahy in the European Renaissance (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007).
3. Joan Blaeu world map, 1648.
Engraving on 21 sheets, printed in Amsterdam, 1648 (Maps KAR.(1-2.).).
Blaeu's gargantuan map is regarded as the high water mark of Dutch cartography, and that's saying something given the quality of 17th century Netherlands cartography. There are two main reasons for this high regard. Firstly, the technical skill and artistry involved in creating such a high-quality printed map over 3 metres wide. The second is the range and quantity of first-hand geographical information it shows. Blaeu was chief cartographer of the Verenig Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), charged with compiling charts from the latest information gathered from company ships. Instead of secreting this commercially sensitive information like the Portuguese and Spanish did, Blaeu stuck it on a publicly available map. For the Dutch, nothing was more important than business.
The map was used as the model for the giant floor mural of Amsterdam Town Hall. There are a small number of copies still in existence, this one was owned by Charles II.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/klencke-atlas
Further reading: Commercial Cartography and Map Production in the Low Countries, 1500–ca. 1672 in The history of cartography volume three: cartograpy in the European Renaissance (part two).
4. Ch’ ōnhado (Map of All Under Heaven), c. 1800.
Woodcut, printed in Seoul (Maps C.27.f.14.)
This incredible map, which is part of a set of maps showing the world and regions of Korea, is one of select group of Korean world maps produced during the late 18th and 19th centuries. They show the world oriented to the east and centred upon East Asia. Look carefully and you can make out the eastern coast of China, Beiing a large red symbol, with the yellow river and Great Wall nearby. The rest of the world are scattered islands on the periphery. These maps were far more basic than earlier Korean-produced maps, and it has been suggested that one of their intended audiences was tourists.
Link to digitised copy: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/cheonhado-world-map
Further reading: Gari Ledyard, 'Cartography in Korea' in The history of cartography volume two book two: cartography in the traditional east and East Asian societies (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
05 July 2020
Welcome to the British Library’s world map world cup, and this the first of four qualifying groups. Vote for your favourite over on Twitter (@BLMaps) . The top two maps will go through to the quarter finals on Friday.
Here's more information on the maps if you need help deciding!
1. The Psalter world map, c. 1265. Add.MS 28681
The Psalter map was probably drawn in Westminster in around 1265 and is almost certainly a miniature (15 cm high) copy of Henry III of England's large mappamundi that adorned his palace in Westminster. Although it is included in a prayer book (psalter) it is now believed that it was added to the book later. There is a second map on the verso of the leaf, which shows the world in T-O form, with Christ trampling underfoot the dragons shown at the bottom of this map.
Link to digitised version https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/psalter-world-map
2. Ptolemaic world map, drawn in Greece, c. 1300. Add.MS 19391
The first printed maps made according to 2nd century Claudius Ptolemy's geographical tables were produced in Italy in 1477. But the earliest surviving 'Ptolemaic' maps were hand-drawn in Constantinople and Greece, where Ptolemy's information arrived via the Islamic world at the end of the 13th century. The earliest known copy is in the Vatican Library (Urbinas Graecus 82). The British Library has 3 manuscript copies of Ptolemy's Geographia illustrated with maps. This is a portion of the codex drawn in the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.
Link to digitised version: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_19391
3. Bankoku sōzu, by Hyashi Jizaemon. Woodcut, printed in Nagasaki, 1645. Maps *920.(485).
The Bankoku sōzu maps are an elite group of Japanese world maps from the 17th century . These maps show a variety of influences including Chinese and European (which is significant given Japan's insular policy at this time). The maps were designed to be displayed on walls with east at the top, next to an accompanying print of 40 ethnographic portraits known as a Jimbutsuzi.
Further reading: Elke Papelitzky, 'A Description and Analysis of the Japanese World Map Bankoku sōzu in Its Version of 1671 and Some Thoughts on the Sources of the Original Bankoku sōzu' in Journal of Asian History (48:1, 2014)
4. World map by Thomas Jefferys. Engraving, published in London, c.1750. Maps Screen 2.
Thomas Jefferys large multi-sheet copper-engraved double hemisphere map is one of a number of such maps produced by English mapmakers during the 18th century. Everything about its content is focused upon trade, and features of the world such as magnetic variation and trade winds that made trade possible (though there is no mention of the more deplorable aspects of British 18th century imperialism). The map is the centrepiece of a large pine screen, a piece of furniture that would have populated the home of a merchant. 20 other maps are pasted onto the screen, which would likely have served an educational, as well as a cultural purpose.
Link to digitised version: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/screen-with-engraved-maps-c-1750
Further reading: Geoff Armitage with Ashley Baynton-Williams, The world at their fingertips : eighteenth-century British two-sheet double-hemisphere world maps (London: British Library, 2012).
04 July 2020
World maps are amazing things for their ability to conceptualise the earth and capture it in miniature. Of course, this comes at a price. World maps, perhaps more than any other 'image,' are powerful and subjective. Each one contains a particular world view, and throughout history they, or rather their makers, have tended use them to impose their views upon others. Who is at the world's centre? Who is relegated to the margins? Who is shrunken in size, and who is removed from the map all together?
So it's a strange quirk of history that during the 20th century, that most antagonistic of eras, the world map came to be seen as a symbol of co-operation, togetherness, shared heritage and environmental awareness (thanks in no small part to NASA's famous 1968 Earthrise photograph of our vulnerable planet hanging in the void). As a result, a world map is now capable of saying “we’re all in it together”. It’s World Population Day on Saturday 11 July, so let's attempt to reclaim some of that spirit.
I'd like to invite you to help us choose the British Library’s favourite world map. Over the next week I’m going to introduce sixteen of the most extraordinary and groundbreaking world maps from between the 11th and 20th centuries, carefully selected from the British Library’s collection of over 4 million maps.
The maps will be arranged into 4 groups, with one Twitter poll per day (Monday to Thursday) deciding which two maps from each group will go through to the quarter finals on Friday. The semi finals and final poll will happen on Saturday, and we’ll think up something special for the winner. Follow us @BLMaps, hashtag #BLWorldMapWorldCup.
What selection criteria might you use? Well, did the map capture some signal shift in civilisation? Is it unique, beautiful, technically accomplished or cleverly made? Or do you just like it because you like it? That’s valid too.
Hopefully through this just-for-fun competition it will be possible to appreciate the history of a world of multiple viewpoints; and, though it won't be easy, to begin to rediscover ones which have been erased.
23 April 2020
Here at the British Library we’ve been digitising our maps and making them available for over two decades now. Consequently, there’s a wealth of fantastic and inspiring free-to-view historic maps on the web. In addition to ever-increasing quantities of maps on our own platforms, our digitised maps are also hosted by other cultural institutions, organisations and individuals with whom we’ve been pleased to collaborate.
This seemed like as good a time as any to pull a load of them together and let you know about them.
So, in this first of two posts, here are a few of the places on the British Library’s site where you can find digitised maps, and upon finding them, use them escape to the ends of the earth (or the end of your street) from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy.
3D virtual globes
We just did this, and we hope you like it. 3D virtual models of 10 of our historic globes from the 17th - 19th centuries with thanks to our Digitisation Services and digitisation company Cyreal. Another 20 will be added over the coming months.
The British Library’s Georeferencer isn’t strictly a collection of maps, since it draws its 56,000-odd maps from a variety of places (including the below sources). But you can definitely search for maps in it, for example by using this crazy map with all of the georeferenced maps located on it. Zoom in for it to make more sense, and find the area you’re interested in.
The Shared Research Repository
The Shared Research Repository is a great place to find all sorts of British Library content, from catalogues to lists to PhD theses, to maps. This is a lively spot so keep checking in for stuff. Particular highlights are
Medieval maps and charts from the British Library and partners’ Shared Research Repository https://bl.iro.bl.uk/collection/b2393193-0749-4e81-991e-5cf394466b53
The Pelagios medieval maps project was a really excellent one which analysed and cross-referenced text contained in maps. with the added bonus of some digitised maps (thanks to funding from the A.W. Mellon Foundation).
British War Office maps of the former British East Africa https://bl.iro.bl.uk/work/00de6f1f-a415-4b86-adb7-2a958cbdf085
Almost 600 maps, sketches and itineraries that formed the compilation material for published British War Office maps between 1870 and 1940. There is some amazingly detailed archival mapping in here. The work was generously funded by the Indigo Trust.
900 or so images, many of them maps from the King’s Topographical Collection, illustrating a series of new and repurposed articles on the subject of illustrating place. The project was generously funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Finnis Scott Foundation, Marc Fitch Fund and Coles-Medlock Foundation.
20th century maps
Here are round a hundred maps from articles produced as part of our 'Mapping the twentieth century: drawing the line' exhibition.
The British Library’s Online Gallery was set up through the Library’s ‘Collect Britain’ project in the early noughties. There are thousands of maps on here, and although the Zoomify and browse facilities are no longer functioning (we’re in the process of migrating this stuff onto a new platform) there are still some great maps here, such as
The Crace collection of maps of London
One of the finest collections of historic maps of London anywhere, collected by a commissioner of London’s sewers and George IV’s interior decorator. Around 1200 maps from between around 1550-1850, digitisation generously funded in part by the London Topographical Society. Crace’s collection of London views are held by the British Museum.
All the maps from the Online Gallery are also available (in higher resolution) alongside maps from other collections via the Old Maps Online portal (with its fun geographical search tool). https://www.oldmapsonline.org/
Turning the Pages
This is another older British Library resource but it has a couple of really choice atlases in it. Are there any more choice atlases than Gerhard Mercator’s hand-made Atlas of Europe of 1570 (which contains the only two surviving maps drawn by the man himself)? Or one of the volumes from the famous multi-volume Beudeker Atlas containing maps and views of Dutch stately homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
A number of maps and atlases held in the Western Manuscript collection have been digitised and found their way onto the Digitised manuscripts page. If you know what you're looking for you can search by pressmark. Or you can search by keyword (i.e. maps, plans etc.) if you're just browsing.
Many highlights reside here, including the late 16th century Burghley-Saxton atlas (containing the first printed county maps of England and Wales in proof) at Royal MS 18.DIII http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Royal_MS_18_d_iii
Explore the British Library
The British Library's principal online catalogue does include thumbnail images for a tiny number of maps, but coverage is extremely uneven and the resolution of images is variable (to get a larger image for non commercial use, click on the map's title included in the right hand part of the details section). You may be lucky - for example if you're interested in Jacques Callot's map of the 1627 siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
In a later blog I'll be listing non-British Library platforms and sites where you can find free-to-access British Library digitised maps. But in the meantime, I hope this keeps you busy.
12 December 2016
As was announced here yesterday, the British Library has acquired important additions to its collection in the form of 9 sheets of copper, discovered in the possession of a scrap metal dealer. Scrap value £3.60 per kilo, but historical significance and research value far more considerable.
Detail of an engraved copper plate for a map by James Rennell, published in 1780.
The 9 engraved copper plates were used to print maps of India for the use of the East India Company (EIC) during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The archive of the EIC, the India Office records and map collection was passed to the British Library in 1984 where it resides today. How the copper plates came to be reunited with this archive is a fascinating story which reveals a lot about the custodial history of the archives of British government as well as changing perceptions of maps.
Our recent purchase of nine copper plates was as follows: four plates used to print trigonometrical diagrams of William Lambton’s first survey of Malabar and Coromandel, begun in 1802; one triangulation diagram of 1827 by Lambton and his successor George Everest (he of highest mountain fame); three (of four) plates for James Rennell’s (1742-1830) ‘Map of Hindoostan’ (1788); and finally a single plate for a map included in James Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ of 1780.
These plates enable us to complete sets of copper plates already held in the India Office map collection, alongside another copper plate which had been purchased in 1988.
How did they come to be dispersed in the first place? Well this is one of the most interesting parts of the story. Dr Andrew Cook, former India Office archivist, was able to sketch out the story for me, referencing Antonia Moon’s article of the East India Company records published in the British Records Association Journal ‘Archives (October 2008).
View of the East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, 1796.
The plates seem to have been with the EIC in the 1830s in East India House, Leadenhall Street, London. In 1860 the EIC archives were due to move from there to the New India Office building in Whitehall, but because this building was unfinished when the old premises were sold, the archives went to temporary storage in the Westminster Palace Hotel nearby. It is at this point that a number of the copper plates were apparently re-routed via the scrap metal trade, where they would remain for over a century.
In 1988 Dr Cook was tipped-off about a copper plate in the possession of a Norfolk farmer, who was looking to turn it into a mudguard for the trailer of his tractor. Upon visiting Norfolk, and examining the plate on the pool table of a local working man’s club, Dr Cook identified it as a plate from Rennell’s ‘Bengal Atlas’ and acquired it for the collection. The nine plates more recently purchased are further miracles of survival.
James Rennell, An engraved copper plate for 'A map of North Bahar...', London, c. 1779.
James Rennell, 'A map of North Bahar...' from The Bengal Atlas, London, 1780. Maps 145.d.26.
The uniting of various sets of engraving plates enables us to study in greater depth the printing and publishing history of some of the most powerful and significant imperial cartographic projects of the 18th and 19th centuries. It also shines light on the complex history of custodianship and cartography during the 19th century.
Maps and views blog recent posts
- George III's maps and views: 32,000 images released on Flickr Commons
- The K.Top: 18,000 digitised maps and views released
- World Map World Cup: Group 4
- World Map World Cup: Group 2
- World Map World Cup: Group 1
- Help us choose the British Library's favourite world map
- A list of where to find free-to-access digitised British Library maps
- Maps & scrap metal