Topographical views

The British Library has vast number of topographical prints and drawings in Rare Books, Manuscripts and Maps

About the collection

The British Library’s topographical collections were originally united at the British Museum, but when Department of Prints and Drawings was formed in 1808, the collections started to be distributed with a few topographical views judged to be particularly ‘fine’ removed from Printed Books, Manuscripts and Maps, and collections such as Frederic Crace’s maps and views of London split. The vast majority of topographical views are held at the British Library.

The topographical collections date from around the fourteenth century and the coverage is worldwide, with a particularly strong representation of Britain and its former colonies and the parts of Europe associated with the Grand Tour. The topographical collections include the work of major artists (such as Hollar, Grimm, Sandby, or Turner) as well as many lesser-known or anonymous figures including amateur artists, antiquarians and military draughtsmen. A wide range of media are represented, including prints, drawings, watercolours and oil paintings, and many different formats are employed, such as illustrations to illustrated books or periodicals, loose prints, albums, extra-illustrated books, sketch-books, notebooks and information collected for county histories.

Highlights include The King's Topographical Collection of around 50,000 maps, charts, prints and drawings formerly owned by George III and donated to the Library by George IV, antiquarian drawings by William Stukeley, large collections of views by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, the Bucklers and Edward Blore, and the drawings from Captain Cook’s voyages or Robert Hay’s of Egypt.

What is available online?

The British Library has digitised a selection of its topographical views, such as early British maps and views in The Unveiling of Britain, other Maps and views, Topographical drawings by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm and the Bucklers, highlights of the King’s Topographical Collection, Deptford plans and drawings and Kensington Turnpike Trust drawings. Others are available on EBBO and ECCO, Images Online, Europeana, Google Books and Flickr.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

There are extensive topographical collections in various other institutions including the British Museum, Royal Collection, Museum of London, Guildhall, Devon Topographical Prints, Tate,  Society of Antiquaries, Linnean Society,  Royal Society, Royal Academy of Art, Royal Institute of British Architects, National Army Museum, National Maritime Museum, Imperial War Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum, Ashmolean, Bodleian, Worcester College, Oxford, Victoria and Albert Museum, Rijksmuseum, Getty Research Institute, Library of Congress, and Yale. See also  John Slezer's Theatrum Scotiae at the National Library of Scotland, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and Hollar at the University of Toronto.

What is available in other organisations?

There are extensive collections of prints in various other institutions including the British Museum, Royal Collection, Museum of London, Guildhall, Society of Antiquaries, Royal Society, Royal Academy of Art, Royal Institute of British Architects, National Army Museum, National Maritime Museum, Imperial War Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum, Ashmolean, Bodleian, Worcester College, Oxford, National Portrait Gallery, Wellcome Collection , Victoria and Albert Museum, Getty Research Institute, Lewis Walpole Library,  Folger Shakespeare Library, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco, Library of Congress, and Yale.

Online projects include British Prints to 1700, incorporating  British Book illustrations 1604-1640, British Annuals and Giftbooks, the Oxford Digital Library, French emblems at Glasgow, the Hortus Nitidissimis at Kew, John Slezer's Theatrum Scotiae at the National Library of Scotland, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments,  and Hollar at the University of Toronto.

Further information

Further reference works include:

Catalogue of Maps, Prints, Drawings, etc., forming the geographical and topographical collection attached to the Library of his late Majesty King George the third. (London, 1829.)

Catalogue of the manuscript maps, charts and plans, and of the topographical drawings in the British Museum. (London, 1844-1861)

Maurice Barley, A guide to British topographical collections, with contributions by P. D. A. Harvey and Julia E. Poole. (London, 1974.)

Catalogues of Additions to the MSS in the British Museum 1783-1995 [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1843-1999)


 

How to guides

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