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Topographical prints and drawings: British Library printed catalogues by department

The British Library holds hundreds of thousands of topographical views, the most comprehensive and important collection in Britain. Three collections in the British Library hold significant printed catalogs of topographic illustration that are not available online.

Rare Books

The full extent of the vast topographic collection has not yet been assessed, as the majority of the collection will probably be printed illustrations to books. At the moment one cannot search specifically for illustrations on any existing catalogue system within the Library.

View from my cottage in Essex

View from my cottage in Essex; colour aquatint from Humphrey Repton's Fragments on the theory and practice of Landscape Gardening, 1816. [59.e.20.] © The British Library Board.

Anderson, John Parker, The Book of British Topography. A classified catalogue of the topographical works in the Library of the British Museum relating to Great Britain and Ireland. (London, 1881.)

This bibliography contains around 14,000 volumes. It does not state whether the books are illustrated, but is a useful starting point. No equivalent for Anderson exists for the Library's topographic collections for the rest of the world.

External catalogues

There are a number of bibliographies which list illustrated topographical books and/or their illustrations. While not specific to the British Library, they can be used to search for illustrations in the Library's collections. They include:

  • Abbey, John Roland, Life in England in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770-1860. (London, 1953.)
  • Abbey, John Roland, Scenery of Great Britain and Ireland in aquatint and lithography, 1770-1860. (London, 1952.)
  • Abbey, John Roland, Travel in aquatint and lithography, 1770-1860, Vol. I World, Europe, Africa. Vol. II Asia, Oceania, Antarctica, America. (London, 1956.)
  • Adams, Bernard, London illustrated 1604-1851: a survey and index of topographical books and their plates. (London, 1983.)
  • Andres, Ernst, Steel-engraved views of towns and cities, (Holland, 2002.)
  • Bicknell, Peter, Beauty, horror and immensity: picturesque landscape in Britain, 1750-1850. (Cambridge, 1981.)
  • Gough, Richard, Anecdotes of British topography. Or, An historical account of what has been done for illustrating the topographical antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland. (London, 1768.)
  • Harris, John, A country house index. An index to over 2000 country houses illustrated in 107 books of country views published between 1715 and 1872, together with a list of British country house guides and country house art collection catalogues for the period 1726-1870. (Shalfleet Manor, 1971.)
  • Holloway, Merlyn, Steel engravings in nineteenth century British topographical books: a bibliography. (London, 1977.)
  • Holmes, Michael, The country house described: an index to the country houses of Great Britain and Ireland. (Winchester, 1986.)
  • Malcolm, James Peller, Lives of Topographers and Antiquaries who have written concerning the Antiquities of England, with portraits of the authors, and a complete list of their works, so far as they relate to the topography of this Kingdom. (London, 1815.)
  • Prideaux, Sarah Treverbian, Aquatint engraving: a chapter in the history of book illustration. (London, 1909/ 1968.)
  • Richardson, Ruth, The builder, illustrations index 1843-1883. (Gomshall, 1994.) 
  • Russell, Ronald, Guide to British topographical prints. (Newton Abbott, 1979.)
  • Tooley, Ronald Vere, English books with coloured plates, 1790-1860: a bibliographical account of the most important books illustrated by English artists in colour aquatint and colour lithography. (London, 1954/87.)
  • Upcott, William, A Bibliographical Account of the Principal Works relating to English Topography. (London, 1818.)

The Philatelic Collections

The Philatelic Collections at the British Library are the National Philatelic Collections, and represent almost the entire world in postage stamps, postage stationery and meter stamps, with important coverage for revenue stamps and postal history materials. Printed topographical views are common, and the Collections also include The Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive and the Landmark Trust Lundy Island Philatelic Archive, both of which incorporate original artwork for stamp designs.

A permanent exhibition of over 80,000 stamps from the Collections is available on the Upper Ground Floor.

There are internal finding aids for the Collections but no published catalogues. The Department's Researcher's Room on the Third Floor is available from 10.00 to 16.00 and appointments can be made for Monday to Friday (except public holidays). Researchers must hold a current British Library Reader's Pass.

Further details about the scope of the collection and access to it are available from the Philatelic Collections pages.

Asia: Prints, Drawings and Photographs

The Prints, Drawings and Photographs section of the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections forms one of the richest archives of images of South Asia and contiguous territories in the world. It includes the graphic holdings of the East India Company, which established a library in London in 1801, and today the collection consists of around 30,000 prints, drawings and paintings and 250,000 photographs, as well as sculpture, folk art, furniture, and firearms.

Tank in the Shiva Temple, Chidambaram, Madras

Tank in the Shiva Temple, Chidambaram, Madras; oil painting by Francis Swain Ward, c.1770. [Foster 21] © The British Library Board.

As well as India, the collections contain significant material from South-East Asia and China. There are also major holdings from places such as Afghanistan, Tibet and Sri Lanka.

The Prints, Drawings and Photographs of the Asia Pacific & Africa Collections can normally be viewed in the Print Room (within the Asian & African Studies Reading Room). For more information, contact Print Room enquiries.

The majority of the collection has been described in published catalogues:

  • Foster, William, Descriptive Catalogue of the Paintings, Statues, &c., in the India Office (London, 5th ed., 1924).
  • Archer, Mildred, The India Office Collection of Paintings and Sculpture (London, 1986).
  • Archer, Mildred and Falk, Toby, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library (London, 1981).
  • Robinson, B.W., Persian Paintings in the India Office Library (London, 1976).
  • Titley, N.M., Miniatures from Persian Manuscripts in the British Library and British Museum ( London, 1977).
  • Archer, Mildred, Company Drawings in the India Office Library (London, 1972).
  • Archer, Mildred, Indian Popular Painting in the India Office Library (London, 1977).
  • Archer, Mildred, British Drawings in the India Office Library (London, 1969). 2 vols.
  • Kattenhorn, Patricia, British Drawings in the India Office Library Volume III, (London, 1994).
  • Archer, Mildred, and Bastin, John, The Raffles Drawings in the India Office Library (Oxford, 1979).
  • Rohatgi, Pauline and Bastin, John, Prints of South East Asia in the India Office Library (London, 1979).
  • Rohatgi, Pauline and Godrej, Pheroza, Scenic Splendour. India through the printed image (British Library and Arnold Publishers, London, 1989).

In addition to Prints, Drawings and Photographs, the APAC European Manuscripts collections (or 'Private Papers' ) also hold, to a much lesser degree, some topographical material.

There are no published catalogues for these collections, but handlists of the Private Papers are available in the APAC Reading Room.

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.