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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.

The Map Library

The Map Library houses arguably the most important of The British Library's topographical holdings, The King's Topographical Collection.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle; etching and aquatint by Paul Sandby, 1770s. [Maps K.Top.7.40.z.] ©The British Library Board

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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.)

This was compiled as the collection of around 50,000 maps, charts, prints and drawings was donated to the Library by George IV. The individual entries are brief, and reflect the lack of knowledge about the collection even as it was presented - George III had died, and his librarian was in his eighties as the catalogue was written.

The catalogue has been scanned, so that the Library's electronic entries use the same text. It is worth looking at the geographical index in the paper version though, as it gives an idea of the Collection's coverage.

Catalogue of the Manuscript Maps, Charts, and Plans, and of the Topographical Drawings in the British Museum [known as the British Library from 1972]. (London, 1844-1861.)

This catalogue is a useful guide to drawn and painted material in both the Kings Topographical Collection and other Map collections, with a geographical index at the end of volume three. However, it is obviously out of date, and also includes several collections now held by the British Museum. It focuses only on graphic material, not printed documents, and items can come up more than once described in different ways. The entries have been scanned for Explore the British Library.

A Catalogue of Maps, Plans, and Views of London, Westminster & Southwark. Collected and arranged by Frederick Crace. Edited by his son J. G. Crace. (London, 1878.) 

There have been attempts in the past to divide the topographic collections between the British Library and the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, with the latter taking works of artistic significance. While the Library retains a far larger and more complete collection, this has resulted in some duplication and anomalies. The Crace collection is one example. The British Library holds the maps and plans from this collection, but the views are now held by Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Nineteenth century catalogues should, therefore, be treated with caution, and cross referenced with Explore the British Library.

PDF files

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