THE BRITISH LIBRARY Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books
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Scope and history of the project

Welcome to the Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books: a searchable database of books illustrated with original photographs, early photomechanical prints, and texts related to the history and development of photography from 1839 to 1914.

The British Library’s collection of photographically illustrated books is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive sources of early British and foreign photography. It includes monographs, scientific and technical texts, and instruction manuals written by 19th- and early 20th-century pioneers, scientists, inventors and practitioners.

Original photographs were used as a means of book illustration from approximately 1841; they were inserted by hand and juxtaposed to the text. In some cases, owners (because of the relevance to the text) placed other original photographs of local and foreign landscapes, people and buildings inside the book; family photographs were often included. These images provide valuable and unique examples of cultural and social history.

The database provides unprecedented access to information and photographs from this unique collection for use by students, scholars, picture researchers and the general public. Currently available on the website are records for 1,323 books and 15,274 photographs with titles and descriptions, and 320 digital images of original photographs. Further records will be added in due course.

The genesis of the Original Photographs Project began in 1994. Its aim was to locate books which contained original photographs, which had hitherto been hidden. Because the bibliographic cataloguing systems did not differentiate between illustrations, reproductions and original photographs; no actual records existed of the type, range & subject of these 19th century photographs.

Although the database covers certain photographically illustrated books in the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections, it does not include the considerable collection of original photographs held there (for information on the APAC collections see Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections)

The Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books has been generously supported by The Penny Charitable Trust.

History of the project

Since 1994 the British Library has been working on the compilation of a finding list of early photographically illustrated books and books relating to the history of photography. At an early stage of the process, a working party including Annie Gilbert, reviewed the future of the Photography Collections across the Library. In consequence, in 1996 Annie Gilbert was appointed Curator of the Original Photographs Project, generously funded by the Penny Charitable Trust, initially for four years, subsequently extended for a further four years. In the course of the Project many valuable and rare books relating to photography have been discovered. Out of this Project has grown the present Catalogue of Photographically Illustrated Books. The Catalogue, created and edited by Annie Gilbert, has also benefited from the valuable contributions made by Peter Hogg and Dominic Griffiths.

The following works were also of the greatest assistance to the Project:

'"Original sun pictures": a checklist of the New York Public Library's holdings of early works illustrated with photographs, 1844-1900', Bull. NYPL, by Julia Van Haaften, who generously shared her knowledge and provided encouragement.

Helmut Gersheim, Incunabula of British Photographic Literature 1839-1875 (London and Berkeley, 1984), which draws heavily on the British Library’s collection and proved an invaluable aid in identifying titles.

Anthony Hamber’s thesis, based on the British Library’s collections, listing works published between 1843 and 1880, containing original photographs. The author kindly allowed the Project to use his work.

Dr John Wilson, author and independent specialist in photographically illustrated books, kindly and generously offered the use of his two catalogues of The Literature of the History of Photography.

In addition, the Project benefited from Dr Ilse Sternberg’s London Ph.D. thesis, ‘Policies for the Acquisition of Printed Books at the British Museum Library 1837-1960: with particular attention to the procurement of works from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and Latin America’.

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