Maps and views blog

14 October 2011

A bit about map collections

There are a number of great map collections around the world in public and private ownership.

The British Library map collection isn’t the largest – with 4.5 million maps still some way behind the Library of Congress Map Division's 5.2 million, nor can it claim to be the strongest in terms of early maps (the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.) It is more its combination of size, scope and significance that makes the collection the best in the world.

Taken as a whole, the collection is vast and complex. In fact, it is is probably more useful to think of the map collection as composed of smaller collections, many of them formally private collections, which found their way into public ownership in 1753 and later. Each have their own focus, peculiarities and research strengths. What I’d like to do is begin to introduce some of these collections to you. I might as well start with the Daddy of them all.

1. The Geographical Collections of George III (incorporating the Topographical and Maritime collections)



Type: printed and manuscript maps, topographical views and prints, architectural drawings, with worldwide coverage

Size: approximately 50,000 items

Dates of coverage: c.1540 – c.1824

Former owner: the Royal map collection, the bulk of which collected by George III (reigned 1760-1820)

Date reached British Museum: 1828 (Maritime collection in 1844)

Star items: too many to mention, but here goes: the Duke’s Plan of New York (pictured), the Roy map of Scotland, the Klencke atlas, architectural drawings by Nicholas Hawksmoor, drawings by Bernardo Bellotto.

Key research areas: British 18th century colonial history, the Americas, British topography.

Unusual facts: George III hated travelling. The maps were stored next to his bedroom.

Catalogues: British Library Search Our Catalogue

Online Links:  Help for reasearchers pages; Online exhibition of watercolours, topographical drawings and prints from the collection.

Further reading:  Peter Barber, 'George III and his collection'. An electronic offprint from The wisdom of George the Third: papers from a symposium at the Queen's gallery, Buckingham Palace June 2004(London: Royal Collection, 2005.)