Author Archives: debbie

St Petersburg in colour

This large, beautiful map of St Petersburg was recently donated to the Bodleian Map Room. Measuring just over a metre square, it shows the city in great detail. Every building is marked and the layouts of parks and gardens around the city are shown. The fortress on Zayachy Island is shown in detail (below). The water depths in the Neva river and estuary are included. The title makes reference to some of the earlier plans on which the map is partly based, beginning with that of Fedor Shubert in 1828; it was updated from surveys in the 1850s and 1860s. It was published in St Petersburg in 1868.

The reverse of the map carries a handwritten note, “Petrograd”, which would date its acquisition by a previous owner to some time in the ten years from 1914 to 1924. Previously the city had been known as St Petersburg, since its founding by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 (on the site of an earlier Swedish fort); he made it the capital of Russia, which it remained until 1917. In 1924, shortly after the death of Bolshevik leader Lenin, it was renamed Leningrad in his honour. In 1991 the name reverted to St Petersburg.

The map is delicately coloured in red, green, blue and black. At first glance it appears to be hand coloured as the colouring is so smooth, but closer examination suggests that it was lithographed; very slight offsetting can be seen in places (where the green plate does not exactly line up with the coastline on some of the islands, for example, as can be seen in the detail above).  Colour printing of maps took off in the twentieth century; this is an unusually fine early example.

A final thought: This blog post replaces our Christmas blog post (below) as the 12 days of Christmas are now over in the UK and much of the western world. However, the Christmas season is just beginning in the Russian Orthodox Church, so we would like to wish everyone celebrating a very Happy Christmas!

Plan S. Peterburga : sostavlen na osnovanīi plana Shuberta 1828 g., posli͡edneĭ rekognost͡sirovki Voenno topograficheskago depo 1858 g., gidrograficheskikh kart Nevy i ei͡a ustʹi͡a izdanīi͡a Gidrograficheskago departamenta Morskago ministerstva 1864 g. i rekognost͡sirovok proizvedennykh 1867 i 1868 godakh redaktorom T͡Sentralʹnago statistichesk: komiteta M. Ī. Musnit͡skim / ispolnen v Kartograficheskom zavedenīi A. Ilʹina. S. Peterburg : Kartograficheskoe zav. A. Ilʹina, 1868. C400:50 St Petersburg (24)

Sail away to Christmasland

Everyone has heard of Christmas Island, but have you heard of Christmasland? The (fictional) island appears on this cartographic Christmas card from the 1930s. Christmasland: Captain Jolliman’s voyage of discovery in ye “Friendship” (see what they did there?) shows a route from Humdrum Drearyland, with its Workaday Coast, to Christmasland.

The island has many seasonal placenames such as Mistletoe Bay, the Forest of Greetings (the forest symbols being, appropriately enough, Christmas trees), Welcome City, Kiddies Country and the Coast of Old Friends. The River Gin and the River It combine to form Cocktail River (hurrah!) and there are various plays on words relating to place names, such as Port Wine, and the Sound of Bells. The captain’s route continues past Pudding Point, through the Financial Straits, amongst the Hangover Rocks and past Resolution Point to New Years Land.

Cartographical allegories like this have been produced for centuries. Maps along these lines illustrating the “land of love” or themes around courtship and marriage became popular in seventeenth century France, and soon spread to other European countries including England. Allegorical maps with a morally improving theme also appeared, illustrating the spiritual journey through life. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century allegorical maps as games were also popular. Meanwhile, in the nineteenth century, the Christmas card was gaining in popularity, as outlined in this recent blog from the Bodleian’s John Johnson collection.  But Christmasland, combining the two, may be a one off.

The card was donated to the Map Room recently, after it was spotted in the Oxfam shop in Chipping Norton by a Bodleian reader. Such ephemeral material often doesn’t survive so it was a welcome addition to the collection.

The card is printed inside with an address in Hillcrest Avenue, Pinner, then as now a pleasant road in an affluent commuter town on the outskirts of London. It is signed by hand, and dated Christmas 1936. There is also a quotation:

Hope shall brighten days to come
And memory gild the past

From a poem by the Irish writer Thomas Moore. These words, and a printed greeting with

Remembrance and kind thoughts for Christmas with good wishes for your happiness in the future

is something we need in the current difficult times. Happy Christmas!

Reflections on the Alps

December 11th is United Nations International Mountain Day, so we’re celebrating with this unusual Alpine panorama.  This map of an Alpine road appears at first glance to be a view of mountains reflected in water.  Closer examination shows that a road runs along the centre of the map; it is printed on a long strip, folded concertina style, with the road shown as a straight line and panoramic views of the mountains on either side. Unusual formats like this have been used in other Alpine maps, to address the challenge of portraying a long vista on paper; a panorama of the view from the summit of Mont Blanc featured in an earlier blog post.

The map was drawn by the poster artist Louis Guerry, and published in Grenoble in 1896 by Joseph Baratier. It shows the road between Vizille and Briançon in France, close to the border with Italy. Side roads wind off into the mountains and small Alpine settlements are marked along the way. Highest and most dramatic of the mountains is La Meije, with five peaks and glaciers flowing down either side; it was one of the last major Alpine peaks to be climbed, and also features on the cover illustration (above). Other names, such as Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, will be familiar to fans of the Tour de France cycle race;  the road up to Alpe d’Huez did not at this time reach all the way to Huez itself, which appears as a high isolated village.

This copy came to the library recently, a donation from the grandson of Thomas Arthur Rumbold. When Rumbold joined the Alpine Club in 1902 he was their youngest member. His application shows an impressive list of climbing experience from the late 1890s; it includes  mountains in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, many of them “without guides”, and rock climbing in the Allegheny Mountains in Virginia. The map was donated along with Rumbold’s trench maps from his time serving in WWI, which were a welcome addition to our collection. Happily, Rumbold  survived the war; he went on to become Secretary to Sir George Schuster, Governor of the Bank of England. He also found time to enjoy more Alpine fun in the snow (see below) and eventually became the oldest member of the Alpine Club!

Thomas Rumbold and friends enjoying St Moritz. Photo shared by his grandson.

The map folds into a small cover with a conventional route map on the back.

The map when extended is over 2 metres long.  As we admired it in the Map Room office, we reflected that in these times of Covid restrictions it is rare to find a map so long that more than one person can look at it at once while social distancing.

Dépliant Alpestre : Excursion en Oisans. Projection sur 100 kilometres des sommets du Massif / dessiné par Louis Guerry. Grenoble : Joseph Baratier, [1896]. C21:44 (48)

You can see more about this map at the website of the Bibliotheque Dauphinoise.

Overlooking a city

It’s not uncommon to see a map that makes you go “Wow!” at first sight. Generally the early printed and manuscript maps in the collection are most likely to inspire this response, but this recently acquired map of Buenos Aires, printed in 1950, had much the same effect when I first saw it.

More of a birds-eye view than a map, it almost gives the feeling of flying over the city. The layout of Buenos Aires in a regular grid pattern enhances the sense of perspective. Many features are shown pictorially including major buildings, parks, monuments and boats in the port in the foreground. The sea is coloured a beautiful dark blue. Overall the colour scheme is simple, the map being printed in black plus 5 colours. All along the bottom of the map is a view of the city.

It’s the work of Viktor Cymbal (surname sometimes rendered Tsymbal), a Ukrainian artist and designer who lived in Buenos Aires for much of his life from his late twenties, although he spent his final years in New York. More information can be found about him here.

The style is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Macdonald Gill, another artist whose work (like that of Cymbal) included both maps and illustrations for advertisements. In particular the simple colour scheme, pictorial elements, and the lettering style and yellow scroll devices as labels are interesting to compare. Gill featured in an earlier blog post focusing on a map made in 1941, just nine years before this one.

The map was made at a time when Argentina was flourishing under popular president Juan Domingo Péron and his even more popular wife Eva. The railway station at bottom right bears the president’s name.

El corazon de Buenos Aires/ Viktor Cymbal. Buenos Aires : Editores Peacock y Calegari, 950.  H3:35 Buenos Aires (19).

Rummaging through virtual maps

Over the past 4 months, the Map Room staff have, like so many others, been working from home. Away from our physical map collection, what have we been doing?

Cataloguing staff are working on a project to to index a large collection of digital scans. Thousands of our maps have been scanned to provide images for research purposes, but we don’t yet have a complete list to show which scan number corresponds to which map. The scans include a huge variety of different maps. There are loose sheets from the Gough Maps collection covering the British Isles, trench maps from WWI, maps from the Commonwealth and African Collections, early atlases from the Allen collection, and around 3000 maps with an (E) shelfmark – sheet maps dating from before 1850, for places all over the world. The latter include beautiful early printed maps (such as the view of Toledo in Spain by Braun and Hogenberg above) and maps made for practical purposes (the second image is from the report for the Bog Commission in Ireland, published in 1814).

There are a small number of manuscript maps as well, such as this sketch of the Kusasi region in northern Ghana, from the Commonwealth and African Collections. It was made in 1927 and shows the area divided into tribal regions; a published map based on this one was produced in Accra the following year. Its condition suggests that it was very much a working document.

A big positive for those involved has been the opportunity to look at images of these interesting, varied and often beautiful maps from our collections. It’s the virtual equivalent of spending days rummaging through the drawers (which we wouldn’t usually have time to do!) This should be the first step towards adding many of these images to the Digital Bodleian collection.

The bogs on the rivers Laune and Lower Maine in Kerry / by. A. Nimmo. J. Basire sculp. From the 4th report of the Commission on the Bogs in Ireland. London: House of Commons, 1814.  (E) C19 (204)

Toletum. Cologne : Georg Braun, 1593. (E) C38 (167)

Sketch map of the Kusasi District, Gold Coast. Signed by C. St B. Shields, 12.12.27. 722.11 t.1 (25).

Unsung heroes

Engravers can be the unsung heroes or heroines of the map world. Until the nineteenth century, virtually all printed maps were produced by engraving the map on a sheet of copper – or later on, steel – as a mirror image of how the finished map would look. The plate was then inked and the image printed onto a sheet of paper in a printing press. This was incredibly skilled work, but often only very discreetly acknowledged, the engraver’s name appearing in tiny, modest letters in the bottom margin.

While cataloguing a large collection of nineteenth century French sea charts I have encountered some exceptional engravers. One we know only by his surname: Chassant, working in Paris from the late 1830s into the 1860s, was arguably wasted on sea charts. His dramatic portrayal of land relief using hachuring is very striking, as can be seen from this chart showing the old port of  Marseille and the rugged hills to the south in 1845.

When cataloguing these maps we always want to give the engravers their due, but identifying exactly who was responsible for a particular map can be challenging. The case of the Halls was discussed in a recent post – there were possibly quite a few women involved in early engraving. Mme Fontaine, a Paris based engraver of the 1860s and ’70s, is credited on her work simply as “Fontaine”, with no first name or title; research has revealed only that she was a female engraver who specialised in portraying large areas of water.

Around the same time, an engraver called C.E. Collin was also working on charts for the French Dépôt-général de la marine. Engraving was sometimes a family business, and this can make it harder to work out who engraved a particular map. This C.E. Collin appears to have been the youngest of three engravers called Charles Etienne Collin who produced charts for the Dépôt (as well as some other works) between 1789 and the 1870s.  The oldest one usually signed himself “E. Collin”, although he is also also believed to have had the given name Charles. In 1821, a two sheet chart appeared, of which one sheet was described as being “gravé par E. Collin” and the other “par E. Collin père”.  There is some overlap of the map area on the 2 sheets and differences in style suggest that they were made by different engravers. It was unusual for the older E. Collin to call himself “E. Collin père”, so perhaps this was an early collaboration with his son.  In 1829 the younger E. Collin took a different approach, engraving a chart and signing it “gravé par C.E. Collin fils.” Was this yet another young engraving Collin, or was he inconsistent in the use of his initials?  E. Collin père is generally supposed to be be Charles Etienne Collin; perhaps he disliked or rarely used his first name, and his son followed suit?

The second Collin continued to engrave charts into the 1830s. From the late 1840s a third C.E. Collin appears, and he was active into the 1870s. He was probably a grandson or nephew of the first Collin, but it is difficult to be sure exactly where one person’s work stops and the next one begins. Or why they couldn’t come up with a wider range of given names. The third Collin was an exceptionally fine engraver and his charts are really beautiful; one is represented above. In particular, some of his sea charts show a remarkable degree of detail for the land; in the chart above, the patchwork of fields, and even the approximate layout of small villages can be seen. In both these cases, the land information shown would be of use to sailors, helping them to spot landmarks from out at sea. It is also a valuable record of a rural stretch of coast over 150 years ago, since transformed by the growth of the city of Montpellier.

 Plan du port de Marseille et de ses environs. Paris: Dépôt-général de la marine, 1845.

Carte des côtes méridionales de France: Partie comprise entre Cette et Marseille. Paris: Dépôt des cartes et plans de la marine, 1867. B1 a.61/14



An anatomical geography?

This first map from John Andrews’ A geographical atlas of England, divided according to its natural, political, civil, ecclesiastical, ancient and modern divisions …  is at first glance hardly recognisable as a map of England and Wales. It shows only the mountain ranges, and the coastlines are missing.  The next map in the atlas is described as a “Map of the rivers, or anatomy of England”; it is coloured to show watersheds, and again divides the country in an unfamiliar way. It is almost as if the first map shows the country’s skeleton, and the second the circulatory system.

The (very long) title ends with the statement that the atlas is ‘for the improvement of youth‘. The  introduction, ‘on the utility of geography’ emphasises the subject’s long antecedents and practical use. The atlas was published in 1809 in the last year of Andrews’ life, when geography was beginning to grow in popularity as an academic subject in Britain.  Andrews had been publishing for over 30 years, producing many maps of English towns and counties, several of the latter in collaboration with others, as well some important maps of North America. Towards the end of his career he published more thematic works, including a historical atlas, and this, A geographical atlas of England. The atlas is a mixture of scientific, historical and general maps.

Most of the maps had been published before–  they have dates mainly from the late 1790s – and some are too large for the binding and had to be folded in; possibly the atlas was cobbled together from existing stock.  But for all that some of the maps are both beautiful and unusual and suggest different ways of looking at the country.  There are also several maps showing the supposed division of South Britain at different periods in history, such as under the Saxon kingdoms and the Roman occupation; these reflect the contemporary vogue for antiquities and early British history, although the sources used for this information were of dubious accuracy. The atlas ends with a map showing pride in Britain’s naval supremacy (above), giving the maritime counties and compass directions from London.

Although the atlas covers England and Wales, the map titles refer only to England or occasionally South Britain. Wales is unaccountably slighted.

A geographical atlas of England, divided according to its natural, political, civil, ecclesiastical, ancient and modern divisions, to which is added a political chart of Europe, to shew the positions of all the sea-ports, promontories and distances, in order to trace the naval and commercial intercourse between Great Britain, Ireland and the continent. In a series of maps, on a plan entirely new. Calculated to illustrate the history of this country, and for the improvement of youth, by John Andrews.  London : Printed for John Stockdale, 1809.  Allen 359.



Where are all the women? The case of the Halls

The professions associated with map making have historically been male dominated. In addition, women who were involved are not always recorded. The case of Sidney and Selina Hall, map engravers of London, is an instructive one.

Sidney Hall was born around 1788 and is recorded working as a map engraver from as early as 1809, based in Piccadilly and later in Bloomsbury. He was prolific and highly regarded and produced hundreds of finely engraved maps. He was probably the first map engraver to work on steel rather than copper plates; steel plates were harder to work, but enabled very fine engraving and were more durable.

In 1821 he married Selina Price of Radnorshire; there is uncertainty about the date of her birth but she appears to have been a few years his senior. We might have heard no more of Selina, were it not for the fact that Sidney Hall sadly died only 10 years later, at the age of 42. And yet his engraved maps continued to appear. New works engraved by Sidney Hall were published for decades after his death. Selina Hall, who conveniently shared a first initial with her husband, simply continued to engrave maps and signed them “S. Hall” (this as well as the date can be used to distinguish them from her husband’s work, since he usually signed “Sid.y Hall”), thus continuing to benefit from an established name.

Norfolk, from A new British atlas, 1836. C15 d.39

The first map shown here is from A new British atlas, first published in 1831 by Chapman and Hall. These were available bound in an atlas and as separately published items. The maps early on the alphabetical sequence are signed by Sidney Hall, and the later ones simply by S.Hall, suggesting that Sidney may have died in the middle of the project and his wife continued the work.

Engraving is a highly skilled job, and Selina Hall cannot have learnt it all at once on her husband’s death. It is far more likely that she was an active participant in the business throughout their marriage, but that her contribution was not ackowledged. She was certainly known to her husband’s former business partner, Michael Thomson, who died in 1816, since she is mentioned in his will, so she may have been involved in the map production process for even longer. Selina lived for over 20 years after her husband’s death, continuing to engrave maps, and when she died the business passed to her nephew Edward Weller; she may have been involved in his training.

Switzerland. From Black’s general atlas, 1846. Allen LRO 80

Even works produced long after Sidney’s death continued to be attributed to him by researchers until recently, partly because his name was used to promote them at the time. The second map here is from Black’s general atlas of 1846 (first edition 1840); the title page boasts that the maps are “engraved on steel, in the first style of the art, by Sidney Hall, Hughes &c.” The signature S. Hall appears on this one.

Although Selina was an active and talented engraver, were it not for her husband’s untimely death we would have no evidence of her involvement at all. Which immediately raises the question: how many other female map makers, working in similar circumstances, are missing from the record?



Further info:

Worms, L., & Baynton-Williams, A.. British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850. London: Rare Book Society, 2011.

Worms, L., ‘Hall, Sidney (1788/9?–1831)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008. (accessed 4 March 2020)

True north

We are used to having north at the top of our maps. This has been the most common orientation for hundreds of years, largely because of the use of the magnetic compass. Compasses do not, however, point exactly north. The northern magnetic pole wanders around the Canadian Arctic, and anyone requiring precise direction for navigational purposes needs to keep this in mind. It is common for maps to have a diagram showing the difference between magnetic and true north, as in this sea chart from 1870 (which also includes a date for the declination and, elsewhere on the chart, the current rate of change).

The discovery that the earth’s magnetic field fluctuates, and does not line up with its geographical axis, is nothing new. European navigators were aware of this issue from the fifteenth century. Edmond Halley had begun charted the magnetic declination across much of  the world at the end of the seventeenth century, and this map by John Senex from 1725, based on his work, shows the “Line of no variation in the year 1700” curving sinuously across the Atlantic. Lines of equal declination – isogonic lines – are marked around it.

This line where magnetic and true north coincide – properly called the agonic – is also in constant motion and we recently heard the exciting news that it is about to reach the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, so compasses there will point to true north for the first time in 360 years. More information can be found here on the website of the British Geological Survey.

London fields

It’s always fascinating to look at early maps of the outskirts of cities, as the landscape has often undergone an incredible transformation. This map of the parish of St Pancras in London is a wonderful example. Made 215 years ago in 1804, it shows the parish as an elongated shape stretching north from what is now part of London’s crowded West End. The first extract here shows part of the northern sheet.
The map is on 2 sheets oriented with west (approximately) at the top. Although north orientation was fairly standard by 1804, it’s not unusual for large scale local maps to be oriented in whichever way most conveniently fits the shape of the paper. The southern extremity of the parish is the junction between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (now the site of Tottenham Court Road tube station) in the west, and Clerkenwell in the east. The streets of Bloomsbury are already densely built up but north of what is now Euston Road is mainly open fields. Camden and Kentish town are separate villages on the main road out of London. The canal, of course, was yet to come and the mainline railway stations that dominate the area now were far in the future. The extract below shows the area now occupied by St Pancras and Kings Cross stations, and the British Library; the main road running from top to bottom is now the Euston Road.
It’s also interesting to see the things that remain, or have left tangible traces. The Polygon, a then recent development of houses  in a circle facing inwards, was fairly recently built when this map was made; its name survives in Polygon Road nowadays. The Royal Veterinary College to the east of Camden was already established and is still there. On the northern sheet,  the more hilly landscape towards Hampstead and Highgate is represented by hachuring; the distinctive shape of the line of ponds across Hampstead Heath hasn’t changed much since 1804. Kenwood House, then the seat of the Earl of Mansfield and recently remodelled, still stands surrounded by its parkland, now managed by English Heritage. The oak tree under which people would gather to hear gospel readings is marked; Gospel Oak is still the name of a London district and a train station.

The map is very detailed and finely engraved; the accompanying written survey, or terrier book, explains that the mapmaker, John Tompson (also described elsewhere as Thompson or Tomson) had made it under the patronage of landowners who had property in the parish, “at the expence of upwards of three years labour.” The terrier is very thorough, listing the landowners, and identifying the individual land parcels (numbered on the map) by their use and area. All individual streets are described and their buildings listed. This is an exceptionally detailed record of an area now transformed almost beyond recognition.