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The Bartholomew Archive Project comes to an end

Posted 31 March, 2014 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Today, we mark the end of six-years of work on the Bartholomew Archive, funded by the John R. Murray Charitable Trust.

During this time the Trust have funded seven posts, all of which have targeted specific aspects of this internationally-significant collection of cartographic business papers, manuscript maps, copper plates, tools and oh so much more.

Between them, our preservation technicians Lynda Conlon and Robert Harold, hand-made over 250 boxes to house Bartholomew’s own archive of its printed output, dating from 1877-1960. They disbound the original volumes and refoliated each individual item onto an acid free backing, handling well over 26,000  items. They also contributed some insightful pieces to this very blog, including When Printing Goes Bad and Acid Transfer in Paper. Their work means this unique resource will survive for the enjoyment of future generations for a long time yet.

Susan Woodburn was the Archive’s Curator at the start of the Project. Susan had the dauting task of sorting through the over 110 metres of business archive papers, housing it and producing a detailed inventory to enable access. Susan also worked with other components of the Archive, including producing the helpful listing of the maps and plans section. Susan’s inventories can be found on the Bartholomew Archive website and act as the key to unlocking the treasures of this diverse collection. Susan also compiled the majority of the Bartholomew Archive website content, launched at the beginning of the Project, as a vital way of alerting everyone to our existence and promoting access to the collection.

Simona Cenci and Amy Baldwin worked wonders with the complex conservation an archive of this type demands. They contended with wall maps so large they barely fitted into our exhibition space; with copper and steel printing plates; with photographs and with 130-year-old pressed flowers and swatches of tartan, to name but a few. They crafted boxes and housing for some of the Archive’s most vulnerable items that are so ingenious they are works of art in their own right.

Lastly, Helen Symington and I worked to catalogue the Printing Record, creating over 26,000 individual records that are fully searchable via the Bartholomew Archive website. Helen also conducted an audit on the 3000 copperplates in the Archive, ensuring that everything is in its right place.

Over the last six years we have had the privilege to work with one of the most astonishing collections of its kind, anywhere in the world and I have met some of the most interesting and engaging people I know. From members of the Bartholomew family to the firm’s former staff, to Professor Sian Reynolds of the Scottish Working People’s History Trust, who helped us enormously with our oral history project, to our Artists in Residence, Diane Garrick and Tom Pow and of course, the Project funders themselves. We are indebted to the wonderful staff at Hamilton Design and Frame whose expertise encouraged almost 37,000 of you to visit our exhibition, ‘Putting Scotland on the Map’, and to Eskimo, whose sympathetic touch helped us to create our Duncan Street Explorer. Congratulations go out to our PhD students, Dr Amy Prior and Dr Julie McDougall-Waters, both of whom were successfully awarded their Doctorates. And to all the academic researchers, family historians, local historians and the just plain curious, it has been a delight to play a small part in facilitating your fascinating research.

There are of course too many people to mention and we are sorry if you’ve been missed out, however, all of you have played an important part in the story of this Archive and made an enduring contribution to preserving an important piece of our cultural heritage.

The official Project may now be over but work will continue for a short while yet, so do keep following us on the blog and via our Twitter feed (@CartoArchive) for all of our latest news. However, from all Bartholomew Archive Project staff, past and present, thank you all, you’ve been great!


Map advertising during the Second World War

Posted 28 June, 2013 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Major events, such as the Second World War, created commercial opportunities for cartographic firms like Bartholomew. A heightened demand for knowledge ensured that printed media, such as maps, whether in newspapers, atlases or as special one-off editions, became an important source of information. The Second World War was fought on many fronts, sometimes in far-flung corners of the world, whilst a repercussion of the conflict was the re-drawing of many international borders; under these circumstances, a map was the ideal way to convey up-to-date information succinctly and clearly.

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Bartholomew printed a number of specialist map publications throughout the Second World War. However, the advertising which accompanied them is interesting in its own right. It affords us a tantalising glimpse into life in Britain at this time.

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Some of the advertising makes use of simple, yet striking imagery. The advertisement for ‘Bartholomew’s War Map of the Western Front’ is dominated by a drawing of a surprisingly happy looking tank. At the other end of the spectrum is this advertisement, for two more of Bartholomew’s specialist war-time publications. The stylised map of Europe, adorned with icons that divide the Continent up into its Allied and Belligerent quarters, sends shivers down my spine.

second world war 2

Key elements of Bartholomew’s peace-time mapping were highlighted in their war-time advertisements. The contour-layer colouring employed on these two maps is promoted as one of their most important features. As mentioned in the text for the map of Italy & the Balkans, contour-layer colouring could help clarify issues of strategic importance, in this case through emphasising ‘the natural difficulties attendant on Italy’s Balkan adventure’.

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Whilst Bartholomew were readily able to print commercial maps of places overseas, it was very different when it came to maps of the British Isles. As with other map-makers, Bartholomew were subject to the Control of Maps Order. The Control of Maps Order placed restrictions on the sale of maps at certain scales. This instructional leaflet provides further details.

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However, as you can see, Bartholomew were able to turn even this to their advantage. With restrictions on the sale of maps at scales greater than one inch to the mile, Bartholomew’s ever-popular half-inch maps were exempt from the Control of Maps Order. Indeed, evidence from Bartholomew’s Printing Record shows that Bartholomew continued to print up-to-date sheets of this series throughout the War, providing the people of Britain with access to reliable information whilst offering a small connection to life during peace-time.

Behind the scenes, Bartholomew made many contributions to the war effort. Many of its staff, particularly their draughtsmen and printers, joined mobile military mapping units, utilising their skills to create maps of the front, on the front, for use by Allied forces. Back at home, Bartholomew’s equipment was commandeered by the War Office, as the firm printed secret maps of Britain, Europe and Asia for an agency called the Geographical Section, General Staff, or GSGS (also known as MI 4).

Through cataloguing the Printing Record, one item at a time, we are beginning to learn more about Bartholomew’s contribution to the War. These advertisements reveal one side of Bartholomew’s war-time work, but it is clear that commercial mapping represented a small proportion of their out-put at this time. Behind the scenes, Bartholomew were quietly getting on with the job of printing secret maps, helping the war effort in their own way.

Duncan Street Explorer goes live!

Posted 19 June, 2013 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink


The National Library of Scotland is pleased to announce the launch of its latest web feature, the Duncan Street Explorer.

This innovative site brings together an array of material from the Bartholomew Archive and brings the firm’s final premises, on Duncan Street in Edinburgh, back to life. Original documents, staff photographs, oral history recordings and of course maps, tell the story of what it was like to manage, work for and contribute to this great Scottish map-making firm.


Apprentice draughtsman, James Bain, reveals more about an unsavoury incident involving a rat and an unsuspecting draughtsman’s trouser leg; John Bartholomew Senior writes to his son, John Junior, to encourage him to learn lithography and colourist, Doris Crook, remembers the daunting prospect of the first day of her apprenticeship. We also reveal the unlikely connection between map-making and gramophone needles.


Whether your interest is in maps, social history, local history or manufacturing, the Duncan Street Explorer has something for everyone and the layers of content allow you to explore in as much detail as you would like.

We hope you will enjoy learning more about this amazing firm and its inspirational staff through our Duncan Street Explorer.

Exhibition opens!

Posted 7 December, 2012 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

It is with great pleasure that I am able to bring you news of the National Library of Scotland’s winter exhibition, Putting Scotland on the Map: The World of John Bartholomew and Son which opened today.

This exhibition tells the story of a great Scottish, cartographic institution. From the charismatic members of the Bartholomew family to the firm’s highly skilled and loyal staff; told through oral history recordings, hand-made tools and of course, their amazing maps themselves, you are encouraged to look back at a time when an atlas could take six years to complete, and each colour was printed one at a time.

As a firm and as individuals Bartholomew gave us, amongst other things, the maps for Lawrence of Arabia’s memoir ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, the popularisation of Antarctica as the name of the southern continent and of the pink colouring of the British Empire on political maps. They also gave us the map for Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ in the Edinburgh Edition, and perhaps even the first edition too as well as the establishment of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and even the National Library of Scotland’s own maps reading room. But perhaps most importantly, they helped to change the way we see the world forever, when the firm adopted and popularised contour-layer colouring; used to such effect in the seminal ‘Survey Atlas of Scotland’ and the ‘Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World’.

This free exhibition can be visited in our main George IV Bridge building until 7th May 2013. Opening times are: Monday to Friday – 10.00-20.00; Saturday – 10.00-17.00 and Sunday – 14.00-17.00.