Archive for the 'Practicalities of Printing' category

Map compilation at Bartholomew

Posted 30 October, 2012 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

On the 7 December, 2012, our exhibition of Bartholomew Archive material will open in our George IV Bridge building. Putting Scotland on the Map: The World of John Bartholomew and Son will explore the techniques and processes by which Bartholomew brought their maps to life. By way of a little teaser, I would like to give you a small glimpse into the complex world of map compilation.

Photo of draughtsmen 1895

This photograph shows Bartholomew’s draughtsman in their Park Road office. It was taken in 1895 but it shows people performing tasks which, in many respects, changed little for the next 50 to 60 years.

Some map publishers, such as Ordnance Survey, conduct ground or aerial surveys to gather the information they need for their maps. Bartholomew gathered the information that they needed via a process called compilation. Compilation is where the draughtsman’s role began. This was but one of the many elements to the draughtsman’s role, which made it one of the most specialist positions in the firm.

Alex Williamson

Draughtsmen had a lot of different resources to hand when it came to compiling information. Bartholomew kept a vast collection of reference maps and atlases produced by their competitors such as Ordnance Survey. Although Bartholomew did not plagiarize these works, studying the maps of others could reveal changes to natural and man-made features that Bartholomew might chose to incorporate into their own maps. They also kept a large collection of newspaper clippings. Whenever a story touched upon a pertinent subject, such as the building of a new road, the demolition of a bridge or the redrawing of an international boundary, Bartholomew would cut out and keep the story for future reference. This article, which details the post-war changes to London following the Blitz, is a poignant example.

Times, 27 July 1944

But by far the biggest source of information was the vast amount of correspondence sent to Bartholomew every day. In some cases members of the public would volunteer information, sometimes including a hand-drawn map of their own, or an annotated clipping from one of Bartholomew’s maps. In other cases the relationship was more formal. This is perhaps best demonstrated by Bartholomew’s relationship with the Cyclist’s Touring Club.

The Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC) was founded in 1878 and by the end of the 1890s boasted membership figures of close to 60,500. This then was a desirable market for Bartholomew, as CTC members actively sought useful, accurate and cycle friendly maps for their excursions. In 1898 John George Bartholomew (the firm’s director at the time) sought to capitalise on this market and wrote to the CTC’s Secretary with a proposal. Bartholomew would supply the CTC with discounted half inch maps but in return they requested that CTC members supplied the firm with up to date information. The benefit was therefore twofold; Bartholomew acquired a ready market for their maps but also, an army of thousands of people who toured the country and passed on information, for free, which the firm could then use to ensure their maps remained accurate. Although much of this correspondence is formal and business-like, some correspondents were a little more forthright, as this letter from 1915 demonstrates.

20 August 1915

Bartholomew derived similar information from local surveyors, town planners, planning departments and other like agencies, complementing the information they received from members of the public.

Once this information had been collected the draughtsmen would either update a base map, or draw a new map from scratch and the next stage of the draughtsman’s work would begin.

If you would like to know what happened next, why not pop by the National Library of Scotland and visit Putting Scotland on the Map: The World of John Bartholomew and Son, a free exhibition open from 7 December 2012-7 May 2013.

Images © permission of Collins Bartholomew

Countdown to Bartholomew Archive exhibition

Posted 6 July, 2012 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

We are in the midst of preparing for a major exhibition of Bartholomew Archive material, due to run from December 2012-April 2013 (I will pass on dates when I have them).

The exhibition will focus on map production techniques at Bartholomew as seen through the eyes of its highly skilled staff and directed by its colourful managers. The exhibition will follow the life story of Bartholomew maps from the compilation of source material, to hand-made ‘graving tools, to the noise of the printing room floor. Visitors will have the chance to meet one of Bartholomew’s most influential characters, John George Bartholomew; to enter the upside down and back to front world of the copperplate engravers before reflecting on the ways in which modern technology may have altered our relationship with maps.

The exhibition affords us the opportunity to display some of the key treasures of the John Bartholomew collection of rare and antiquarian atlases as well as some of the unique manuscript maps that can be found in the Bartholomew Archive.

To mark the occasion, each month until December this blog will focus on items that directly reflect the theme of the exhibition. This month the focus is Bartholomew’s premises on Park Road.

draughtsman room

The firm of John Bartholomew moved to Park Road in 1889. It was arguably the pivotal point in the firm’s history. Between 1888-89, John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) took control of the firm from his father John Bartholomew Junior (1831-93); the firm went into partnership for the first time in its history with the publisher Thomas Nelson, becoming John Bartholomew and Co.; they moved to their first ever purpose built premises and they restyled themselves the Edinburgh Geographical Institute. This sequence of events was to have a profound affect on the future fortunes of what had hitherto been a relatively modest printing and engraving concern.

machine room

Thomas Nelson (an Edinburgh firm of even greater age than Bartholomew) built Park Road, with Bartholomew paying them back via rent, as well of course, via printing work. John George was never enthusiastic about partnerships and there are telling snippets in the archive about his dissatisfaction. In perhaps the most stark comment he privately reflects that he is,

“Determined to end the T. N. [Thomas Nelson] partnership at any cost. To continue would mean ruin to the business and a breakdown on my part – It is impossible to work with so much unpleasant friction & jealousy”

Relief finally came in 1911 when John George removed his beloved Edinburgh Geographical Institute to their most famous home on Duncan Street.

litho room

There were positives and negatives to working at Park Road. On the negative side was the attraction that the building appeared to have for rats. A former employee recalled,

“They [the rats] seldom appeared in the day time but one day, when we were all busy at work, one of the draughtsmen jumped up and knocked over his stool with a great clatter. Next we saw him standing with his hand behind his back clutching at the top of his trousers. A few moments afterwards he jerked out the back of his shirt and a dead rat fell out on the floor”

map mounting room

But on the other hand, its unusual floor plan did have some advantages,

“For weeks before the annual staff picnic there was practicing for the sports, the long corridor between the offices and the printing room being a favourite sprinting track”

There is far more to say about Park Road than can fit in a blog, so with appetites whetted, I look forward to seeing you in December!

floor plan

The International Map of the World

Posted 14 July, 2011 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

On the 31 March, 1910, Bartholomew printed a proof version of the ‘conventional signs and styles of type for the international map on the scale of 1:1,000,000′. But what exactly is the International Map of the World?

International Map proof conventions

The philosophy behind the idea reflected its late nineteenth century times. The venture was to be educational, edifying and essentially philanthropic; an international map of the world would ultimately benefit the common good of humanity.

The idea was proposed by German geographer and geologist, Albrecht Penck (1858-1945) during the 5th International Geographical Congress, held in Berne in 1891. There was a general feeling that the great period of exploration was coming to an end and that the time was right to consolidate the knowledge that had been gained. At its heart, Penck’s idea was simple - for the assorted national mapping agencies to work together to produce a map of the world, on a uniform scale, using common conventions and symbols.


A not inconsiderable time later, in November 1909, Penck’s idea finally began to creep closer to realisation. An Inaugural Conference was held, formally establishing the International Map Committee. Some 24 delegates met at the Conference, representing 11 nations. The United Kingdom contingent consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel C. F. Close, Head of the GSGS, Colonel S.C.N. Grant, Director General of  Ordnance Survey and Dr J. Scott Keltie, Secretary of the RGS.


Bartholomew may have lacked a presence on this committee but they were nevertheless called upon to produce the proof, and later the final copy, of the conventions and symbols that the International Map Committee had agreed upon.

The proof copy is slightly quirky, incidentally showing some of the pitfalls that could befall even Bartholomew during the printing process, but by the final copy the lines were straight, the problems fixed.


History shows us that the International Map of the World was not to be. Essentially, it proved too difficult for these agencies to collaborate effectively, the final straw coming when the United States abandoned the project and decided to go it alone. However, fragments such as this proof serve to remind us what might have been.

Just for fun, the conventional symbols for assorted landscape features are shown below. Can you identify them? Answers on a postcard!


Bartholomew’s Large Plan of Edinburgh and Leith

Posted 10 June, 2011 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

In the summer of 1891, John Bartholomew & Co. launched a cartographic tour de force whose sheer magnificence continues to awe. Bartholomew’s Plan of the City of Edinburgh with Leith and Suburbs. Reduced from the Ordnance Survey and Revised to the Present Date by John Bartholomew, or the Large Plan of Edinburgh & Leith, as it’s more usually known (for obvious, laconic reasons) is a map of superlatives.

Edinburgh city centre

It is comprised of twelve sheets that when viewed together measure 6ft. 4in. high by 5ft. 2in. wide. Work on it began in 1880, coming to fruition a mammoth 11 years later. The printing alone took 250 hours, utilising a total of 45 lithographic stones and requiring a total of 25,000 pulls (a pull being the number of times the paper goes through the printing press, once for the outline and then once for each colour). The work was staggered, Sheet 1 went to the press on 10 June 1891 and Sheet 12 on 18 June 1891. A modest 500 copies of each were printed but even so, the final cost was an astronomical £125 (£75 to produce the map and £50 in royalties). To put that into perspective, this would equate to around £13,500 by today’s standards. And this doesn’t even include the engraving costs, essentially comprised of staff wages, which add a further £75 to the total.


The prospectus describes this map as ‘the finest and most elaborate Map of the City and Suburbs ever produced’, and whilst the stringency of this statement might be hard to support, it is unquestionably a gorgeous and engaging map. What strikes one at first is the pleasing overall effect that the map has; a minty green softens the predominance of business-like shades of grey, and it sprawls itself languidly across the sheets when seen in its entirety. When seen up close it is no less impressive. As Leslie Gardener writes best in Bartholomew 150 Years, ‘Every lamp-post is dotted…so are the flower beds in the gardens, the garden sheds, the stairways and steps of the courts and closes…You may trace the seating arrangements in the Surgeon’s Hall, count the stalls in the Court of Session…and study the display cases in the Science Museum’.

This level of detail derives from the fact that the map is based on Ordnance Survey’s 5ft. to a mile map of Edinburgh, a 56 sheet cartographic behemoth. Bartholomew shrunk this to a more manageable 15 inches to a mile, but without diminishing the detail.


The printed maps are supplemented by the original copper plates, seen here spun by the power of technology, to show the plate ‘the right way round’.

Copper plate

I am not alone in being an ardent fan of this map, it has recently been scanned, stitched, geo-referenced and overlaid onto Google Maps in a project funded by Visualising Urban Geographies, ‘a project that provides mapping tools for historians’. This painstaking work, a labour of love, allows the maps to be viewed as a whole for the first time (the removal of the margins allows for seamless travel from one sheet to the next) whilst the overlaying allows 1891 Edinburgh to sit in contrast with 2011 Edinburgh. Do have a look, you will find the map here.

The makings of a map

Posted 11 June, 2010 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Perhaps the key strength of the Bartholomew Archive is the ability to trace the development of a map from idea to finished product. This can at times afford a unique insight into the motivation, techniques and business practises of one of the world’s foremost cartographic firms. In general, the Bartholomew Archive Printing Record presents a picture of the finished product but at the turn of the 20th century more and more proof and draft maps begin to appear within its volumes.

The map-making process was an exceedingly complex one involving numerous stages, techniques and skills. For those of us who have not trained as map-makers, its processes can be hard to understand. Luckily, a magazine in the Bartholomew Archive called Answers, from 6 October, 1906, has a great description which I shall be heavily quoting from.

According to Answers, having decided upon a map the draughtsmen commence their work with the difficult business of compilation. Compilation involves the decision of what to include and what to omit in each map. Compilation can involve reduction, a process whereby a large map is divided into a vast number of small squares; a smaller sheet is divided up in identical fashion. The draughtsman then copies upon the smaller squares all the details of the larger ones and furthermore, any new information is added thus making the map no mere copy of the original but in fact an entirely new and original one.

When the draughtsmen have done their work, the map passes into the hands of the engraver who has to reproduce it, reversed, on a copper plate. A map measuring about 2ft. square will take a competent engraver four months to engrave. Copper plate engraving is a skill requiring a five year apprenticeship to master. Working in reverse and upside down, each letter of every place name, each line, dot and mark is engraved individually and by hand. These engraved copper plates are never themselves used for printing. A single impression is taken upon a sheet of specially prepared transfer paper. At this stage a patcher adds the finishing touches, borders, scales etc. and this, again, is transferred to the surface of a lithographic stone. Lithographic stones can weigh up to a ton and require delicate manoeuvring onto the bed of the printing machine.

The first stone is used to print the black portions of the map, including outlines, names etc; but where a coloured map is in question, a separate stone has to be prepared for each tint required. Thus at least five separate stones are normally needed to produce a high-class map in colours.

In preparing these stones the utmost care is needed to obtain perfect “register”; that is to say, each colour stone must correspond most accurately in outline with the others. To obtain this register a proof is taken from the black stone and transferred to the tint stones. The portion of the stone not required for each printing is covered in gum, in order to prevent the colour from touching any other portions than those actually required. The selection of colours requires the utmost care and an artistic eye.

Map-printing cannot be rapidly turned out like a newspaper. Each impression has to be taken with care and deliberation, and sufficient time must elapse for one colour to dry before another is printed. In this way the printing alone of a single map can occupy a whole month.

Once the process has been completed the stone is scrubbed and scraped, the impression removed, the surface smoothed and the stone made ready for the next map. But, as Answers does not go on to mention, that is not the end. The maps may require mounting, dissecting, binding and a whole host of finishing touches before it can finally be dispatched. Maps are no longer made in this fashion of course and early Bartholomew maps, for me, are made all the more amazing for the knowledge of the intricate processes that were undertaken in order to bring them to life.

Now you don’t see them, now you do

Posted 23 October, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Interesting though today’s subject might be, in this instance, interesting is also a euphemism for “help, I haven’t got a clue!”. Bartholomew were unquestionably pioneers in their field, experimenting with colour, technique and design, but what they achieved in these images is well beyond my expertise.

This is a sheet of eight, incredibly beautiful views, based on photographs taken by leading Scottish photographers. 2,020 sheets were printed by Bartholomew on the 6 June, 1882, although unhelpfully there is little else to go on in the Archive. According to the sheet they were produced for favourites of this blog, MacNiven & Cameron, who cropped up in May with their outrageous stationery (When a Ballpoint just won’t do). Just what MacNiven & Cameron planned to do with them is unclear but postcards are a distinct possibility.

The works of three photographers are represented. Arguably, the most famous is George Washington Wilson renowned as a pioneer of photography in Scotland and famous for the poignant image of a grief stricken Queen Victoria upon her horse accompanied by John Brown. James Valentine also appears, with images taken from photographs of the Dundee area for which he was so famous. Again, quite poignantly, Valentine is perhaps best remembered for the images taken of the Tay Bridge following its collapse in 1879. This was a monumental failure of engineering a result of which 75 people lost their lives, faith in progress was shaken, a landscape was dramatically altered and dubious poetry was inspired. These photographs would ghoulishly go on to be made into postcards but had been originally taken with the more honourable intention of being used as evidence in the official court inquiry. The third photographer is Peter MacFarlane who, as you can see if you’ve been following the links, has the distinction of being the only one without a Wikipedia page! His work appears to be less well known even though, in his own eyes at least, he was an official Royal photographer.

Neither Wilson nor Valentine have fallen into such obscurity, with substantial archives in existence comprised of their phenomenal output. I cannot recommend highly enough a tour of Wilson’s work via the pages of the University of Aberdeen Photographic Archive and of Valentine’s via the University of St. Andrews Photographic Archive. In fact, it was by doing just this that I came to be intrigued by the technique involved.

The above image captures the life of the people of Corpach, huddled under the looming protection of Ben Nevis. It was taken by Wilson, though the exact date is unknown, and is very practically called Ben Nevis from Corpach. A comparison with the original reveals one telling difference though, in the original the people aren’t actually there. Exactly the same is true of a Valentine image called Inverlochy Castle and Ben Nevis. Whilst ostensibly the same photograph, there are suddenly a couple of figures frolicking on the pebble beach in the foreground.

It is an interesting technique in that it produces an astonishingly beautiful effect. It is akin to a soft focus filtering already soft light. Yet, how was it achieved and why the inclusion of the figures? Was it to add interest, did the lack thereof fail to satisfy MacNiven & Cameron’s artistic sensibilities, was it to avoid copyright infringements by claiming them as something new? Whatever the reason though the images remain undoubtedly lovely.

Contour layer colouring

Posted 14 April, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

With the depth and the diversity of the material in the Bartholomew Archive it can be easy to forget just what made the name so famous. This is of course maps, the bread and butter stuff for many a generation of Bartholomew.

The joy of the Archive is getting into the heart and soul of a firm of hoarders who never seem to have thrown anything away. One item which I recently found in the Printing Record just goes to show what can be found.

This may look like a sheet of a lot of admittedly colourful, but possibly not very interesting maps, but in truth, its seeming mundanity belies a hidden significance. These are amongst the earliest examples of Bartholomew-style contour layer colouring in the Bartholomew Archive.

Once something has become so ubiquitous that it is taken for granted it can be hard to remember the time before it existed. Contour layer colouring is such a phenomenon. We are all so used to seeing maps with height and depth shown as a succession of subtle colour changes that it is easy to forget that it was invented. Although precedents can be found on the Continent, in the United Kingdom it was to Bartholomew that the technique found a champion and perhaps can be said to have been perfected.

Prior to contour layer colouring, methods of showing relief did a decent job at conveying a sense of the landscape but were lacking in providing much by way of useful information. A drawing of a hill could just as easily represent Arthur’s Seat at 251 m as it could Ben Nevis at 1344 m. And hachuring, criss-crossing lines, just seems to make maps look oddly hairy. So, with a colour system ranging from dark blue for really low and white for really high it was possible to not only gauge a sense of a landscape really quickly it also provided map users with some genuinely helpful information.

John Bartholomew Junior (1831-93) and his son John George Bartholomew (1860-1920) pioneered, perfected and promoted the idea in the United Kingdom with the first major publication to make use of the technique being Baddeley’s “English Lake District”, first published in 1880. Since then, this technique has never faltered in its popularity, however, the maps on this Printing Record sheet reveal the hesitant early steps taken to get there.

Bartholomew printed this sheet of maps on 24 June, 1881, a mere year after the original commercial introduction of the technique. Attractive though they may be I think it’s fair to say that there’s a certain crudity about the maps when you look closely. Loch Arklet for example is clearly not quite managing to cling onto its bank and is steadily slipping southward.

Similarly, this map shows several of the tints not quite hitting the mark. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering just how hard this technique was to achieve. The technology of the time demanded producing a copper plate, transferring this to a lithographic stone and then printing one colour at a time until the map was complete. With the contour lines being a mere fraction of a millimetre thick it is indeed a wonder that the maps are as good as they are.

Over time of course, practise made perfect, and new technology can’t but have helped, which is why I think it’s interesting, and important, to see contour layer colouring as it once was, and to appreciate the skill and perseverance that was needed in order that we can take it for granted today.

acid transfer in paper

Posted 28 January, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

One of the problems with paper is the tendency for acid to transfer from one sheet to another. The images show a map printed on thin white paper that has been stained by acid transfer. The map was attached to a page that was bound in ‘direct-contact’ with the endboards of a volume. Usually, volumes have endpapers to act as a barrier between the endboards and the first folios of the text block. If the endboards are acid-laden, then over time, the acid can ‘migrate’ to the less acidic papers bound in the volume.

The map was folded over on one corner and the resultant staining from acid-transfer shows the damage that can occur. Too much acid can embrittle paper, and though acid can be removed in solution baths, it is a slow process.

(reference: NLS, Map Library, Bartholomew Print Record, Volume 61, 1921, folio 1)

when printing goes bad!

Posted 22 January, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

Every now and then, an example of the printing art ‘gone wrong’, shows up in the printing record volumes

The mistake shown in the photos is a common occurrence in a printing factory; a corner of the paper sheet that’s to be printed gets folded over, before being fed through the printing press, and when printed a part of the print image ends up on the wrong side of the paper.

This ‘transposition’ means that an otherwise ‘perfect print’ has to be discarded, because a small portion has been back-printed. Maybe a minor irritant to the printer, but nevertheless a potentially costly and time consuming mistake.

(reference: NLS, Map Library, Bartholomew Print Record, Volume 60, 1920-1921, folio 169, preservation ref: 11467,)

A Fine Engraving

Posted 15 January, 2009 13:04 by Karla Baker | Permalink

While cleaning volume 58, a copy of an engraved print “Perth, from Barnhill.” was found. The print measures 453mm by 321mm, and is a very fine example of some of the unusual work that can be found in the Bartholomew Printing Record.

The dedication on the print; “To the Citizens of Perth this View of their Fair City is respectfully Inscribed, by their much obliged Serv’t, Wm. Brown.”, and the credits: “Painted by W. Brown.” – “Engraved by W Forrest.” – “Published by Wm. Brown, Perth Academy, Sept. 1833.”, clearly place this engraving, in the early 19th century. The copy in the Bartholomew collection is annotated on the print margin, with a 1919 date; “24 copies supplied W.Leslie, Perth, 3/2/1919″.

The artist William Brown, was a Perth artist (1801-1874), and the engraver William Forrest lived from 1805-1889, so for Bartholomew’s to re-print the image in 1919, they would have needed the original engraved plate. It seems unlikely that Bartholomew’s would have re-engraved the image, as the image is an intaglio print and not a lithographic reproduction, and if Bartholomew’s did re-etch onto a new plate, they would have cited themselves as the engravers and not W. Forrest.

Maybe the plate was provided by W. Leslie of Perth, who was supplied by Bartholomew’s with 24 copies. Or, it is possible that the plate was acquired by Bartholomew’s and may still be part of the ‘copper plate’ collection held at the National Library of Scotland. When ongoing NLS project work, to identify and catalogue this collection, is completed, the plate may be located.

The print in the Bartholomew Printing Record, has all the characteristics of an engraved image:

* printed on soft thick paper

* a very deep impression on the paper of the non-printing areas of the image

* the printed lines are very noticeably ‘in relief’ on the paper, a feature of intaglio printing, as distinct from lithography or letterpress print methods

* the black ink is very sharp and crisp, also very characteristic of engraved plate prints

A close-up of the bottom left corner of the print, shows the detail and precise line of the image. A very fine example of the art of the engraver, and the quality of printing from the Bartholomew Print works.

(reference: NLS, Map Library, Bartholomew Print Record, Volume 58, 1917-1919, folio 210, preservation ref: 11454,)