Map advertising during the Second World War

Posted 28 June, 2013 13:04 by Karla Baker

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.

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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.

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