Posted 26 November, 2010 13:04 by Karla Baker
A spot of indulgence today as I share a map which rather tickled my fancy, Nobel’s Explosives Company’s Map of the British Empire.
Bartholomew printed 7,350 copies of this map on the 19 October 1900. It is a standard Bartholomew map of the British Empire repurposed here as advertising for Nobel’s. Other entries have touched upon the use of maps for commercial purposes (Chas Baker & Co: the men and the map; Alexander Ferguson, confectioner to the Queen) but they seem tame compared to this dangerous commodity. Although the message that Nobel’s is trying to convey is one of pride in the universality of their product, to me, the map is slightly threatening, the areas highlighted in red look rather more like targets or conquests.
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was in fact Swedish but he helped to set up several businesses across Europe that manufactured and sold his most famous product, dynamite. Nobel’s Explosives Company Ltd was one such company. It began life in 1871 known at that time as the British Dynamite Co Ltd. The firm was set up by a group of Glaswegian businessmen who managed to raise the £24,000 (£1,660,000 today) necessary to go into business. Nobel himself was paid in shares, not only for his rights but also technical advice.
It was an extraordinarily successful company that went from strength to strength. In 1877 their estimated assets were worth £240,000 which would equate to £16,700,000 today. They became part of a multi-national trust company which drew together all of Nobel’s concerns, where they were by far the largest and they were contractors to the British Government by this time.
However, Alfred Nobel was made keenly aware of the negativity felt by some towards dynamite after reading his erroneously published obituary. In order to make recompense and to repair his reputation he founded the Nobel Prizes (physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and for work in peace) for which he is probably better remembered today, no doubt to his satisfaction.
As for the map, hidden beneath the surface there lies quite a lot of unexpected information, hinting at its former life. Canada lets us know which form of conveyance is best to use in different seasons,
and India reveals the main trade goods; both of debatable blowing things up usefulness.
All in all, small though it is, this map is a fascinating artefact both for what it shows and also for what it stands for.