Putting Scotland on the Map

April 22, 2013


We love maps in our household. In our old flat, the kitchen was pretty much wallpapered in them, in our new flat we’ve restrained ourselves to a giant world map in the hall and the map from our honeymoon in Iceland in the study. So it was much to my delight, that I stumbled across a little exhibition all about maps at the National Library of Scotland during my last trip to Edinburgh.


“Putting Scotland on the Map” tells the story of Scotland’s most influential map-making company, John Bartholomew & Son, whose “name became famous around the world for the production of innovative and beautiful maps, conceived and produced from their offices in Edinburgh.” The exhibition draws almost entirely on material from theBartholomew Archive, which records the development of the firm, from 1820-2001.

The exhibition starts out with a section dedicated to introducing the first four, of six, generations of the Bartholomew family – the earliest known map engraving work of the family dates back to George Bartholomew in 1825. While it was interesting to learn about the family and firm’s history, it was the main section which outlines the various stages of map making and the skills involved, that fascinated me the most: draughtsman, engrave, lithographers, colourists, printers. You can discover, for example, how height is represented by colour or how maps were printed one colour at a time. And did you know it could take engravers up to seven years to master their skill?

Although Bartholomew was a family firm, they also employed workers, and a small section of the exhibition looks at being a staff member there, both at work and at play. But every era eventually comes to an end. Although Bartholomew was among the earliest adopters of computerised cartography, the technology was expensive and the firm was sold in 1980 to raise money to cover the costs. It was sold on again in 1985 and finally dismantled in 1990. Today it lives on as part of Collins Bartholomew. The final section gives a small nod to mapping today, with its satellite imagery, sat nav and smart phone apps.


As well as all the maps on display – highlights include the earliest printed atlas of Africa, published in 1588 and collected by the Bartholomew family, and the original map of Edinburgh Zoo printed in 1932 – there were also a selection of other related exhibits to compliment the story and draw the visitors in, such as sketches and draughts, books and adverts, certificates and personal correspondence, tools and typeface manuals. And numerous historic photographs. For those who prefer things a little more interactive, you can create a 3D model from a 2D map, take a rubbing of a Bartholomew copperplate, handle some replica documents, or listen to audio recordings of people talking about their time working at Bartholomew. A computer terminal lets you search for place names in Great Britain and compare their maps throughout the ages (the “Bartholomew Great Britain Time Traveller” is also available online).

The exhibition is showing until 7 May 2013.

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