May 24, 2010
By David Darlington
Fans of historic maps may be interested in the Crace Collection of Maps of London brought to us by the British Library. This collection includes over 1,200 maps and plans of the British capital, an “essential guide through the history of London.” The maps roughly cover the years 1570 through 1860.
The collection was compiled in the first half of the 19th century by Frederick Crace, an interior designer to Britain’s rich and powerful. Crace was appointed to Commissioner of Sewers in 1818, and took up an interest in the history of the streets of London, an interest which continued until his death. The Crace Collection includes original maps and plans for London, and when original plans could not be obtained, tracings of the originals were made (which in some cases are the only records left). The maps vary in size and medium—some are large plans and others were cut out of books—and some include miniature views and panoramas. Head of Map Collections Peter Barber describes the materials and their history in greater detail in his “Curator’s Introduction”.
The items in the Crace Collection are searchable by keyword. Each record (see for example this map of Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Essex) has information about the cartographer, the date of the map, the medium (such as engraving or lithograph), the item’s size and scale ratio, and a short description of the item’s history. Users with Flash enabled browsers can enlarge each item to full-screen size and zoom in to see details with a virtual magnifying glass, or print a copy at home.
The online collection has some interactive features as well. Users who register with the library’s online collections have the ability to tag items, mark a picture as a favorite, or even create their own virtual gallery to share with other users. And while you’re on the British Library web site, be sure to check out the online component of the Magnificent Maps exhibit.