Bartholomew exhibition

The firm that put Scotland on the map

An exhibition opening today (7 December) at the National Library of Scotland gives visitors a unique opportunity to turn back time and step into the shoes of the Scots who mapped the world.

It celebrates the success of the famous mapmaking firm of John Bartholomew & Son. Based in Edinburgh from 1820 to 1995, it was one of the finest publishers of maps and atlases in the world.

'Putting Scotland on the map: The world of John Bartholomew & Son' charts the influence of various members of the Bartholomew family in building up the business from its humble beginnings to international acclaim.

This Scottish success story also owed much to the intricate skills of the draughtsmen, engravers, colourists and printers who produced the high-quality maps, often by hand.

The Bartholomew exhibition explores their role at each of the stages in the complex process of map production. The company's former Duncan Street premises in Edinburgh will be brought back to life with a re-creation of the 'factory floor' and the management office.

It will also capture the social and technological changes that the company went through from the copper plate days of the early 19th century through to up-to-the-minute digital mapping.

When Duncan Street closed in 1995, the archive, recording almost 200 years of the firm's history, was transferred to NLS. The Bartholomew Archive is now regarded as one of the most complete and important cartographic archives in the world. The exhibition will allow many of its treasures to be put on display for the first time and, in the process, tell the little-known story of a company whose influence was felt far beyond Scotland.

Karla Baker, the curator of the Bartholomew Archive, who is putting the exhibition together, said: 'People will be able to see the tools that workers fashioned for themselves; hear recordings of former employees talking about their roles and look at the result of all these efforts — the marvellous maps that the company produced.'

One of the firm's most prestigious publications was 'The Times atlas of the world' series but it also produced the 'Reader's Digest Great world atlas', together with a series of 'half inch to the mile' maps of the British Isles, tourist maps of Scotland and many, many more. The Bartholomew family also collected rare and antiquarian atlases including the second-ever printed map of North America from 1566 — Forlani’s 'Il disegno del discoperto della noua Franza', which will be on display in the exhibition.

'Many people love the beauty of maps and my hope is that the exhibition will have a broad appeal and people will discover the great skill involved in putting together the maps of yesterday,' added Karla. 'We hope it will be a fitting celebration of this influential firm.''

'Putting Scotland on the map: The world of John Bartholomew & Son' runs until May 7 at George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.

7 December 2012

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