Some rulers of old had some pretty unique (or unusual) hobbies: the Roman emperor Heliogabalus collected cobwebs, Ming dynasty emperor Zhu Houzhao cultivated an exotic animal menagerie that he would release to savagely hunt his subjects at his pleasure and England's King George III acquired maps. Lots of maps — over 50,000 of them, give or take a few, all of which will soon be available to view on a digital platform, thanks to the British Library.
The King George III Topographical Collection features over 2,500 watercolors, prints and sketches, as well as roughly 50,000 cartographical wonders. Among them is the six-by-7.5-foot Klencke Atlas, considered the second-largest map compendium in the world, as well as works by artists Paul Sandby, William Pars and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. The maps also include some timely renderings of the Colonies — now the U.S. — before and during the 1776 revolution.
According to collection curator Peter Barber, George III's passion for maps manifested itself at an early age and continued throughout his lifetime, and that he began culminating his collection in the mid-1760s. An old account of the king observed that "he copies every capital chart ... [and] takes models of all celebrated fortifications, knows the soundings of the chief harbors in Europe and the strong and weak sides of most of the fortified towers," according to the Library's website.
As of now, the British Library is 25 percent of the way through digitizing the extensive collection; after the process is complete, it will be accessible to Internet denizens via the Transforming Typography website.
While American audiences might only be familiar with King George III for his role in the American Revolution, Barber opines that the maps more strongly reflect the heritage of British history — and its people.
"The collection is far more than a mere accumulation of maps and views. It's an expression of British patriotism, brought together at a time when industrial and agricultural revolutions, conspicuous prosperity, a balanced constitution and relative political freedom [...] were making Britain a world leader and a source of envy and emulation abroad," said Barber in an official statement.
"The King's Topographical Collection may owe its origin to the geographical enthusiasms of a monarch, but it breathes the interests, activities and attitudes of his people," he added.
Photo: Richard | Flickr