Pocket Maps

The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London ([London] Paris: Dower, ca.1865): 2 7/16 x 2 inches (6.2 x 5 cm)

IMG_0156Seen at the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University

The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London has an unassuming exterior, with cloth boards covered by a faded green paper label. The cover spells out both the contents of the work and their proposed utility: “Shewing all the Railways and Stations, Public Buildings, Streets, and with Reference to all the Chief Objects of Interest. Divided into half mile Squares to calculate Cab Fares.” Upon opening the cover, linen pages unfold to display a hand colored rectangular map of the city, measuring about 20 x 12 inches (51 x 32 cm) The words “The Visitor’s Map of London” are emblazoned across the top twice: in the middle and in a box in the right corner.

The unfolded map offers an impressively detailed birds’ eye view of the city of London. The map labels each individual street and names many key buildings, representing their size and shape as IMG_0157seen from above. A grid structure divides the city into half mile squares, while letters distinguish general regions of the city: “W” for “West,” “NW” for “North West,” “CW” for “Center West.” A key at the bottom of the map lists the locations on the map’s grid of 173 unique sites in London, with railway termini listed in a separate section and with the “International Exhibition” highlighted in a larger font size. The map uses color to highlight select locales; railway termini are highlighted in red, parks and the Thames in slightly different shades of blue, and major thoroughfares in yellow. The unfolded map remains affixed to the cardboard covers of the book. While this attachment secures the map in its case, it also makes the book’s cover stubbornly present for the reader, blocking one square of the map and destabilizing the map by creating a comparatively heavy weight on the left side.

Pocket maps like this one were popular during the nineteenth century as a response to the burgeoning urban landscape of London. In 1838, the publisher Edward Mogg urged visitors to London to provide themselves with pocket maps, noting,

IMG_0167To avoid the inconvenience of taxing his friend to an attendance upon him in his peregrinations, it is indispensable that [the visitor to London] provide himself with a plan of London . . . like the clue of Ariadne, they will conduct him through the labyrinth, and, occasionally consulted, will enable him, unattended, to thread with ease the mazes of this vast metropolis. [1]

Mogg’s classical analogy serves to underline three essential ideas about London: first, that the city of London was a maze that could be navigated only with a guide, second, that without a map, London may pose dangers like the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and third, that a pocket guide, like a ball of thread, would guide the visitor easily even as its size permitted it to be concealed from public view.

The idea of a pocket map is, of course, familiar to us today; travelers continued to IMG_0166rely upon these maps until they were recently displaced by smartphones. The Waistcoat Pocket Map of London differs from such contemporary examples in its effort to make the map conform to the shape of a miniature book. In placing a map, already a miniature representation of the city, within a miniature book, the format serves to underline the idea that the city itself has been condensed into a portable form. For a Victorian audience that understood the miniature book as a form of condensed knowledge, the printing of a map as a miniature book presented the map as a private source of knowledge about the city that, much like Ariadne’s thread, offered the “reader” a talismanic guide to the city.

1. Edward Mogg. Mogg’s New Picture of London, and Visitor’s Guide to Its Sights, Eleventh Edition (London: Mogg, 1848): 204.

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