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The British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings

Address. Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG [Map]
Telephone. (020) 323-8408
Fax. (020) 323-8999
Internet. http://www.british-museum.ac.uk/prints_drawings/

Governing body or responsible institution. Trustees of the British Museum. Source of funding: Grant-in-aid from Parliament
Functions. A department of the British Museum with responsibility for Western works on paper, including prints, drawings, watercolours, works in bodycolour and oil paint if made on paper (but not oil paintings otherwise), as well as a few pastels, miniatures and drawings on ivory, and (mainly illustrated) printed books. The collection is supported by a comprehensive reference library.
Subjects. See above.

Access. The Students' Room is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2.15 p.m. - 4 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. It is advisable to make prior arrangements for visits.
Special facilities. Photographic service.
Printed information. Antony Griffiths and Reginald Williams: The Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: User's guide. London 1987.
Travel directions. Nearest underground stations: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, and Russell Square. On several bus routes. - No parking for members of the public. - The Museum has a bookshop and a public restaurant.


1.1 When the British Museum, founded in 1753, opened to the public in 1759, it comprised three Departments, of Printed Books, Manuscripts, and Natural History. There were prints and drawings in the collections from the early days, mainly from the foundation collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), and significant additions came from a bequest by the Rev. Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (1730-1799), but not until 1808 were they assembled, with their own Keeper, as a subdivision of a new Department of Antiquities. The Department of Prints and Drawings became independent in 1837, by which time it had modest funds for acquisitions. Thereafter, systematic acquisitions under a succession of scholarly Keepers have led to the formation of one of the world's greatest collections of Western art on paper, from the 14th century to the present day.

1.2 Prints and drawings from the German-speaking countries are very strongly represented, especially of the early periods. There are also notably fine collections of German portrait prints, of which over 10,000 were acquired in 1815 from Karl Marie Ehrenbert, Baron von Moll (1760-1838), and book-plates, of which over 4,750 came as a bequest from Sir August Wollaston Franks (1826-1897) and many more from the collection of Max Rosenheim, presented by Mrs T. Rosenheim in 1932.

1.3 Illustrated books were not originally collected, since they were the province of the Museum's Department of Printed Books. However, books of prints without letterpress were considered appropriate from the outset, and in the course of the 19th century and subsequently, many other illustrated books were acquired by purchase, gift and bequest. In 1889, numerous duplicates were transferred from the Department of Printed Books, and other transfers occurred sporadically before the administrative separation and creation of the British Library in 1973. Among the most important donors of German books were the collector William Mitchell (1820-1908) and Campbell Dodgson (1867-1948, Keeper of Prints and Drawings 1912-1932), both of whom had a special interest in early German work.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The Department holds 17 German incunables (9 in German, 8 in Latin), plus some block book fragments (though these are mainly Netherlandish) and other 15th-century sheets; about 380 German books of the 16th century (over 200 in German, about 170 in Latin, 3 in Greek); about 60 of the 17th century (34 in German, 19 in Latin, small numbers in other languages); about 80 of the 18th century (50 in German, 17 in French, 7 in Latin); and over 100 of the 19th century (nearly all in German). These books, of which a special catalogue is in preparation, are kept in locked cases, and have been counted on the shelf. The figures given do not include the sale and exhibition catalogues and the very large amount of secondary literature on art history, particularly of the 19th century, held in the Departmental Reference Library.

2.2 In addition to the German case-books, there are substantial numbers of illustrated broadsides from the German-speaking countries. Because of the way the collections of prints are organised, many of these are kept with other works under their artists, and cannot at present be quantified. Others have until recently been interfiled with broadsides and prints from other countries in various subject and genre series, such as Satires, Portraits, and Foreign History prints. Now a new series of German Broadsides is being extracted from these three and other categories. The numbers (which will grow) have so far reached: 48 of the 16th century, 385 of the 17th century, 52 of the 18th century, and 3 of the 19th century. These German Broadsides are filed chronologically, but not yet catalogued. A computer inventory of the Department's entire holdings is in preparation, starting with the drawings, and when completed will much simplify access to material such as broadsides which is distributed amongst a variety of categories.

Subject outline

2.3 Nearly all the German books have illustrations and/or illustrated title-borders. The illustrations are mostly in genres traditionally assigned to the fine arts, that is to say they do not generally include the sciences, from botany and medicine to technology. The main focus of the collection is in the first half of the 16th century, with strong representation of the great masters, such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Weiditz, and Hans Holbein the Younger, which supports the Museum's outstanding holdings of their prints and drawings. There is a fine collection of editions of Holbein's Imagines mortis (though many of these were printed in Lyons, including one which had belonged to King Edward VI), and several editions of the Hortulus animae. Possibly unique are De dulcissimo nomine Jesu officium (Mainz: Peter Schöffer 1518) and an edition of the Weissagungen der zwölf Sibyllen (Frankfurt a. M. 1535). There are two editions of Lucas Cranach's Wittenberg Heiltumsbuch of 1509, and the Latin edition of his Passional Christi (Wittenberg 1521). There is also a copy of R. Z. Becker's Hans Sachs im Gewande seiner Zeit (Gotha 1821), which contains many impressions from original woodblocks by 16th-century masters.

2.4 There is a moderate representation of the ``little masters' of the later 16th century, such as Jost Amman, Tobias Stimmer and Virgil Solis, and a substantial collection of historical prints by Franz Hoghenberg, including Michael Eytzinger's De Leone Belgico (Cologne 1596-1606). Thereafter holdings tend to be rather miscellaneous. The 17th-century books include Rudolph Meyer's Sterbensspiegel (Zürich 1650), Francesco Sbarra's La contesa dell'aria e dell'acqua (Vienna 1667), Gabriel Tzschimmer's Die durchlauchtigste Zusammenkunft (Nuremberg 1680), and many engraved works by Matthaeus Merian the Elder in a volume from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. From the 18th century there are architectural engravings by Salomon Kleiner of the palaces of Eugene Francis, Duke of Savoy (Résidences mémorables, Augsburg 1731-1740) and by François de Cuvilliés the Younger and others (an album from the years 1759-1772), J. J. Engel's Ideen zu einer Mimik (Berlin 1785), and G. C. Lichtenberg's Ausführliche Erklärung der Hogarthischen Kupferstiche (Göttingen 1794-1835). The illustrated books of the 19th century include some works on topography and costume (particularly military), and literary texts illustrated by Moritz Retzsch and Ludwig Richter.

Special collections

Books from the library of Willibald Pirckheimer

2.5 It is becoming apparent that a small number of books given to the Museum by William Mitchell were probably acquired by him from the sale at Bernard Quaritch's in 1873 of part of the Royal Society's holdings of books from the library of Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530), the humanist and friend of Dürer. Part of Pirckheimer's collection had been acquired by the city of Nuremberg, but the remainder was purchased in 1634 by Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), and later presented to the Royal Society. The Pirckheimer books now in the British Museum include a copy inscribed to Pirckheimer by Helius Eobanus Hessus of his Venus triumphans (Nuremberg 1527). Work is planned on identifying the other Pirckheimer books in the collection.

Illustrated broadsides

2.6 The very interesting holdings of German broadsides, which await cataloguing, are strongest from the 17th century. Most were purchased in the later 19th century from German sources, including a few from the collection of Wendelin von Maltzahn, sold in the 1880s. The subjects covered range from religious prints and prodigies to historical and satirical sheets. Amongst the 16th-century sheets filed under artists are several with verses by Hans Sachs. Many of the 17th-century broadsides were described and reproduced by W. A. Coupe, and some of the rarer historical prints of the same period appear in the ongoing publication by J. R. Paas (see Section 5).


In the Students' Room:

Alphabetical card catalogue of all books in one sequence

Shelf-list on slips

Index of artists, including separate volumes for Germany (in a single sequence with Austria) and Switzerland

Index cards with negative numbers of all prints.

Dodgson, Campbell: Catalogue of early German and Flemish woodcuts in the British Museum. 2 vols. London 1903-11. Index (by A. Lauter). Munich 1925. Repr. 2 vols. London 1980. [This includes German books (but not books from Strasbourg or Switzerland) with woodcut illustrations then in the collections. Dodgson's own interleaved copy, with MS additions and amendments, is held in the Department.]

A catalogue of the German case-books is in preparation.

A catalogue of the German book-plates of the 16th century is also in preparation.

An interleaved and annotated copy of F. Warnecke: Die deutschen Bücherzeichen (Berlin 1890) lists the Franks book-plates.

There is an inventory by Edward Carpenter of the portraits presented by Baron von Moll.

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).


4.1 Archival sources

Each item in the collection bears a dated accession-number, and chronological registers of these record the sources of all acquisitions.

4.2 Publications

Griffiths, Antony: The Department of Prints and Drawings during the first century of the British Museum. In: The Burlington magazine 1994, pp. 531-544

Griffiths, Antony (ed.): Landmarks in print collecting. Connoisseurs and donors at the British Museum since 1753. London 1996


Publications referring to German books:

Bartrum, Giulia: German Renaissance prints 1490-1550. London 1995

Coupe, William A.: The German illustrated broadsheet in the seventeenth century. Historical and iconographical studies. 2 vols. Baden-Baden 1966

Paas, John R.: The German political broadsheet 1600-1700. Wiesbaden 1985

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 180-181

January 1998

David Paisey

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.