Daniel Crouch maps London

This September Daniel Crouch Rare Books presents a special pop-up exhibition of London maps at the Gallery@OXO on the South Bank as part of the city’s multi-event Totally Thames festival. The earliest work, the first printed map of London, dates to 1572, while the most re¬cent, a depiction of subterranean London, was created two years ago by Stephen Walter for the London Transport Museum in honor of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. The assembled collection visually encapsu¬lates the history of the British capital.

Large-scale maps such as John Rocque’s painstakingly detailed eight- and sixteen-sheet versions of the 1750s offer sweeping views of the entire city whose minutiae can be endlessly studied. A tiny trade card advertising the services of the firm of Benjamin Baker in Islington, the “best topographical engravers in all of Europe,” and meticulously rendering the village, shows how this now hippest of London neighborhoods appeared between about 1798 and 1800.

These maps hold equal interest for their margina¬lia and charming details. The rarest of them, creat¬ed by Thomas Porter about 1655, not only depicts Cromwellian London but also illustrates the Thames’s teeming boat traffic and bustling wharves.
Crouch’s selection bears witness to his belief that spectacu¬lar maps of any era should have a visual appeal that exceeds the utilitarian. For this reason he has prominently featured Harry Beck’s iconic map of the London Underground of 1933 in the introduction to the accompanying catalogue, a classic of modern graphic design and the under¬pinning of the one in use today by over 1.23 billion passengers yearly.

Crouch’s permanent gallery in St. James’s contains a broader range of works, including celestial and terrestri¬al globes, maps derived from voyages of discovery, and, indeed, from around the world and even the moon. His range reflects what he describes as the two ends of map collecting: the macro, “I can see the world as it was perceived,” and the micro, “I can see my garden,” al¬though he confesses that a great deal of overlap exists between the two groups.

He himself collects maps of Oxford and Oxfordshire where he grew up and continues to live. It was there, in fact, that he got his start: at Sanders during a summer holiday at the tender age of sixteen he found himself in charge of their newly created map department.

This precocious start has allowed him to accumulate a vast depth of expertise and experience. Although only forty, he is a veteran exhibitor at TEFAF Maastricht and also participates in fairs in London, Paris, New York, Miami, and Chicago.

Crouch has watched the field change. Maps of China and Russia that were the least saleable items when he start¬ed now garner huge interest. Within the past twenty-four months he has seen a pronounced trend of collectors rid¬ding antique maps of their traditional wood or gilded frames and presenting them instead in a contemporary manner, often alongside con¬temporary art.

The London exhibition at the OXO gallery at Tower Wharf, with the Thames as a backdrop to maps of the city spanning nearly five centuries, offers an espe¬cially striking opportuni¬ty to consider old maps in a new way.