Protecting heritage and culture

Maps are central to a nation’s law and culture and the WS Society has collected maps since early in its existence. The Blaeu Atlas, the first complete atlas of Scotland, dating from 1654, has been in the library’s care since the eighteenth-century. The collection includes the work of almost every noteworthy Scottish cartographer.

The Map Collection numbers over 400 items, including sheet maps, bound maps, atlases and roll maps originally designed for display on sprung frames. It is one of the largest and most important in private hands, containing maps from almost every world territory. The collection of maps of Edinburgh is especially rich and important. Many items are rare or unique, such as Bishop Leslie’s 1578 map of Scotland, the first to be published in a printed book.

By no means purely of antiquarian interest, historic maps are vital to identifying property boundaries and the collection is used by lawyers today for this purpose. Historians and researchers also consult the collection. Part of the Map Collection is deposited with the National Library of Scotland where it is incorporated in the world-leading digitisation project led by Dr Chris Fleet that has transformed how maps are used in modern research.

Without the foresight of the WS Society in building this collection, it is likely a significant proportion of vital historic maps of Scotland and the wider world would have been lost. The collection is a vivid demonstration of the necessity for professional institutions to deploy their collections to the wider good. The Map Collection is still growing with fresh donations and acquisitions every year, and it has recently been completely resurveyed for our new online catalogue.

The map collection is one part of wider world class WS Society collections, alongside prints and engravings, proclamations and broadsides, historic newspapers, journals and periodicals, pamphlets, chapbooks and more. We have the same goals of wider access, broader participation, conservation and display for all that the Society cares for and preserves in the unique setting of the Signet Library.