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Loose Book Illustrations in the Fagel Map Portfolios

by Emily Monty

Dr Emily Monty was the Fagel Collection Visiting Research Fellow in autumn 2022. She was hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute at Trinity College Dublin. You can view a conversation between Emily and Ann-Marie Hansen, Project Manager of Unlocking the Fagel Collection here.

The Fagel Collection holds important material history for the study of publishing and collecting in the Dutch Republic of the eighteenth-century. The map portfolios alone contain over 1600 sheets and represent an extraordinary collection of rare and unusually well-preserved materials. Such collections of loose print and manuscript images in their original portfolios rarely survive intact, making the Fagel examples all the more important from the perspective of material and cultural history.

During a three-month Visiting Research Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), I came across a series of illustrations for an eighteenth-century travel narrative of the Caribbean in Portfolio XXII. These precious fragments of a larger illustration project reveal material evidence about practices in book publishing and collecting in The Hague, and give insight into the other discoveries that are waiting to be made as scholars continue to study the portfolio prints and related books held in the Fagel collection. In the following blog post, I describe my research methods and conclusions in hopes of promoting future research on the contents of these portfolios.

A Brief History of the Fagel Portfolios at TCD

A photograph of an 18th-century portfolio bound with a red leather spine and marbled paper laying on a white table.
One of the Fagel map portfolios

Each of the Fagel map portfolios holds a collection of loose printed and manuscript materials organised by geography. Territories nearer to the Dutch Republic are described in greater detail than more distant lands. For example, Portfolios III and IV deal with Italy, whereas the entire continent of Africa is contained in Portfolio XX. Beyond the maps and city views one might expect to find in this sort of collection of geographic materials, there is also information about governments and the environment, such as genealogical charts of royal houses and images of astronomical events. Viewed together as a sequence of maps, charts, and images, the portfolios offered their eighteenth-century beholders a holistic description of the world and its power structures. The portfolios themselves are made of two stiff paper boards attached with a red leather spine and covered in marbled paper. They vary both in size and state of preservation. Some include green silk ties, as seen in the photograph above.

The Fagel map portfolios are first mentioned in a catalogue for the auction of the Fagel library prepared by Samuel Paterson. The sale was meant to be held at Christie’s in March 1802, but the entire library was purchased for Trinity before the auction occurred. In the catalogue, Paterson cursorily described twenty-one portfolios under lot 9061: “A fine collection of maps and plans, in number about 2000, comprised in twenty-one large Portfolios.” Once the portfolios were moved to TCD, they were stored in the Old Library in the H glass cupboard and window (see the manuscript notation in the photograph below).

A photograph of the auction catalogue compiled by Paterson open to a list of the maps for sale with printed lot numbers and manuscript notations.
Bibliotheca Fageliana. A catalogue of the valuable and extensive library of the Greffier Fagel, of the Hague, p. 449 showing an auction lot of 21 portfolios of maps and plans. OL Safe 4.6, Trinity College Dublin

In 1900, Trinity librarian T.K. Abbott catalogued the contents of these map portfolios. He listed 25 portfolios—that is, four more than had been described by Paterson. The additional portfolios probably represent separate lots in the Paterson catalogue that were consolidated and stored together when the collection was brought to Trinity.

A Fragment from an Illustrated Book Project

During my research fellowship, a sheet in Portfolio XXII (absent in Paterson; named by Abbott as ‘America; North America’) caught my eye. This single sheet contains five images oriented in opposite directions—two facing the top of the sheet and three facing the bottom. The images all pertain to the Caribbean. In addition to being unified by their subject matter, the prints are also similar in style. Carefully laid hatch marks create dark areas on the white page and a thin rectangular border frames each image.

A photograph of a piece of paper with five black and white prints. The paper has a crease down the middle and is on a blue background.
Portfolio XXII, no. 55. (Abbott 1481)

The illustrations represent the following subjects:

  1. Top left: A map of Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with surrounding islands
  2. Top right: A plan of the fort of St. Pierre on Martinique
  3. Bottom left: A map of the archipelago of Guadeloupe, presently an overseas territory of France in the Caribbean
  4. Bottom right: The branch and pod of a tamarind tree with the leaf and fruit of a sea grape plant; Puffer fish

A volume and page number appear at the top right of each image, just outside of the border. For example, the map of Hispaniola at the top left of the sheet is labelled “Tom. V, Pag. 55.” These inscriptions are instructions for a book binder, suggesting that the plates were intended to illustrate a text. Perhaps this sheet of images was meant to be folded and cut along the edges to form a gathering, that is a grouping of pages that would be sewn together with other gatherings to make a book. Folded four times, the images on the portfolio sheet would all face the same direction, supporting this conclusion. But why, then, is the back of the sheet blank? Where is the text that these illustrations were meant to accompany in the eventual book?

The answer to these questions lies in the technical aspects of book production in the hand-press period. The images on the portfolio sheet are made with a combination of engraving and etching, both methods of intaglio printmaking in which lines are incised into a copper plate. Intaglio plates need to be printed on a special rolling press capable of exerting significantly more pressure than the standard press used for movable type and woodcuts. Consequently, intaglio illustrations had to be printed separately from the text. Often, publishers outsourced their production to a printmaking workshop specialised in the technique. Though intaglio illustrations were more expensive and labour intensive to produce than woodcuts, they yielded clearer and more detailed images and would have been the expected medium for book illustration in the eighteenth century.

I identified the source of these illustrations in Nouveau voyage aux isles de l’Amerique, a description of the Caribbean written in six parts by the French missionary and engineer Jean-Baptiste Labat, who travelled in the West Indies at the turn of the eighteenth century. The text and images contain Labat’s observations on geography, ethnography, and natural history. The book was published in Paris in 1722 and in The Hague in 1724, where it was printed in two different formats—a quarto, made up of sheets folded four times, and a smaller duodecimo edition, composed of sheets folded twelve times. The text was also translated from French into Dutch in 1725.

I consulted the edition of Nouveau Voyage held in the Fagel Collection. This is the quarto version of the text, published in 1724 in The Hague. It is bound in two volumes with the shelfmarks Fag.A.7.51 and Fag.A.7.52. The title page lists six people involved with publication: Pieter Husson; Thomas Johnson; Pierre Gosse; Johannes van Duren; Rutgert Christoffel Alberts; Charles Levier. All of these men worked as booksellers and publishers in The Hague, but there is no indication of their individual roles in this project. Studying the distribution of the images throughout the text and finding that they do not appear sequentially, I determined that the portfolio sheet could not have formed a gathering, as I had first thought. I noticed, however, that the volume and page numbers inscribed on the book illustrations differed from the inscriptions on the portfolio sheet. Whereas the two images on the bottom right quadrant of the portfolio sheet have separate inscriptions, indicating two different placements in the book, the images appear side by side in Fag.A.7.52 and only have one volume and page number.

A photograph of an open book showing a page with two printed illustrations in black and white of a group of flora and a puffer fish, each outlined with a thin black frame.
Illustrations facing page 192 in part V. Jean Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux isles de l’Amerique (The Hague, 1724). Fag.A.7.52, Trinity College Dublin
A photograph of two black and white prints on a single sheet showing a group of flora and a puffer fish, each outlined with a thin black frame.
Detail of Portfolio XXII, no. 55, showing different page numbers for each of the images

Evidently, the portfolio sheet comes from a different edition of the text than the one held in the Fagel library. The fact that these two narrow images have separate page numbers on the portfolio sheet suggested that this sheet was prepared for the smaller duodecimo edition. Using the Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN), I found a copy of this rare volume at the KB, National Library of the Netherlands and confirmed that the portfolio sheet belonged to the print run for the 1724 duodecimo edition of Nouveau Voyage.

A photograph of an open book with text on the left page and a printed illustration of a puffer fish in black and white outlined with a thin black frame.
Puffer fish illustrated in Jean Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux isles de l’Amerique (The Hague, 1724), Volume 4, facing page 356. KW 2211 F 7-12. KB, National Library of the Netherlands

A Jigsaw Puzzle in Portfolio 22

With the help of Ann-Marie Hansen, Project Manager of Unlocking the Fagel Collection, I identified more sheets belonging to Nouveau Voyage, also kept in Portfolio XXII. Unlike sheet no. 55, where five images are printed on one piece of paper, these images all appear as smaller single sheets. I wondered if they had entered the Fagel Collection as larger composite sheets, like no. 55. Placing the prints side by side and studying the uneven edges of the paper, I discovered that their jagged edges fit together perfectly, forming two large sheets. Analysing the reconstructed sheets, it is clear that the individual images were printed from one single plate. A continuous plate mark, or depression in the paper made by the impression of the copper plate, runs across the sheets. A consistent plate tone fills the empty space between the reunited images. This tone is the result of a small amount of ink remaining on the copper plate after it was hand wiped and before it was printed. Given the manual nature of the printing process in this period, plate tone varies with each impression, making it significant that the tone is consistent across the sheets.

These reconstructed sheets, therefore, provide insight into the printing process for Nouveau Voyage that would be nearly impossible to recover in a bound copy of the book. The reconstructed sheets confirm evidence found in sheet 55 that the illustrations in the book were produced in sets that do not correspond to their sequence in the text. Rather, the printmaker grouped the images by size in order to make the most economical and efficient use of both the copper and paper as well as of the manual labour of the printer.

A photograph of three prints on a blue background arranged to show how they originally comprised one single sheet.
Reconstruction of a full sheet of paper that has been separated into three individual sheets. Top left: Portfolio XXII, No. 53 (Abbott 1479) Plan of the port with its fort and town on the island of Grenada; Top right: Portfolio XXII, No. 52 (Abbott 1478): Map of the island of Barbados; Bottom: Portfolio XXII, No. 46 (Abbott 1472): Plan and elevation of the convent of the Jacobins at the Martinique harbour
A photograph of two sheets of paper with black and white maps arranged to show how the maps originally comprised one single sheet.
Portfolio XXII, No. 30 (Abbott 1456): Map of the Gulf of Mexico and the Antilles; Portfolio XXII, No. 51 (Abbott 1477): Map of the Island of Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts)

Analysis and Next Steps

It might be tempting to assume that the book illustrations found in the Fagel map portfolios were torn out of the books that they were meant to illustrate. But the sheets from Nouveau Voyage show that this is not necessarily true. Instead, the Fagels acquired these book illustrations before they were bound and as a supplement to their own copy of Nouveau Voyage.

Further research will reveal if this case study is an anomaly or if it represents larger trends in the composition of the Fagel map portfolios. I have already identified two other illustrations from Nouveau Voyage in Portfolio XXII (no. 45; Abbott 1471) and Portfolio XX (no. 38; Abbott 1364), although I have been unable to link these prints to an original composite sheet. I have also identified another full sheet printed for a different illustrated book, with four prints oriented in the same way as sheet no. 55.

A photograph of a sheet of paper on a blue table showing four black and white prints of a palace and gardens.
Portfolio XXIV no. 5 (Abbott 1523): Prospects of Count de Neidhard’s Gardens at Krichen in Silesia, IX described as lot number 6507 in Bibliotheca Fageliana

Such sheets, in an intermediary state of production between the print shop and the book binder, offer important material evidence of the production and reception of book illustrations in the eighteenth century. While T.K. Abbott’s description of the portfolios from 1900 is an invaluable resource for research on the collection, a modern catalogue would allow for a more systematic analysis of the portfolios and their contents. With more metadata, including information about publishers, printmakers, draughtsmen, and books in which the portfolio prints appear as illustrations, we could continue to build a clearer picture of how the individual sheets in the portfolios are related to one another and to works in the broader Fagel library.

Identified and analysed in this way, the loose book illustrations for Nouveau Voyage in the Fagel map portfolios point to the rich material history preserved in this collection and the importance of these prints for research beyond the history of cartography. When Abbott described the sheet from Nouveau Voyage, he omitted the two plates of flora and fauna from his description, substituting them for an ellipsis: “Isle de la Guadeloupe. L’Isle St. Domingue. . . . Plan du Fort St. Pierre de la Martinique.” Yet the flora and fauna are not only integral to this sheet of maps and to the book that they illustrated. They are also a key to uncovering the richness of the so-called map portfolios. In the eighteenth-century, mapping went beyond description of geography and topography to include other relevant information, from chronology to astronomy. The Caribbean was a contested region, where Indigenous resistance, uprisings of enslaved people, and wars among European settlers and merchants meant that new maps and accounts were always necessary to understand the political, economic, and social order from afar. Collectors like the Fagels leveraged all aspects of the print business to maintain a semblance of control over these shifting circumstances from The Hague. Thanks to their efforts, and the unusual fact that they are preserved intact at Trinity College Dublin, we can, in turn, learn about their world.


Abbott, T.K. Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, to which is added a list of the Fagel Collection of Maps in the Same Library. Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, & Co. 1900, 438-529.

Brown, David. “Developing the Fagel Map Collection.” In Frozen in Time: The Fagel Collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, edited by Timothy R. Jackson, 115-128. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2016.

Montague, John. “John Ogilby’s 1676 Map of London (Fag. Portfolio XV, no. 16). In The Old Library Trinity College Dublin 1712-2012, edited by W.E. Vaughan, 72-76. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013.

Paterson, Samuel. Bibliotheca Fageliana. A Catalogue of the Valuable and Extensive Library of the Greffier Fagel, of The Hague. London: Barker and Son, 1802.

Troelstra, Anne. S. Bibliography of Natural History Travel Narratives. Utrecht: KNNV Publishing, 2016.