On the Map Collection

On November 25th 1802, Count Ferenc Széchényi (1754-1820) signed a deed by which he donated his collections, including his map collection, to his mother country. Whereas national libraries in Western Europe were mostly formed from royal or princely collections, in Central Europe they were mainly established based on public or private initiatives.
In Hungary, an enlighted aristocrat, Count Ferenc Széchényi was developing, at his own expense, a grand hungarica collection in the 1790s which became the foundation of the national library. Supporting the function of the new library, Count Széchényi took over the liabilities of issuing catalogues of his donated collections. These were separate catalogues of printed books, manuscrips, the catalogue of coins, and last but not least, the catalogue of maps, engravings and coats of arms.

The catalogues of books and manuscipts were still issued when the Count was still alive, however, the catalogue of maps, engravings and coats of arms were not,  not even in the subsequent decades. Having realized this shortcoming, during preparing for the bicentennial of the national library’s foundantion (2002), it has been decided to fill in this gap. As a first tangible result of description works, the first volume of the map catalogue was issued in 2002 comprising descriptions and photoillustrations of manuscript maps and atlases. In 2011, the works of many years for cataloguing of the much larger, printed part came close to completion and to the editorial phase. This stage of process inspired an idea of an exhibition series on the founder’s map collection which, at the same time, underlies this virtual, on-line show.

The map collection of Count Széchényi can be rated as a huge ”world atlas” or using a term of map history, a cosmographical atlas which involves geographic and topographic maps as well as other cartographic representations of different larger and smaller parts of the whole world, and maps of uncommon, particular topics.

The cosmographic collecting habit of Count Széchényi might be one of the reasons why only a smaller portion of this ”world atlas” is hungarica and that his map collection does not correspond to valuations having been emphasized the library’s hungarica specialty. The prominently non-hungarica character of the founder’s collection might also contribute to a lesser interest in the library since its foundation  during some 200 years in exploring, cataloguing and publishing of the non-hungarica section of Count Széchényi’s map collection.

To ascertain the size of the collection, the amount of works belonging to it has not been totally settled. According to contemporary records, Count Széchényi established and donated a collection of some 6,000 map sheets to be commensurate with larger collections in Europe. The catalogue of maps, engravings and coats of arms compiled and according to written sources was ready to be published in 1820 has not survived, its fortune or whereabouts are unkown.

Moreover, the original collection has been segmented, partly dispersed, therefore, exact data cannot recently been provided. Our surveys on the size of the collection have been so far able to indentify some 2,700 works of the original founder’s collection which add up approximately to 3,400 map sheets. 

Count Széchényi donated his private map collection in two parts to the nation. In 1802, a smaller part of mostly hungarica maps and in 1819, a much larger one having been held in the library of his residency in town Sopron. In his donation deed, the Count also pronounced his determination in keeping on adding to his collections. Besides, his son, Count Lajos Széchényi (1781-1855), according to his father’s will, set up considerable fund for same objectives in 1827. The maps purchased for the national library in latter years of the 19th century accordingly became an integral part of the original Széchényi map collection donated once by Count Ferenc. These conditions have not facilitated our efforts in ascertaining on the size of the original founder’s collection. As we possess incomplete lists of the original collection and as the maps purchased after 1802 and 1820 having been in general marked still with the original Széchényi property stamp until 1849, the publishing dates of the individual maps give only assistance in determining when they were bought and arrived the collection.

The map collection of the Széchényi family commenced collecting once by Count Ferenc and then by his decendent is still the decisive, foundational part of the national library’s map holdings. This base collection, with many important, valuable maps of general map history deservedly contributes to enhancing the prestige of the more than 210 year-old national library.