A Catalogue of Commerce and Art: Bisset’s Magnificent Guide for Birmingham, 1808

1790 - 1810 (c.)

Image: Title page of Bisset’s Magnificent Guide or Grand Copper Plate Directory for the Town of Birmingham

The contents are described as follows:

Comprising the Addresses of the most eminent Public Companies, Bankers, Merchants, Tradesmen and Manufacturers in the “Toy-Shop of Europe” alphabetically arranged in elegant and emblematic Engravings containing upwards of fifty superb Plates with Views of the Principal Buildings etc., exclusive of a view of the Royal Mint and Soho Manufactory.

Dedicated by permission to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales by J Bisset, Author of the Orphan Boy, the Converts and the Patriotic Clarion, etc., etc.

Price Five Shillings or with Proof Plates, Half a Guinea,

Birmingham, Printed (for the Author) by R Jabet, Herald Office, and sold by all Booksellers in the Imperial Kingdom, 1808.


Directories are a source of information about businesses. They list them in alphabetical order or under trades and provide a means of identifying individuals and their economic activities. Most directories for the late 18th or early 19th centuries have few, if any illustrations. One exception is Bisset’s Magnificent Guide or Grand Copperplate Directory for the Town of Birmingham. The Directory was first published in 1800, but the edition of 1808 was expanded with more engravings. A copy of the Directory is held in Birmingham Central Library.

By the early 19th century, businesses were using trade cards to advertise their work to customers. Using copper-plate engravings, the Directory provides a catalogue of collection of images creating a catalogue of Birmingham’s businessmen and women. Bisset’s contains several individual cards with only the names and addresses of professionals, traders, shopkeepers and manufacturers. Others are more elaborate. They are illustrated, often using classical or patriotic motifs, which indicate how the owners wished to present the culture of their business. Rural images also proliferate, frequently used by urban manufacturers. Many engravings present the urban landscape, individual buildings, industrial processes and manufactured products. They provide an insight into how artists presented Birmingham’s architectural and economic life at the start of the 19th century. Malcolm Dick has selected the engravings from Bisset’s Directory of 1808. The accompanying text describes, assesses and places the images in their historical and artistic context.

Browse:   |  
Image courtesy of: Image from: Birmingham Central Library, Local Studies and History
Text by: Malcolm Dick

Continue browsing this section

972-0A Catalogue of Commerce and Art: Bisset’s Magnificent Guide for Birmingham, 1808 84-0Frontispiece to Bisset’s Magnificent Directory 83-0Plan of Birmingham, drawn by J. Sherrif of Oldswinford, late of the Crescent Birmingham 85-0Birmingham Fire Office 86-0Bankers and Public Companies in Birmingham 87-0Physicians, Surgeons, Apothecaries and Chemists in Birmingham 88-0Attorneys at Law in Birmingham 89-0Sword, Gun and Pistol Manufacturers in Birmingham 90-0Mercers, Linen Drapers, Haberdashers, Hosiers and Lacemen in Birmingham 91-0J Taylor, Gold and Silversmith, Jeweller, Tortoiseshell and Ivory Box and Toy Manufacturer, Birmingham 92-0Cabinet Makers, Upholsterers, Gun Makers and Saddlers in Birmingham 93-0Birmingham in Miniature or Richard’s Magazine for the Manufacturers of Birmingham and its Vicinity 94-0Bankers in Birmingham and Businessmen adjacent to Birmingham 95-0Merchants in Birmingham 96-0Miscellaneous Businesses in New Street, Birmingham 97-0Miscellaneous Businesses in High Street, Birmingham 98-0Gun Makers in Birmingham 99-0Inns, Hotels and Taverns and Swinney’s Type Foundry in Birmingham 100-0Factors or Commercial Agents in Birmingham with a view of the Crescent and Wharf 101-0Miscellaneous Professions and Businesses in Birmingham with a View of St Philip’s Church 102-0Miscellaneous Professions and Businesses in Birmingham with Emblems of their Trade 103-0Henry Clay, Japanner, and Artists in Birmingham 104-0Sword Makers in Birmingham 105-0Brass Founders with a view of the Brass House in Broad Street, Birmingham and Miscellaneous Businesses 106-0Toy Makers in Birmingham with a View of the Navigation Offices 107-0Miscellaneous Professions and Businesses in Birmingham with a View of St Paul’s Chapel 108-0Japanners in Birmingham and a View of the Park Glass House 109-0Cards of different Professions and Businesses in Birmingham 110-0Miscellaneous Businesses in Birmingham with a View of the Town from the Warwick Canal 111-0Button Makers in Birmingham 112-0Miscellaneous Professions and Businesses in Deritend near Birmingham 113-0View of Matthew Boulton’s Soho Manufactory and Royal Mint Offices in Handsworth near Birmingham 114-0View of the Eagle Iron Foundry and Mr. Whitmore’s Engineering Works in Birmingham 115-0View of Lloyd’s, New Hotel and Hen and Chickens Inn, New Street, Birmingham 116-0Exterior and Interior View of Jones, Smart and Company’s Glass Manufacturers, Aston Hill, Birmingham 117-0Thomason’s Button and Toy Manufactory, Church Street, Birmingham 118-0View of the Westminster Life and British Fire Insurance Offices, Strand, London, with a List of the Directors. J. Gottwaltz, Birmingham Agent 119-0The Phoenix Fire Office, Lombard Street and Charing Cross, London, with a List of the Directors. J. Farror, Birmingham Agent. 120-0Two Manufacturers, a School, an Engineer and an Inn near Birmingham 121-0Blair and Sutherlands, Gun Makers, Brook Street and Harper’s Hill, Birmingham 122-0Button Makers and other Businesses of Birmingham 123-0View of Birmingham from Aston Wharf with the Names of various Businesses 125-0Miscellaneous Metal Manufacturers and other Businesses in Birmingham 126-0Toy Maker and Japanners in Birmingham 127-0Surveyor, Sutton Coldfield and Coach Spring Manufacturers, Birmingham 128-0A Bookseller and list of Appraisers and Auctioneers in Birmingham 129-0Merchants and Factors in Birmingham 130-0Hepinstall and Parker’s File Manufactory, Ann Street, Birmingham and Walsall, Staffordshire 131-0Miscellaneous Traders, Professions and Manufacturers in Birmingham 132-0Trade Cards for various Businesses in Birmingham 133-0View of Warstone Brewery, Warstone Lane, Birmingham, belonging to Alex Forrest and Sons 134-0Various Toy Makers and Jewellers in Birmingham 135-0Thomas Robinson, Chemist, and Roberts, Jeffery and Co, Button and Toy Manufacturers, Snow Hill, Birmingham
Sources and Further Reading

Adhémar, Jean, Graphic Art of the 18th century (London, Thames and Hudson, 1964).
Bisset, J, Bisset’s Magnificent Guide or Grand Copper Plate Directory for the Town of Birmingham (Birmingham, Printed for the Author by R Jabet, 1808).
Dodsworth, Roger, Glass and Glassmaking, (Princes Risborough, Shire Publications, 1982).
Godfrey, Richard T, Printmaking in Britain, a general history from its beginnings to the present day (Oxford, Phaidon, 1978).
Gray, Basil, The English Print (London, Adam and Charles, 1937).
Hopkins, Eric, The Rise of the Manufacturing Town: Birmingham and the Industrial Revolution, (Stroud, Sutton, 1998).
Hutton, William, An History of Birmingham to the End of the Year 1780 (Birmingham, Pearson and Rollason, 1781).
Mason, Shena, Jewellery Making in Birmingham 1750-1995 (Chichester, Phillimore, 1998).
McCalman, Iain, ed., An Oxford Companion to The Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999). Chapters by Roy Porter, “Consumerism” and David Blindman, “Prints”, are especially useful.
McKendrick, Neil, Brewer, John and Plumb J H, The Birth of a Consumer Society. The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England (London, Hutchinson, 1983).
Porter, Roy, The greatest benefit to mankind, a medical history of humanity from antiquity to the present, (London, Harper Collins, 199