16 October 2012 by Dominic Lenton
This book is a rare treasure. I've been trying to get hold of it for years, and once - at an auction in Hay-on-Wye - was even able to handle a copy and quickly leaf through it before carefully putting it back on the shelf: the starting price for the original volume was £1,600! Collectors were dying to own this pre-World War I 1913 blueprint of Europe and its railways, for neither were ever going to be the same again.
The 1910s were not the best times for guide-book publishers, simply because, with the political and administrative map of Europe changing on a nearly daily basis, the guides were bound to get out of date shortly after (or sometimes even before) they saw the light. As a rule, they were never reprinted which made them extremely rare and coveted - if not by their contemporaries, then definitely by bibliophiles and book collectors. To give you an example, "Baedeker's Russia, 1914" had only one edition in English, and the original (if you are lucky to find one) would now set you back five or six thousand pounds (I was fortunate enough to acquire a second-hand reprint edition for £200 about 20 years ago).
George Bradshaw, a Manchester Quaker and engraver of maps and city plans, started his Continental Railway Guides in 1847, seven years after he issued his first ever monthly railway guide to the UK. To oversee the publication of the new title, a special office was opened in Paris. By 1894, the Continental Guides had grown over 1000 pages each (the 1913 one had 1106 pages!) and - alongside train timetables, descriptions of Europe's main countries (plus those of Egypt, Morocco, the Levant and the Holy Land), cities and stations, travellers' tips etc. - they started featuring hand-coloured maps.
All changes were tirelessly monitored from the Paris office, and the latest updates incorporated into monthly supplements. Even by modern standards, it was a very impressive enterprise, and I still find it hard to comprehend how they were able to collate so much data with very limited (by modern standards) early-20th century means of communication and zero information technologies - through pure diligence and legwork.
The 1913 edition contains 382 pages of train timetables, nearly 400 pages of fascinatingly dated ads and over 300 pages of the countries' descriptions and advice for the travellers, like this rather friendly tip for those travelling from Jerusalem to Nablus, Nazareth and Haifa: "For this journey it is usual, and where ladies are concerned absolutely necessary, to employ a dragoman. Not that there are any perils, but travellers replying on their own resources would find the inconveniences very troublesome."
Ownership of this spectacular volume would have remained an unachievable (and utterly unaffordable) dream had it not been for the Oxford-based publishers Old House Books specialising in quality reprints of rare and vintage guides and travel books. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that "Continental Railways" has been reprinted not just thoroughly, but also lovingly, with maps placed in special plastic pockets and even the original bookmark, with an ad of South Eastern and Chatham Railway ("short sea routes to all parts of the continent"), carefully reproduced!
I cannot think of a better present for anyone interested in history and railways. At £25, it is an incredible bargain, promising hours and hours of happy vicarious time-travelling.
Read all about it...
Buy Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide and General Handbook (Old House, £25, ISBN 978-1908402479) at Amazon.
Posted By: Dominic Lenton @ 16 October 2012 05:32 PM General
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