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Image of page from Bisset's magnificent directory

Bisset's Magnificent Guide

  • Miscellaneous Professions in New Street. View of the Theatre Royal and Bisset's Museum.
  • Two cherubs hold a scroll listing numerous businesses in New Street, Birmingham
  • Published by James Bisset (1761 - 1832)
  • Engraving by Francis Eginton (1775 1823), Ashsted, Birmingham
  • Printed by R. Jabet, Herald Office
  • 146 x 228mm (5¾ x 9in)

This finely engraved illustration is from an 1808 edition of Bisset's Magnificent Guide, or Grand Copperplate Directory, For The Town of Birmingham: comprising the addresses of the most eminent Public Companies, Bankers, Merchants, Tradesmen, and Manfacturers in this "Toy-Shop of Europe", priced at five shillings.

Bisset arrived in Birmingham from Scotland, his land of birth, at the tender age of thirteen to acquire the skills of a miniature painter. Over time he succeeded in achieving a position of prominence in Birmingham's business and cultural society and contributed to the latter by establishing a museum and picture gallery in New Street close to the Theatre Royal in the centre of town.

Bisset's trade directory is one of the most famous to be associated with Birmingham. Superbly produced to promote the industry and commerce emerging in a rapidly flourishing Birmingham it had an abundance of exquisitely produced copperplate engravings and fully justified the opinion expressed at the time "that the work would be, both useful, elegant,and ornamental".

In the opening pages of the publication Bisset describes how he financed the project:

The author required no money till the plates were finished; and the charge for engraving Single Adresses in a general plate, was 10s 6d; - half a plate, five guineas; - or a whole plate, 10 guineas: and various designs are inserted at one and two guineas each. Thus every gentleman had an opportunity of having his address inserted in the work at whatever price he pleased; and by paying for the engraving, it has enabled the author to lay a magnificent work before the public for only 5s which, otherwise, must have cost nearly 50.

Image of Bisset's museum

In the above detail, Bisset's Museum is the building on the left while on the right is featured the Theatre Royal - a poster announces production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It".



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