Cottonian Collection Prints

Some 6,000 or so prints of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are contained within the Cottonian Collection, grouped largely by school or subject and mounted in a series of large volumes.

The prints collection dates back to the mid-seventeenth century, when Robert Townson began collecting books, prints and drawings. The collection passed through the hands of William Townson (who also contributed to the collection) and then to Charles Rogers (1711-1784).

Along with drawings, prints were the principal interest of Rogers, who started collecting in the 1730s. By the time of his death it was one of the largest and finest print collections in England. Though a sale in 1799 reduced the collection by around two thirds, it still has some six and a half thousand prints.

The prints were later added to by the Cottons, but it was under Rogers that the collection took shape. Through his lifetime Rogers developed a discerning eye. He frequently changed prints for better impressions. As a result, the collection is extraordinary in scale, scope and quality of content. The prints are mounted in a series of volumes which has contributed to their good condition.

Access the prints online

Imitations of prints and drawings

In addition to his prowess as a print collector, Rogers published ‘A Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings to which are annexed Lives of their authors’. This was published privately by Rogers, in two volumes, in 1778.

The volumes contain some 112 facsimile prints of original old master drawings from Rogers own collection, the Royal Collection and other private collections in England, including that of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Rogers commissioned the leading engravers of the day such as Bartolozzi, Ryland, Basire and others to make copies to appear as close as possible to the original drawings in size, colour and style.

Rogers presented a copy of the publication to the library of the Royal Academy in 1778.

A selection of images from the ‘Imitations’ [PDF]