The collection of prints is extensive and important, comprising many fine and rare works from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, through to 19th century topographical engravings and 20th century works by some of the contemporary exponents of the art.
As a whole they encompass a wide range of media from etchings, mezzotints, engravings and lithographs, to examples of modern screenprinting and photolithographic techniques. In essence, present a very full history of the ‘print’.
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.
Schools and engravers represented are the Flemish and Dutch schools with engravings by Vanmerlen and Aliamet after works by Pieter Bout and Van der Neer; the French school with engravings by Cochin and Picart after works by Vleughels and Le Sueur; the Italian schools of Lombardy, Rome and Venice with engravings by Basire, Bloemaert and Zucchi after works by Aqostino Caracci, Guercino and Tiepolo.
There are also volumes of prints in the Cottonian Collection arranged by subject such as Landscapes and Portraits containing engravings by Altdorfer and Bril, and by Bartolozzi and Dalton after portraits by Piranesi and Holbein. In addition there are volumes that record the work of Reynolds, including different tomes on engravings after the various portraits, and other works.
Particularly personal to the Cottonian Collection is a two volume set entitled ‘A Collection of Prints in Imitation of drawings from celebrated masters’, compiled by the founder Charles Rogers. They include engravings such as a Ryland engraving of a Rembrandt drawing in Reynold’s own collection’, another by Watts of a Van Dyck drawing, and an engraving by Rogers himself of a Van de Velde drawing.
The other strength of the collection is the many 18th, 19th and 20th century etchings, engravings and lithographs of topographical views of Plymouth, its environs and the south west generally. These include works by J.D. Harding, W.J. Cooke, C. Tomkins and M.J. Starling of drawings by W. Daniell, S. Prout, J.M.W. Turner, T. Allom.
Apart from these historical and topographical engravings outlined above there is a growing collection of prints by contemporary British and other printmakers.