The Railway Map of Sweden

Today’s entry is dedicated to all Swedish railway enthusiasts and all enthusiasts of Swedish railways. Here is the Railway Map of Sweden.

Printed on the 8 August, 1898, a somewhat surprising 3,100 copies were made. The order was placed by fellow Edinburgh publishers Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. at this time located at Causewayside, incidentally the area where Bartholomew themselves moved in 1911.

It is not clear why Ballantyne required the map, or indeed where it ended up. What is clear however is that this is a particularly niche item surely appealing to a very limited market. Therefore, the rapidity between the order and the printing is somewhat astonishing – a mere 12 days. That might not sound a lot but consider how many people would have had access to such data at the time, then add to that the need to engrave it onto a copper plate, undergo the entire printing process (in this case requiring four separate printings for each of the four colours) and then dispatching it. But this is revelatory of one of Bartholomew’s greatest strengths, they cheated.

Scandinavia was a very popular tourist destination at this time, a fact borne out by the amount of material Bartholomew printed relating to tours and trips there. There are 7 items printed during 1888-97 for tours with the Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Company, surely as fun and glamorous as they sound, 10 items printed from 1893-96 for tours with the North of Scotland & Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company and 23 other maps all relating to Scandinavian holidays. In other words, Bartholomew already had an armoury of maps onto which they were easily able to superimpose the railway information required. Cheating, well maybe, but canny, yes.

But, as ever, there is more to this map than at first meets the eye and in this case it comes in the form of some interesting details regarding the Swedish railway system.

Who knew that Sweden’s railway infrastructure was the best in Europe at this time? It remains the world’s 20th most extensive network and includes one of the oldest electrified stretches still in use in Europe, the Roslagsbanan. However, the average speed of 24mph is mockingly laughable by today’s standards, a much more exciting 155mph.

I conjecture that the map was possibly conceived of as a model for improvements in the British system, either an aspirational ideal or a disparaging equivalent. But on this I cannot be sure, personally, I just like the improbability of its existence.