State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 56 Spring 1995


Prospectuses for The Great London Exhibition of 1851

In 1860, a rare sixteen-volume set of prospectuses was presented to the State Library of Victoria by a Captain Tyler of the Royal Engineers. The sets were created as a result of the London Great Industrial Exhibition of 1851 when exhibitors were asked to send in 50 copies of their prospectuses for distribution to public libraries, particularly in the colonies.1 The donor was probably the same Lieut. Henry Whatley Tyler RE who seems to have had responsibility for assembling the prospectuses.2 He was one of several Royal Engineers called upon by Henry Cole to assist with the organisation of the Great Exhibition. The Library's set appears to be in very good condition with few items having gone astray.
In all, prospectuses were received from 876 exhibitors,3 most of whom were British or French. Not all exhibitors sent in 50 copies of their material, hence some sets are incomplete.4 The form of the prospectuses varied considerably, from simple business cards or single sheets to lengthy booklets of up to 180 pages. The contents also varied widely and included price lists, illustrated advertising sheets, lengthy essays, testimonials and heavily illustrated guides. These were then bound in an octavo form within their classes, the larger items folded to fit, and small items, such as business cards, simply stuck on to an inserted page.
The illustrations and descriptions of patented wonders are everything one expects from the Victorians at their first international industrial exhibition. Selected at random, the prospectuses include descriptions of Royal symmetrical corsets, Henry Edwards' highly esteemed custard, the Birtan coat of “great novelty and utility”, Collins's patent disinfecting powder for the instantaneous destruction of offensive smells and for purifying the air, Miss Readhouse's original lunar model, Weir's improved irrigator, liquid manure pump, garden and fire engine, and Richard Garrett's two-horse-power improved thrashing machine.

From Exhibition of the works of all nations, 1851: prospectuses of exhibitors Vol. X

The arrangement of the prospectuses follows that of the exhibition. They are grouped in four categories entitled Raw materials, Machinery, Manufactures and Fine arts. Within these categories, they are arranged alphabetically in 30 classes and, in some cases, parts of classes. Manufactures is the largest of the categories with twenty classes such as Silk and velvet; Paper, printing and bookbinding; and Cutlery, edge and hand tools. Two of the smaller classes in this category, Cotton and Manufactures from flax and hemp, were omitted from the compilation of the series for no apparent reason.

From Exhibition of the works of all nations, 1851: prospectuses of exhibitors Vol. XVI

By way of an index, the first volume lists all of the exhibitors alphabetically within their classes and identifies the volume number where their material may be found. Each volume also contains a list of the exhibitors whose material is contained in it. Although the prospectuses do not necessarily indicate which items have been exhibited, the comprehensive indexes in the first volume of the Official descriptive and illustrated catalogue (London, 1851) are useful as additional tools for locating the prospectuses of individual exhibitors.
The Library also holds a microfilm copy of the set of prospectuses held by Reading University Library in England.5 While several libraries in Australia hold the prospectuses on microfilm, the only other original set listed on the Australian Bibliographic Network is held by the University of New South Wales.
Catherine de Courcy
Librarian in the Research Section of
the La Trobe Library


Official descriptive and illustrated catalogue, supplementary vol. London, [1852], p. 171.


‘The report upon the collection of trade circulars ordered to be formed by the Royal Commissioners’, Official descriptive and illustrated catalogue, supplementary vol. op.cit., is signed by Lieut. H.W. Tyler. The 1860 Army list (London, H.M. Stationary Office) includes only one Capt. Tyler in the Royal Engineers.


‘The report upon the collection of trade circulars …’ op. cit.


Exhibitors that did not send in 50 prospectuses are identified by an asterisk in the list contained in volume 1.


Exhibition of works of industry of all nations, 1851: prospectus of exhibitors [microform] and Exhibition of the works of industry of all nations, 1851: a guide to the microfilm collection. Ann Arbor, Mich., U.M.I., 1991.