Before Isotype

Throughout his life Otto Neurath collected historical graphic material. Ranging in date from the 17th to the 20th century, the collection includes both printed and original works of art, as well as maps, city plans, battle scenes, educational toys, plates from encyclopaedias and much else. Neurath explicitly considered some items as precursors of Isotype, while others probably appealed to him for their simplified graphic style alone.

Little is known about when or where Neurath acquired this material. Some of the maps, plans and battle scenes were collected before 1940 in Vienna or The Hague. Other items, many with an educational bias, were probably purchased in Oxford and London after 1940. Neurath intended to use some of this material to illustrate his visual autobiography From Hieroglyphics to Isotype.

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'Modesty' rebus card

Rebus cards, also known as hieroglyphic puzzles, were much in vogue in the 18th century. They were generally used to educate children by presenting a message in which some of the words are replaced by pictures. This card is from a series of ten and describes a young girl's beauty.

London: J. Wallis

Phenakistoscope disc
About 1835

The Phenakistoscope was a precursor of moving image film. To operate the disc, it was first placed vertically on a stand, with the picture side facing a mirror, then spun rapidly. Looking through the revolving slits from behind, a viewer would see (in the mirror) the disc's multiple static images merge into a single moving image, in this case of a man ringing a bell.

Possibly France

Scissor-cut silhouette
Probably 19th century

Scissor-cut silhouettes became fashionable across Europe in the 19th century. Subject matter included portraits in profile, and rural, urban and domestic scenes.


Slave ship
About 1800

This picture by Schmuzer is based on an earlier version of the slave ship Brookes (1789), which was used as evidence by the Wilberforce Committee in its petition to abolish the slave trade. The ship's deck plan, as shown in this print, was reproduced in an Isotype chart of 1935 showing slave transport to America and in Otto Neurath's Modern Man in the Making (1939).

Jacob Xaver Schmuzer
From an encyclopedia section of miscellaneous objects ('Verm[ischte] Gegenst[ände]')

Vienna town plan
About 1740

This is one of many historical town plans collected at the Social and Economic Museum of Vienna. Its title translates as: 'The imperial-residential and capital city Vienna, together with its suburbs in an accurate plan and prospect'.

'Die Kays. Residentz - u. Haubt-Stadt Wien, nebst den Vorstætten in einem accuraten Plan u. Prospect'. Hand-coloured copperplate engraving. Credited as 'designed and published by H.E.'

Battle scene
About 1650

Prints depicting battle plans and scenes were mainly intended to show strategic planning in warfare and the size of armies. Otto Neurath reproduced a detail of this plan in his book International Picture Language (1936).

Carlo Cappi
From Matthäus Merian, Theatrum Europaeum, Frankfurt am Main

Statistical chart of the Great Exhibition

This chart was presented to subscribers of London's Weekly Dispatch newspaper. Its various graphs show daily fluctuations in the number and class of visitors, and door receipts, at the Great Exhibition between May and October 1851.

Corporals J. Mack and A. Gardener of the Royal Sappers and Miners
Published by R. J. Wood at the Weekly Dispatch office, 139 Fleet Street, London, 4 January 1852


Recent research projects

October 2019 |

Remarks to Bildfabriken exhibition opening

January 2018 |

Recent publishing

January 2017 |

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Information in time and place

Eric Kindel |

From hieroglyphics to Isotype, book launch remarks

Burke, Kindel, Kinross |

'Isotype revisited'

Isotype revisited |

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