The National Archives holds nearly three million designs registered with the Board of Trade between 1839 and 1991, illustrating a pioneering period of invention and design which spanned various industries. These ranged from medical patents to interior design and textiles.

Images below from our BT collections show a range of designs for household products, medical equipment and agricultural machinery. Designs in these registers take many forms, including drawings, tracings, photographs, samples of cloth (BT 43 contains numerous wallpaper patterns and fabrics by designers such as Christopher Dresser) and occasionally complete artefacts.

Inventions can also be found elsewhere in our collections – our Chancery Rolls contain early specifications for machinery and instruments, even including a patent for a contraption to prevent grave robbing, see below.

Images of early technological equipment can also be found in our Foreign Office files. These include Colossus, the world's first programmable electronic digital computer, which was used by British codebreakers during the Second World War to analyse encrypted messages. You can find more annotated photographs in Discovery, our catalogue, and download them for a small fee.

Find out about the conservation and digitisation of our BT 43 design registers in our online exhibition and in our volunteering pages. Read more in our blog posts about how we are improving online access to the design registers.

Read more

  • Agricultural machinery, 1818

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/c73-30-f2a-agricultural-machinery.jpg

    Catalogue reference: C 73/30 f2a

  • Coffee pot design, 1845

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt45-3-(560)-coffee-pot-design-1845.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 45/3 (560)

  • Leg fracture treatment apparatus, 1845

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt45-4-(654)-leg-fracture-treatment-apparatus-1845.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 45/4 (654)

  • Parachute machine for sweeping chimneys, 1850

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt42-12-(1197)-parachute-machine-for-sweeping-chimnies-1850.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 42/12 (1197)

  • Tailor's measure, 1849-1850

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt45-11-(2020)-tailors-measure-1849-1850.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 45/11 (2020)

  • Teapot design, Christopher Dresser, 1896

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt50-257-(285771)-teapot-design-christopher-dresser-1896.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 50/257 (285771)

  • Hunting spectacles design, 1841-1842

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt42-5-(1420)-hunting-spectacles-design-1841-1842.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 42/5 (1420)

  • The Colossus electronic digital computer

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/fo850-234-the-colossus-electronic-digital-computer.jpg

    Catalogue reference: FO 850/234

  • Patent for moving bookstand

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/c73-26-m20-patent-moving-bookstand.jpg

    Catalogue reference: C 73/26 m20

  • Foot warmer and influenza vapour bath, 1847-1848

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt45-7-(1396)-foot-warmer-and-influenza-vapour-bath-1847-1848.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 45/7 (1396)

  • Patent to prevent grave robbing

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/c73-32-m31-patent-to-prevent-grave-robbing.jpg

    Catalogue reference: C 73/32 m31

  • Moulded glass set design, 1891

    /images/imagelibrary/showcase/inventions/bt50-153-(168130)-moulded-glass-set-design-1891.jpg

    Catalogue reference: BT 50/153 (168130)

This is just a selection. Contact licensing@nationalarchives.gov.uk for more image solutions.

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