Nicholas Smith

Title: Archivist
Department: V&A Archive

I’m an archivist based in the V&A Archive where I help manage the institutional records of the V&A and its predecessor organisations. These records date from 1837 to the present day and provide a rich resource for the study of the history of the Museum’s buildings and collections. I enjoy helping researchers navigate these collections and blogging about some of the more unusual moments in the V&A’s long and colourful history.

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Henry Cole and the Swiney Cup

Dr George Swiney (c.1786-1844) seems to have developed some quirky behaviours in later life; fittingly, perhaps, his Edinburgh University MD thesis had been entitled De Insania [On Madness]. According to the obituary published in The Gentleman’s Magazine (July, 1841) He lived in the greatest seclusion, not going out of doors more than five or six […]

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Design Archives Online and the Plastics Age

Harrison & Sons 'Promenade' laminate sample, Jacqueline Groag

By Ruth de Wynter, Project Assistant, Design Archives Online One of the pleasures of working on the Jewish émigré designers project has been exploring the wonderful array of work they produced across disciplines and  threads and themes that emerge; they may have been friends or colleagues (Hermann Hecht was Hans Schleger’s assistant and Jacques Groag […]

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Doing their bit for their (adopted) country

"For vitality eat greens”, poster, Hans Schleger, ca. 1942-1944

By Frankie Alves, Archivist, Design Archives Online One of the main tasks of the Design Archives Online project is auditing, which, broadly speaking, means checking that everything in a particular archive is where it’s supposed to be, and that the catalogue description is accurate – and is a great way of getting to know collections […]

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Henry Cole at the Boat Race

Boat race map

How did your crew fare in yesterday’s Cancer Research UK Boat Race (aka Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race)? After last year’s disappointment, it was a relief (for me) to see the Dark Blues triumph in the men’s race. As Henry Cole (1808-1882), the V&A’s first director, went straight from school at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, to a job as […]

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John Dillon – autograph collector

Nowadays we tend to use the terms ‘autograph’ and ‘signature’ interchangeably. When we ask a celebrity for his autograph, he usually scribbles his personal signature. There is, however, a telling distinction between an autograph and a signature, which the autograph collector Ray Rawlins learned through a frosty encounter with a member of the British aristocracy: […]

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Languages, Sprachen, Yaziki and more in Design Archives

El Al logo, design, George Him, 1966

By Frankie Alves, Archivist, Design Archives Online I studied languages before I became an archivist, and I always get quite excited when I find something in an archive that isn’t in English.  Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of this in the archives of our Jewish émigré designers, so I’ve had a great excuse to break […]

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Henry Cole and the Devil’s violinist

Pencil drawing by Daniel Maclise depicting the debut of Nicolo Paganini

Although I knew that Henry Cole (1808–1882), the V&A’s first Director, was an avid concert-goer with wide ranging musical tastes – from Bach fugues to Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi – I hadn’t expected to find a reference in his diary to the Italian virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini (1728–1840): In the Evening I went with Pyne […]

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Christmas in Design Archives Online

‘Post early,’ poster, Hans Unger, 1964

By Ruth de Wynter, Project Assistant, Design Archives Online When it comes to Christmas shopping, two perennial problems are what to buy and – if you’re not handing over your thoughtful gift in person – getting it in the post in time to reach its lucky recipient. Hans Schleger and Hans Unger, two of the […]

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Introducing Design Archives Online

‘Milling around Lancashire’, photograph, Elsbeth Juda for The Ambassador, 1952

By Alexia Kirk, Archivist and Project Manager, Design Archives Online Having worked in the V&A’s Archive of Art and Design for some years I’ve been lucky to encounter something new, unexpected or fascinating practically every day, among the millions of documents in the thousands of boxes and folders in our stores. It’s also been great […]

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Henry Cole’s “faithful dog”

Experiments with The Model of The Memorial of The Exhibition of 1851

As I was flicking through a copy of Elizabeth Bonython’s King Cole: A picture portrait of Sir Henry Cole, KCB 1808-1882 this attractive watercolour caught my eye: Bonython explains that it shows the quadrangle of the South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was known until 1899) in March 1861. Against the backdrop of the Sheepshanks […]

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