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. I’m currently writing a book about the library of the celebrated eighteenth-century actor David Garrick.

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‘Mouthing for snuff-boxes’: David Garrick, Macbeth and a gold snuffbox

Garrick's snuffbox

Is this a dagger, which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? (Macbeth, II.i.33-34) David Garrick (1717-79) delivered Macbeth’s famous soliloquy 37 times on the London stage between 1744 and 1768. Thomas Wilkes, in A General View of the Stage (1759), attempted to describe the manner of Garrick’s performance, specifically his unrivaled ability […]

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Of objects and labels: Mr Beresford visits the V&A

'Lago Maggiore from Stresa' by Sir Alfred East

The majority of the 50,000 historical correspondence (or nominal) files in the V&A Archive document the acquisition and loan of museum objects. Some, however, contain correspondence and papers of a more general nature. In the file for George Charles Beresford (1864-1938) we find a combination of acquisition papers and visitor feedback, the latter prompted by a […]

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The Early Music Movement and the V&A

Lute

In Britain the adoption of period instruments and historically informed practices (HIP) for the performance of ‘early music’ (generally understood to encompass music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods) dates to the 1970s, with some ensembles, such as the Deller Consort, blazing a trail earlier still. Looking through the concert files in the V&A […]

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Planning a Royal visit: traffic management and crowd control in 1899

Leaving Buckinham Palace

Traffic management and crowd control were uppermost on Sir John Donnelly’s mind when he sat down to dictate a memo to the Vice President of the Committee of Education on 20 April 1899. The foundation stone laying ceremony for the new museum buildings at South Kensington was only four weeks away and Donnelly was concerned […]

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Richard Redgrave (1804-1888): A Reluctant Traveller

Cole and Redgrave

You’d think that the opportunity to travel around Italy at the Museum’s expense, hunting for priceless late Medieval and Renaissance treasures to send back to South Kensington, would have been considered by a nineteenth-century curator as one of the perks of the job. Not so with Richard Redgrave. Redgrave was a painter and arts administrator; […]

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Behind the scenes: The V&A Archives

Explore Your Archive

Monday 17 November (2.00 pm) Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, London W14 0QX The Victoria and Albert Museum invites you to discover some of the amazing stories hidden within its extensive archives as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign Archives across the UK and Ireland are taking part to raise awareness of the value of […]

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New archive subject guide to the India Museum and Indian Collections

2006AH4167

Tippoo’s Tiger – a large wooden semi-automaton of a tiger devouring an unlucky European gentleman – is one of the V&A’s most popular exhibits. In the V&A Archive we’ve seen a growing interest in our documentary holdings relating to the history of the India Museum and growth of the Indian Collections. These holdings include acquisition […]

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Skeletons in the vaults; or, the V&A bone collectors

CIS:4974-1910

The Archive’s S.Ex register makes for interesting reading – but not for the reason its suggestive title may have duped us momentarily into thinking! S.Ex (or School Examples) objects were acquired for the V&A’s Circulation Department between 1882 and 1892, and used largely for still life cases, modelling or anatomical study. Of the approximately 1,200 […]

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Calling all book detectives: Garrick’s Plato

David Garrick

When challenged by an irate David Garrick (1717-1779), the celebrated actor, dramatist and theatre manager, who had discovered that titan of eighteenth-century letters, Dr Johnson (1709-1784), throwing elegantly bound books around his (Garrick’s) private study, Johnson is reputed to have offered this churlish excuse: ‘I was determined to examine your collection and find it consists […]

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International Archives Day: New Art Furniture exhibition 1901 – an ‘exceedingly vulgar show’

Today is International Archives Day (yes, we have our own day!) so I thought I’d use our archives to illustrate one of the more controversial episodes in the V&A’s otherwise long and distinguished history of object collecting and display. ‘An exceedingly vulgar show’ (The Times) ‘Ill-mannered specimens of upstart art … the delirious art of men […]

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