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 researching the dispersal of the library of the celebrated eighteenth-century actor David Garrick.

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David Garrick

Calling all book detectives: Garrick’s Plato

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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The Children’s Room: ‘An interesting experiment’

Today we take it for granted that our museums and galleries offer their young visitors diverse and engaging learning activities and programmes designed to fire their creativity and imaginations.At the V&A, we want families to come and explore, enjoy and be inspired by our wonderful collections and spaces. In the early twentieth century, however, museums […]

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Cleopatra’s Needle

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;Purple the sails, and so perfumed thatThe winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and madeThe water which they beat to follow faster,As amorous of their strokes. So Shakespeare imagined […]

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A Musical Interlude: Henry Cole and Matthew Digby Wyatt

With the London Handel Festival due to start in early March I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite documents in the V&A Archive to get us (well, me!) in the mood: a set of ink drawings of historical musical instruments by the architect and art historian Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877). Henry Cole (1808-1882), the […]

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Captain Fowke’s pontoons

As I was leafing through an early volume of the V&A Archive’s collection of Photographic Guardbooks the eclectic parade of historical treasures passing before me was suddenly interrupted by a seemingly incongruous gallery of Royal Engineers testing collapsible pontoons in the Museum grounds! What possible reason could there be for pasting these photographs into the Guardbooks, I […]

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Victoria and Albert Museum – what’s in a name?

Few museums in the world can have traded under as many names as the V&A in the first 50 years of their existence! The iconic building that we recognise today as the V&A opened in 1909; however, the museum can trace its physical footprint at South Kensington to 1857, and its intellectual roots to 1837. […]

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What lies beneath: Foundation stones and time capsules

On 17 May 1899 Queen Victoria travelled in a semi-state open landau the short distance from Buckingham Palace to South Kensington to lay the foundation stone for the new Victoria and Albert Museum buildings designed by the architect Aston Webb (1849-1930). Part of the elaborate ceremony included the placement of an oblong casket, made of […]

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Queen Victoria’s Trowel

In a well-known quotation, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) advises the poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) that ‘when you come to Royalty, you should lay it [flattery] on with a trowel’ (1). Flattery was much in evidence on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s laying the foundation stone of the new buildings at the Victoria and […]

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Behind the scenes: The V&A Archives

Saturday 16 November (10.00 am) Monday 18 November (10.30 am and 2.30 pm) Blythe House, near Olympia, West London Due to the high demand for tickets, we are delighted to offer an extra session at 10.30 am on Monday 18 November. The Victoria and Albert Museum invites you to discover some of the amazing stories […]

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