Tales from the Archives

Through Tales from the Archives we plan to share with you interesting facts about the history of the V&A and hidden stories from our various archives, keep you informed about our current and future projects, give you sneak previews of our new acquisitions and insights into what it is like to run a busy archive service.

The Victoria and Albert Museum Archives comprise:
The Archive of Art and Design (AAD), which collects, conserves and makes available for research the archives of individuals, associations and companies involved in design and the applied arts
The Beatrix Potter Collections), which constitute the world’s largest assemblage of Beatrix Potter’s drawings, literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and related materials
The V&A Archive, which manages the Museum’s institutional records and supports research into the collections and history of the V&A, and the broader history of art and design.

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NorthCourtSMALL

It’s a cover-up! Interior design at the South Kensington Museum

Something caught my eye in this old photograph of the V&A’s North Court taken in the late 19th century: The North Court in the late 19th century. Museum no. E.1101-1989. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London You may not recognise this space but you’ll have been in it if you’ve seen any of the V&A’s […]

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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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Sent to Nottingham: the diary of a nineteenth-century curator (2)

 “5th JuneInterview with Mr Richards and Mr Fussell long discussion with them about the room in which the collection should be placed opposed Mr Fussell’s plan of placing in the back or work room, saw other members of the committee – and it was finally settled that the collection should be exhibited in the Library […]

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Introducing Enthoven

It is now 90 years since Gabrielle Enthoven’s gift of 80,000 playbills, engravings, photographs, manuscripts and books was accepted by the museum after a decade-long campaign. In life Enthoven was indefatigable, had a considerable public profile and a gift for publicity that earned her the nickname ‘the theatrical encyclopedia’. Since her death she has become […]

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Sent to Nottingham: the diary of a nineteenth-century curator

While looking through an accession of records deposited by the National Art Library in the V&A Archive I came across a diary written by a member of staff who was sent to Nottingham with a travelling exhibition in 1865. In it the writer records his time in Nottingham, including the routine tasks of writing object […]

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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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Courtaulds Textile Design Archive Rehoused

The Archive of Art and Design has just finished moving the Courtaulds archive to a new storage facility in Blythe House. This is great cause for cheer as the new storage makes the collection much easier to access, something that we really want to encourage: it is a truly spectacular resource for anybody studying the development […]

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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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