At the National Art Library, we aim to provide the best possible access to the V&A’s exceptional collections and this includes making many published works that are out of copyright freely available online. These digitised books can be found on the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library that aspires to provide ‘Universal Access to All Knowledge’.
So far, we’ve digitised and uploaded over 360 texts from across our print collections, prioritising Great Exhibition material and early V&A Publications. However, our selection extends beyond these areas with a range of texts (including exhibition catalogues and trade literature) also digitised for preservation purposes. Texts selected for digitisation are popular, rare or in a fragile condition and digitising them allows us to reduce handling of the physical object whilst greatly improving access. We are thrilled to share a selection of highlights below.
South Kensington and its Art Training. Frank P. Brown (1912)
‘Better it is to get wisdom than gold’
Education has always been one of the museum’s principle aims; to improve the standards of British industry by enriching the imagination and inspiring the next generation. The history of schools of design can be explored using our rich collection of museum publications, government reports, exam papers and prospectuses.
Maiolica. C Drury E. Fortnum (1877)
Publications of the V&A Museum and those of its precursor the South Kensington Museum reveal the development of the museum; its collections, exhibitions and teachings over the past 168 years.
Maiolica was published in 1882 and is part 4 of a series of handbooks published by the South Kensington Museum. These handbooks were designed to enable ‘the public at a trifling cost to understand something of the history and character of the subjects treated’.
Interested in Maiolica? See also Piccolpasso’s digitised treatise on the V&A website.
Find out more about the history of the V&A Museum with the help of our subject guide on the library catalogue.
The Great Exhibition of the World’s Industry: held in London in 1851: described and illustrated by beautiful steel engravings, from daguerreotypes by Beard, Mayall, etc. William Gaspey (1852)
‘Now gone, involved, in ages past away, since time on earth, for nothing will stay, a floating thought, on what was lately seen, and though a fact, yet much more like a dream’ The Year 1851 [a Poem]
You can find significant documentation on the Great Exhibition of 1851 on the Internet Archive, including (but not limited to) official catalogues, prospectuses of the exhibitors, prize-winning essays and exhibition reviews. Many contain detailed illustrations of the galleries, poems, rhymes and accounts of visits to the Crystal Palace.
The English Coach Builders’ Illustrated Record of the International Exhibition (1862)
The Library has collected trade literature since the 19th century and continues to acquire both current and retrospective examples. Our remarkable collection presents a record of the evolution of both advertising and product design (more info here).
Featuring 16 colour plates, The English Coach Builders’ Illustrated Record attests to the importance of illustrations in capturing the attention of prospective purchasers.
We’ve also digitised rare Silber & Fleming catalogues, access the 1880 Illustrated Pattern-Book of Furniture at https://archive.org/details/SilberandFlemingIllustratedPatternBookOfFurnitureCarpets1885
Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: catalogue of the first exhibition. The New Gallery (1889)
The library has a long history of collecting exhibition catalogues of all kinds published by museums and galleries throughout the UK and overseas. Exhibition catalogues are a valuable resource for anyone researching artists and art movements, they also document changing tastes and style trends.
Among our earlier publications is a collection of catalogues published by the Arts & Crafts Society. Founded in 1887, the society sought to elevate the intellectual status of craft by promoting the work of decorative artists. Their exhibitions were instrumental in changing the perception of manufactured objects in the late nineteenth century.
Find out more about the Arts and Design movement (named after the society) on the V&A website.
Monuments arabes d’Egypte, de Syrie et d’Asie Mineure, dessinés et mesurés de 1842 à 1845. Joseph Philbert Girault de Prangey (1846[-55])
Our varied collections encompass a range of formats from miniature books to sizeable elephant folios. This elephant folio of lithographs by the French artist Girault de Prangey records his observations of the Middle East and measures 23 x 26 inches (58 x 66 cm).
All titles that we’ve added to the Internet Archive are available to download in many formats, including PDF and Kindle. You can also search within the text for keywords and click to hear the book read aloud.
In addition to digitising our print collections, the National Art Library also provides access to a range of e-resources, including journal article databases, encyclopaedias, e-books and auction house records. For more information, see links to related blog posts below:
Subscription Art and Design E-Resources (available in the V&A Study Rooms)
You can visit the library in person too! Further information and opening hours at https://www.vam.ac.uk/info/national-art-library