The Book Library’s Special Collections consist of a number of bequests from former members of staff of the Institute and scholars who have been associated with The Courtauld over the years. There is also a general collection comprised of rare and fragile material.
Are the special collections (CABS) only old material?
No, they currently develop in three ways: through further small donations of rare and/or complementary material; through transfers of old, fragile, and rare material from the main library stacks; and through the acquisition of new material whose format or cost warrants inclusion in closed access rather than storage on the open shelves. Also, in order to keep a bequest together, there may be considerable amounts of more recent material that is retained in special collections because of the importance of that person’s library in its entirety.
Our general requirements for inclusion in CABS are listed below.
- Published before 1850
- Containing complicated, fold-out illustrative material
- Consisting wholly or partly of loose plates/leaves in a box, folder, or other unusual format.
- Containing original engravings, etchings, woodcuts or other plates, autographs of famous people
- Price to us at initial purchase or high replacement cost because of rarity
- Bound with unorthodox binding materials – e.g. sandpaper, plexiglass, vinyl, velvet, satin, tissue paper – which might be easily damaged or damage other books on the open shelves
- very small (under about 10cm) books or 3-D objects/multiples
majority of the items held in Special Collections are accessible through the card catalogue or the computer system. All material acquired since 1992 is available through the Book Library’s online catalogue and can also be searched using COPAC.
Paul Gauguin. Noa Noa. Munich, 1926
The Book Library also holds archives bequeathed to it mostly by former members of staff. The largest collections are research papers of Anthony Blunt, Johannes Wilde and T.S.R. Boase; but there is also correspondence by Lord Lee of Fareham, one of The Institute founders; correspondence and diaries of the artists Augustus Callcott, Philip Wilson Steer and James Duffield Harding, as well as, the architect Philip Webb. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request more complete lists of the archives. Alternatively, the archives are listed on AIM25 for archives in the London and M25 area.
Consulting Special Collections material
Researchers are advised to read the Guide to the Special Collections [PDF] or the Archives Guide [PDF]
for information on admissions before visiting the Library. Please also check the computer catalogue to ensure the titles you wish to see are available. Material from the archives needs to be requested at least one week in advance and can be viewed on Tuesday, Thursday or Fridays. Books from the Special Collections can be ordered on the day by completing the request form.
The collection times for special collection and archive requests are as follows:
10.30, 14.15, 17.00 Monday-Friday
11.00, 14.15, 16.00 Monday-Friday
Readers are asked to take great care when handling items from the Special Collections as items are often in a fragile condition. All material must be consulted at the special collections table by the issue desk. Book rests are available in the Library and readers should only use pencil when making notes. Photographing from Special Collections material (without using a flash) is permitted for private research and study. Photocopying may be permitted on the advice of the librarian, depending on the age, condition and size of the item.
COPYRIGHT IN THE SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
We permit photographs to be taken of material in the archives and special collections only for private study. The Courtauld Institute of Art holds the copyright of the Anthony Blunt material held in the archives and we are able to grant permission for use in publication. However, that is the only copyright we hold and cannot, therefore, authorize publication of images taken from our archives or collections. We do not trace copyright for researchers. Publishers will expect authors to obtain copyright permission to publish and the responsibility to provide evidence of having obtained that permission lies with the author. It is also the author’s responsibility to obtain publication-quality images. We do not provide scans or transparencies.
The copyright holder determines how images are credited in publications. If you wish to acknowledge in a note that the material is held at The Courtauld Institute of Art, please use the following pattern Collection reference number, Book Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, for example CIA/AFB/2/3, Book Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art.
General Collection (CABS)
The CABS collection comprises approximately 3500 items acquired either by donation or purchase since the Institute was founded in the 1930s. The subjects covered reflect those of the Book Library in general, i.e. art and architecture in the Western tradition from classical times to the present day. The collection includes books, exhibition and sales catalogues and pamphlets published between the 16th-century and the present day. Noteworthy items include a copy of the first illustrated edition of Vasari's lives (1568), Galleria Giustiniani (163-?), Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus (1715) and Piranesi's Vedute di Roma (1748).
Professor Anthony Blunt (1907-1983) was Director of the Institute from 1947 to 1974. His library comprises approximately 700 antiquarian volumes, the earliest dating from the 16th-century and a similar quantity of 19th- and 20th-century material. Particular strengths include Italian Baroque architecture and 17th-century French art and architecture.
A general art historical collection bequeathed to the Institute by Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978). The collection reflects Seilern's art collecting activities, especially Venetian artists of the 16th- and 18th-centuries and Peter Paul Rubens.
The Book Library received, through the Somerset House Art History Foundation, the library of Professor John Shearman, who was Charles Adams University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University when he died in 2003. He was a distinguished scholar of Italian Renaissance art and served as Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art from 1974 – 1979, and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute in 2000/2001. His library contains substantial resources about Renaissance and Baroque art, including catalogues raisonné of Italian painters and approximately 200 monographs about Raphael, about whom he collected any substantive books and articles.
A project, generously funded by the Foyle Foundation has made it possible to catalogue his bequest (although not entirely completed). This project complements the bequests of Anthony Blunt, Johannes Wilde (Shearman’s thesis supervisor) and Antoine Seilern, bringing the study resources for the Renaissance and Baroque periods up to the 21st century. His texts are often annotated and a large number have been inscribed to him by colleagues and peers, helping to build the picture of his network, his influence, and the regard his peers had for him. This is a list to date of the scholars who have inscribed works to him Authors' inscriptions to John Shearman.
Professor Johannes Wilde (1891-1970) was Deputy Director of the Institute from 1948 to 1958. The particular strengths of his library include Renaissance art, Michelangelo, 16th-century Venetian painting and Florentine art.
The collection reflects the scholarly interests of Dr. Frederick Antal (1887-1954), a former lecturer at the Institute. Particular strengths include British 18th- and 19th-century artists including Hogarth and Fuseli.
Dr. Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase (1898-1974), Director of the Institute from 1937 to 1947, bequeathed his collection to The Institute. The items in this collection are mainly concerned with the history of the Crusades, Islamic and Christian monuments and architecture in the Middle East. The collection also includes some 19th-century travel guides.
There is an extensive collection of portfolios that reflects the subjects contained in the book collections. They range from reproductions from museum collections to architectural series on chateaux in France; from Byzantine wall paintings to publications of the Dürer Society; from embroidery to the drawings of Hans Holbein. This collection is not on the online catalogue and requests require advance notice.
conserving special collections material
As part of a project that began in 2003, the Book Library was able to have some of the most badly damaged books in the Anthony Blunt bequest conserved.
M. Vitruuii Pollionis, viri suae professionis peritissimi, De architectura libri X ... / Vitruvius. 1550
Here are some of the before and after pictures of work that was done which helped retain the bindings on some of the antiquarian books. Bindings are valuable because they can reveal so much about where and when a book was bound or re-bound. And they can, sometimes, show who owned the book based on the armorial decoration or other clues contained on the pastedowns and end papers within the book.
Cours de peinture par principes / composé par
Mr de Piles. 1708
If there are books in CABS that need re-binding, we invite the binding firm we employ and conservators who have worked with us before to give us quotes for the work that would be required. This often costs more than our budget can absorb. If the binding is so damaged that it cannot be saved or if we believe the binding holds no secrets that may be of interest to researchers in future, we may go ahead and have the book re-bound in a completely new binding. But if we think the binding should be preserved, we need to fundraise to pay for the repairs.
We are vigilant about the condition of the collection and are always watching for material that may need attention. Our books remain available to researchers by ensuring that good practice with regards to preservation is followed in CABS and that the books are handled with care when consulted.
Art historians are accustomed to provenance research when it comes to works of art, but the custodial history of books is also a growth area of interest. Researchers look at the books in an historical figure’s library to see how ideas were transmitted, patterns of ownership and readership, as well as how owners engaged with their books.
CABS contains the bequests described above, but within those bequests there are often books that had interesting lives even before they ended up on our donors’ shelves. There are a number of ways that we can trace some of our books’ histories.
For advice about provenance research on books in CABS click here.