THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

15 posts categorized "Business"

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

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How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Hobbs Oil 1Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Hobbs Oil 2Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Hobbs Oil 3Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Hobbs Oil 4Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

16 February 2018

Fashion fit for a suffragette procession

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White attire detailFebruary includes London Fashion Week and marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women aged 30 or over the right to vote. Suffragette purchasing-power provides an unexpected link between the world of fashion and the fight for women’s right to vote.

In early June 1911, fashion purchasing-power was highlighted as a weapon to be deployed in the struggle to achieve women’s suffrage. Suffragists and suffragettes were preparing for a procession to highlight their cause on 17 June during the Coronation of George V. They were asked to wear white when they took part in this procession.

  Whet Your Weapon article 02-06-1911 cropped                               

 

 Votes for Women, 02 June 1911

 

 

 

Readers of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, which was edited by Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, were urged to buy their outfits from firms that advertised there. ‘If they find it pays them to advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN they will advertise – if they find it doesn’t, they won’t. The more money that flows into the coffers of our advertisement department the better our paper can be made, the wider its influence reaches. Therefore let every woman who believes in this cause never enter a shop that does not advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN, and let her deal exclusively with those firms that do, and inform them why.’

Women who obeyed this call to arms would have had a good choice of items to ensure a suitably modish appearance during the procession. Advertisers enticed them with pictures of dresses, dainty blouses, charming hats, smart coats and hair care products. The procession through London from Westminster to the Albert Hall comprised around 60,000 women from around the world carrying 1,000 banners and stretched for seven miles. One hopes that they also bought the comfortable shoes on offer!

 

   March route detail

                                  Votes for Women, 16 June 1911

 The advertisements below, taken from Votes for Women 1911, give an idea of the heights of elegance that might be achieved.

Charming hats 09-06-1911  

Universal Hair detail

The fashions of the day generally required a good corset. It is fascinating to see how Mesdames I&L Hammond developed their advertisement for their corsets, garments that might now be regarded as instruments of female oppression, to appeal more strongly to suffragettes.

Corset Hammond detail 1

  Corset detail 19-05-1911 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The advertisement on the left comes from Votes for Women for 21 April 1911. The advertisement on the right, from Votes for Women for 26 May 1911, shows how the company had developed its marketing strategy to be in tune with the suffragette cause.

The British Library's Votes for Women online resource highlights many more treasures in the collections that tell the story of the campaign for women's suffrage.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records

Further reading
Votes for Women online resource
Votes for Women, 1911
https://www.findmypast.co.uk/suffragettes/

Untold Lives blogs relating to women's suffrage
Indian Princess in Suffragette March
Emily Wilding Davison: Perpetuating the Memory 
Lord Curzon's Anti-suffrage Appeal
Christmas Crackers and Women's Suffrage
The Women's Co-operative Guild


Untold Lives blogs relating to fashion
Knitting a shower-proof golf coat
Thomas Bowrey's Cloth Samples 
Muslins, Kincobs and Choli Cloths 
Was 'water rat' the new black in 1697?

 

06 February 2018

It has to be Perfect!

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In May 1945 the Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited (BAPCO) wished to appoint a medical practitioner, and it believed that it had found the perfect candidate in a young Englishman.  His name, appropriately enough, was Dr Perfect (full name: Arthur John Strode Perfect).

BAPCO 

From advert in Birmingham Daily Post 17 September 1962 British Newspaper Archive


However, having provisionally selected Dr Perfect for the position, the company was informed by the War Medical Bureau that the matter would need to be placed before the Central Medical War Committee, which held control over the appointment of British medical professionals during wartime.  Prior to reaching a decision regarding Dr Perfect’s selection, the Central Medical War Committee enquired as to whether BAPCO had advertised the post so that medical officers returning from service in His Majesty’s forces would have the opportunity to apply.  BAPCO reluctantly agreed to place an advertisement in the British Medical Journal, but fearing that an extensive selection process would further delay the appointment of a suitable medical officer, the Company sought permission from the Committee for Dr Perfect to proceed to Bahrain as soon as possible.Having received no reply from the Central Medical War Committee, Hamilton R Ballantyne of BAPCO wrote to the India Office on 20 November 1945, asking for its assistance in the matter.  Ballantyne stated that the post was a young man’s task; he pointed out that the Company had gone to some trouble to select Dr Perfect, whom it felt would meet its requirements, and that it was unlikely that it would change its mind following applications from other practitioners.

The India Office responded quickly, for it had reasons of its own for ensuring the appointment of Dr Perfect.  There was in place a policy to maintain as large a proportion of British employees in the American-owned BAPCO as possible.  In a letter to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, Francis Anthony Kitchener Harrison of the India Office stressed the urgency of the situation.  He warned that any further delay to the appointment could result in BAPCO seeking to secure a medical officer from somewhere other than Britain.  Harrison added that the Secretary of State for India was ‘anxious for political reasons to do what is possible to assist the Company to obtain a British Medical Practitioner for their hospital.’ He asked whether it would not be possible for the formalities relating to Dr Perfect’s appointment by BAPCO to be expedited so that he might be able to leave for Bahrain at an early date.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_790IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 790: draft letter from the India Office to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, 23 November 1945 Noc

In a swift and brief reply to Harrison’s letter, the Deputy Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee stated that the case of Dr Perfect had been reconsidered and a decision had been made to withdraw the objection to his immediate appointment by BAPCO. Harrison informed Ballantyne of this decision, and Ballantyne replied, remarking that ‘Dr. Perfect is at last released’ and thanking Harrison for his intervention. Dr Perfect was appointed to the position and travelled to Bahrain, where he was later joined by his wife, Mrs Eleanor Perfect, a state registered nurse.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_787IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 787: draft letter from the India Office to Hamilton R Ballantyne, Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited Noc

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:

PZ 3044/40(2) 'Oil. Persian Gulf. Bahrein. Personnel of Bahrein Petroleum Co. Roster of Employees 1941-', IOR/L/PS/12/384

 

21 December 2017

East India Company Christmas gifts

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Imagine it is December 1858.  A few months ago, the East India Company was replaced by the India Office, a department of state.  Many matters have to be resolved in this period of transition. One issue is whether the India Office will continue the Company custom of distributing Christmas boxes and making charitable donations

George Shipway, head door-keeper at East India House, raised the question of Christmas boxes with the Finance, Home and Public Works Committee.  For many years it had been the Company’s custom to distribute sums amounting to £24 4s 0d.  The money went to about 50 individuals - people connected with the local parish and City ward, tradesmen, servants of East India House, and others. Shipway asked for a continuation of this bounty and was told to make enquiries at other government departments.  He reported back that no Christmas boxes were given the previous year by the General Post Office and the Custom House. The Committee decided that the money should be paid to Shipway in 1858 but the recipients were to be ‘distinctly informed that such grants will not be continued in future’.
 

DustmanA dustman from Richard Phillips, Modern London; being the history and present state of the British Metropolis (London, 1804)   BL flickr Noc

The Committee was then asked to decide about the Christmas gifts formerly distributed by the India Board.  A total sum of £27 16s had been split amongst office keepers, porters, messengers, bookbinders, newspaper boys, men delivering Parliamentary and Lords’ Papers, dustmen, scavengers, lamplighter, glazier, bricklayer, turncock, plumber, oilman, and charwoman.  It was ordered that the cashier should pay the money requested. Christmas boxes amounting to £48 16s 6d were also granted for the present year to staff at East India House – messengers, firelighters, and the housekeeper and her assistants.

Next came a letter from John George Bonner, head of the Military Store Department.  He listed the donations totalling £3 12s 6d which he had usually made at Christmas and asked about their continuance:  Inquest – Leet Jury; Clerk of St Andrew Undershaft; Ward beadle; Bishopsgate beadle; scavenger; lamplighters at Leadenhall Street and New Street.  It was decided that the money might be given again that year but not afterwards.

  Pawnbroker
From The Letters of Charles Dickens edited by his sister-in-law and his eldest daughter (London, 1893)  BL flickrNoc

Charities which had received donations from the East India Company were keen to secure the support of the India Office.  In December 1858 the Lime Street Ward Benevolent Fund and Visiting Society based at 126 Leadenhall Street sent its annual report down the road to the India Office.  The Society provided the local poor with coals, potatoes, shoes, blankets, flannel, and bread, and redeemed pledges for clothes and ‘necessaries’ pawned.

  Lime Street charityIOR/L/F/2/224 no.114 Noc

An accompanying letter said that the East India Company had made donations for very many years and that the Society hoped that the Council for India would continue this. There is a pencilled note that the Company had donated 7 guineas half yearly.  The matter was dealt with in person on 15 December but unfortunately there is no record of what answer the charity was given.

Seasonal good wishes!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/F/2/224 numbers 114, 115, 126, 171, 201, 211 Papers of the Finance, Home and Public Works Committee December 1858

 

26 October 2017

Gardening in the 18th century: a seed shop in North-East England

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Gardening became a popular pursuit in the 18th century. The plants to cultivate rose sharply with new varieties flooding in from abroad, mostly sold as seeds. In the 17th and early 18th century, seeds were sold by greengrocers and street tradesmen but gardening’s increasing popularity meant dedicated seed shops were soon springing up. By the late 18th century most provincial towns had at least one seed shop and many had nurseries too. Seeds were advertised in innovative ways. As well as the usual trade-cards, seed catalogues were printed with sale prices and descriptions of each plant. These catalogues were where most gardeners encountered new plants on offer. All of this is evident in the sole surviving copy of a seed catalogue printed in Houghton-le-Spring, a provincial town near Durham, in 1779: A Catalogue of ...Seeds…with their Season of Sowing, Planting and Culture: Chiefly Adapted to the Northern Climates by seeds-man James Clarke, whom we know little about.

SeedCatalogueTitlePage
This seed catalogue demonstrates the provincial popularity of gardening and the vastly increased demand for seeds outside London. It reveals what plants were grown in northern climates and, in particular, what new cultivars were successfully sold and grown in 1779. A surprising variety of slightly tender fruit is listed, for example. Amongst the assortment of apricots is the Anson's variety – ‘a kind lately introduced into English gardens’. The Brunswick variety of fig described on page 39 was imported from the Mediterranean during the 18th century and is still a very popular cultivar today.

SeedCatalogueFigs
We can also see that gardening was opening up to a wider audience during this period. James Clarke explains in his introductory note that he is ‘deviat[ing] from the common method of seeds catalogues … [his] chief design and wish in this work, is to render the general knowledge of gardening more easily attainable to the young and unexperienced’. He provides thorough guides to growing melons and cucumbers in ‘hot-beds’. Exotic fruits were grown in England long before 1774 but would’ve been a novelty for Clarke’s customers. These guides were indeed unusual. A basic seed list with prices was, as Clarke says, ‘the common method of seeds catalogues’. 

SeedCatalogueCucumbers

So who was James Clarke? He was clearly a shrewd businessman. Providing planting instructions encouraged amateurs to buy his wares, increasing his profit. It also ensured customer success with their seeds, promoting him as a reputable seller. He has, however, proven difficult to trace. Only a marriage license for James Clarke, Houghton-le-Spring, and Elizabeth Purdy survives from 1770. His designation was ‘gardener’, a general term for all those involved in gardens.  

The rise of gardening and its related trades was part of the emergence of consumerism in the late 18th century. Products that were previously seen as essentials were suddenly subject to changing tastes and fashions, fuelling consumer demand and stimulating growth. This little seed catalogue, with its tempting descriptions of growing the latest fashionable exotic crops, is testament to these changes.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

09 February 2017

Not So Strange – the East India Company Chairman in 1814

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Sir Stuart Strange is the Chairman of the East India Company in the TV drama Taboo which is set in the year 1814.  He is an unsympathetic character, calculating and ruthless, prone to ranting, swearing, and grabbing fellow Company men by their coat lapels to get his point across.

But who was the real East India Company Chairman in 1814? Was he at all like Strange? 

The Company's Chairman in 1814 was The Honourable William Fullerton Elphinstone (1740-1834). His memorial tablet in Marylebone Parish Church gave this description of his personality:

He was equally remarkable for sound judgment and decision, united the highest firmness to the utmost kindness of heart, and retained to the latest period of human life the warmth of his benevolence, and the serenity of his temper.

Kind, warm, benevolent and serene – not the model for Sir Stuart then!

Elphistone, William Fullerton

William Fullerton Elphinstone from Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar Noc

William Elphinstone was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 13 September 1740, the third son of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone, and his wife Clementina. At the age of fifteen he went to sea and after a couple of voyages decided on a career in the East India Company’s maritime service. He studied navigation before securing an appointment as midshipman on the Company ship Winchelsea, sailing to India and China 1758-1760. Elphinstone went on to serve as third mate in the Hector and as captain of the Triton, completing his final voyage for the Company in 1777.

In 1774 Elphinstone married Elizabeth Fullerton, eldest daughter of William Fullerton of Carstairs, Lanarkshire, and henceforward became known as William Fullerton Elphinstone. Elizabeth was heir to her uncle John Fullerton of Carberry, Midlothian.

Elphinstone prospered in Company service, aided by the wise investment of a gift of £2,000 from a great uncle. After retiring from the sea, he set his sights on a new career as a Director of the East India Company. He first entered the Court of Directors in 1786 and was elected Chairman in 1804, 1806 and 1814. Considerable patronage was at his disposal - his sons and nephews had distinguished careers in Company service. He received hundreds of petitions on behalf of young men seeking advancement.  In 1806 his ‘very sincere friend’ the Prince Regent wrote to Elphinstone recommending a Mr Farquhar, and in 1817 the Duke of Kent sought clerkships at East India House for two brothers named Dodd.

  Elphinstone IOR D 11 p.135 22 Feb 1826
IOR/D/11 p.135 Minutes of Committee of Correspondence 22 February 1826 Noc

Elphinstone suffered a stroke in 1824 which temporarily deprived him of his powers of speech. In February 1826, aged 85, he informed the Company that he would not stand in the forthcoming elections for Directors because of his state of health.  The Court expressed regret and wished ‘that every possible comfort may attend him at the close of a life the greater portion of which (embracing the unexampled period of 70 years) has been devoted with talents of no ordinary description to promote the interests of the East India Company and to advance the welfare of the inhabitants of the extensive Empire committed to their charge’.

William Fullerton Elphinstone died at Enfield on 3 May 1834 and was buried a week later in Marylebone Parish Church, close to his Harley Street home.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Sir William Fraser, Elphinstone family book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar, vol.2 (1897)
W Bruce Bannerman (ed.), Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica vol V Third Series (1904)

Follow the career of William Fullerton Elphinstone in the records of the East India Company's Court of Directors (IOR/B) and the Committee of Correspondence (IOR/D) - East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

19 January 2017

From Stats Man to Ad Man: Jesse Scott

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The history of advertising is told via great men: in the early 1960s David Ogilvy wrote his Confessions of an Advertising Man and Winston Fletcher recently published his memoir-cum-history Powers of Persuasion. This blog tells of an untold life in advertising: that of a journalist turned statistician, Jesse Scott, whose periodical, The Statistical Review of Press Advertising, is often neglected by social and economic historians of modern Britain.

Contentspage

The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1949 - a problematic year of continuing austerity for the advertising trade when the Labour government sort to restrain proto-Mad Men! 

Jesse Scott migrated to the UK from the US and in 1928 set up a company to publish the American Legion magazine in Europe. This venture failed but his friends put a proposition to him. They noted that advertising in the UK was expanding fast and so manufacturers and the media required new sources of information: why did he not exploit this gap in the market by getting his company to counter all the ‘soft pedal and hush hush about expenditure’? (The Review, I, 1, October 1932.)

From 1932 to 1962 Scott’s company produced hard facts about the hard sell. The Review published figures on advertising expenditure by surveying quarterly all the space given over to display advertisements in national daily, evening and Sunday papers; provincial daily and evening papers; provincial and suburban weekly papers; and weekly and monthly trade and technical periodicals. From 1956 The Review also included expenditure on commercial television.

Example of data

The Review categorised data by product type, brand and firm: note that expenditure on Mars was the highest, and that this would have been a luxury product during the war and post-war austerity as sweets were rationed and expensive.
  

To compute an estimate of total expenditure, Scott multiplied his estimates of space given to adverts by standard market rates for advertising copy. From the 1940s and beyond, social scientists and the Advertising Association used these figures to calculate total expenditure on advertising, adding in non-mass media forms such as posters and direct mail (see Clayton for a critical evaluation of these methods).

Advertisement

The Review generated revenue via subscriptions and from adverts placed by media organisations, such as newspaper groups and advertising agencies as illustrated by this page promoting G. S. Royds Ltd.

By the mid twentieth century expenditure on advertising had become a controversial subject: scholars, politicians and cultural commentators alleged that vast sums were being wasted on puffery. In 1953, for example, Aneurin Bevan, a Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister and de facto leader of left-wing faction within the Party, provoked delegates at the Advertising Association conference by labelling advertising as “evil’—a trade that created a consumer who was “passive, besieged, assaulted, battered and robbed” (Sean Nixon, Hard Sell, p. 164).

Make_Do_and_Mend_Art.IWMPST14924

Make do and Mend - The government also advertised and The Review counted this expenditure which, as in this case of a wartime propaganda poster, presented the anti-thesis to the message of private sector adverts: consume more branded goods.

Scott disagreed with this socialist critique and he used his editorials to argue that advertising had social value: it was, he argued, a means by which consumers gained information about products, and thus a vital component of a dynamic capitalist economy. As an American he was ideally placed to promote advertising, which in the US had become, he claimed, ‘an indispensible element in sustaining economic activity’. Scott believed that if British firms were to compete at home and overseas they had to adopt American methods of selling, and embrace advertising wholeheartedly. Jesse Scott, Stats Man, had become Ad Man, an advocate for advertising.

David Clayton
University of York, UK

Further reading:
The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1932-December 1962 British Library General Reference Collection P.P.1423.clr.
Clayton, D. (2010) ‘Advertising expenditure in 1950s Britain’, Business History, 52, 651-665.
Nixon, S. (2013) Hard sell: Advertising, affluence and transatlantic relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, Manchester).

 

22 November 2016

The business archive of Alan Gradon Thomas

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We’ve met Alan Gradon Thomas before, back in 2013 when my colleague Chantry Westwell came across a festschrift in his honour whilst researching the provenance of a medieval calendar. The recent completion of the cataloguing of Thomas’s extensive business archive seems like a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the esteemed book and manuscript seller of Bournemouth and, latterly, London.

 

Alan Graydon Thomas archive 1

Alan Gradon Thomas archive Noc

 

Thomas was an international dealer in a pre-digital age. He had customers all over the world and all of his business was conducted by letter and telephone, using printed catalogues. It was not uncommon for Thomas to send a catalogue to a customer overseas, receive a letter back some weeks later setting out what the customer wished to buy, only for Thomas to have to write back to say that in the interim he had sold the book or manuscript to another customer.

 

Alan Graydon Thomas archive 2

Three manuscripts purchased from Thomas by the British Library Noc

 

He was a meticulous record keeper and the archive, containing sales ledgers, stock lists, financial records, inventories, papers relating to his superbly researched catalogues, and valuations, spans nearly 50 years. There are hundreds of files of correspondence with his customers, including the major auction houses, important private collectors such as John Wolfson, Sir Karl Popper, Lord Kenyon, Lord Wardington, and Major Abbey, and many of the great collections of the world: the British Library, the British Museum, the Bodleian, the Beinecke, the Folger, the Huntington, and the Royal Library in Brussels, to name just a few. Thomas’s correspondence also contains letters from fellow dealers, and from rare book and manuscript curators, librarians, and experts such as Mirjam Foot, Anthony Hobson, Nicolas Barker, Richard Linenthal, and Christopher de Hamel.

The festschrift alone is evidence of how well Thomas was thought of in the trade. But that high regard is also evident in his being elected President of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association for 1958-1959, during which time he was instrumental in establishing the first London Antiquarian Book Fair. His papers include a large amount of ABA material: committee minutes, annual reports and accounts, newsletters, correspondence, and papers relating to the book fairs.

In turn, Thomas himself had great respect for, and was always very appreciative of, the help of the ‘footsoldiers’ of the trade, the shop assistants and bookroom staff. The archive contains papers relating to collections Thomas ran to mark the retirement of three long serving assistants from Sotheby’s and the British Museum. He assiduously wrote to scores of contacts in the trade to drum up as many financial contributions as possible.

Alan Thomas died in August 1992 “as much an enthusiast - for the arts, literature, the history of ideas and beliefs - at 80 as he was at 20”, as his obituary in The Independent put it.

His archive, given his clientele and the material he dealt with, is an extremely rich resource for those interested in the history and provenance of manuscripts and rare books.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager  Cc-by

Further reading:
Add MS 89159 Archive of Alan Gradon Thomas
Christopher de Hamel and Richard A. Linenthal (eds), Fine books and book collecting: books and manuscripts acquired from Alan G. Thomas and described by his customers on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Leamington Spa: James Hall, 1981)