Campaigns

Rare Books Early Works Conservation & Digitization

Bookcase for a Study, 1826 by George Smith (1785-1828) © RIBA Collections

Bookcase for a Study, 1826 by George Smith (1785-1828) © RIBA Collections

Why is this project a priority?

The British Architectural Collection is the intellectual heart of BALT. There are a number of significant projects we want to undertake to continue its care for future generations and we regard the Rare Books Early Works collection as particularly important. Given their age and popularity as historical references on architecture, design and taste, safeguarding the rare books early works collection is critical and will ensure people who are based in the US and all over the world have access to them.

What is the Rare Books Early Works Collection?

The Early Works Collection is a unique collection of around 4,300 bound vellum and leather volumes published between 1478 and 1840. Together, these volumes represent a priceless record of the development of architectural theory and practice over this period. Given their age and popularity, their conservation is a priority for the Library.
Some of the books in the collection include:

— ‘Summa theologica’ by Saint Thomas Aquinas and printed in 1478, the oldest book in the Library

—  John Shute’s ‘The first and chief groundes of architecture’ (1563), the first work in English on classical architecture

— W.N. Pugin’s ‘Contrasts’ (1836)

— Manuals and pattern books of Sir William Chambers, William Halfpenny, Batty Langley, William Pain, William Salmon, Abraham Swan and Isaac Ware

— Editions of the writings and publications of Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio and Piranesi

Why digitize the Rare Books Collection?

To improve access to, and assist in the preservation of a unique resource.

Access
Most of the Rare Books Collection is available upon request in the Library at RIBA or the RIBA Reading Room at the V&A. digitizing the collection and presenting the results on the web will provide worldwide access to a resource currently only available for personal consultation.

The digitization process will greatly enhance the discoverability and dissemination of the collection. The structure and context of the original book will be retained while the application of metadata and the use of OCR scanning means that enhanced searching against the content of the books will be possible.

Preservation
digitizing book collections can ensure that they are preserved in digital form. While the digital surrogate can never replace the original, it can be preserved to retain the look and feel of the complete original object which will enhance its study as a historical artefact.

To contribute to this worthy cause, please donate through our Giving page.

Composite capital, 1530s by G. A. Master of the Caltrop © RIBA Collections

Composite capital, 1530s by G. A. Master of the Caltrop © RIBA Collections

Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster, London, section, plan and details. Subject from 1402 and image from 1822. © RIBA Collections

Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster, London, section, plan and details. Subject from 1402 and image from 1822. © RIBA Collections

Image of a Corinthian Order illustrated in John Shute’s “The first and chief groundes of architecture” 1563 © RIBA Collections

Image of a Corinthian Order illustrated in John Shute’s “The first and chief groundes of architecture” 1563 © RIBA Collections