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Secretary's letter books

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 9 of 28 in this group

Reference code



Secretary's letter books





Extent & medium

74 vols

Previous reference codes

649 A - PPP [649 LLL not used]

Physical Characteristics

Report on damage to the letter books in 1989:


The Royal Academy has a run of Letter books from 1877 to 1950 (c.100 volumes) which were previously kept in the Store near the Bursary. Copies, in both manuscript and typescript, of all outgoing letters from the Secretary, and occasionally the President, were bound chronologically in Letter Books, although some divisions were made according to subject (eg. Winter loan exhibitions, Schools etc.) Together they make a unique document which reveals the day -to-day running of the Academy in a way which is not duplicated anywhere else.

The books were kept in an alcove in the store room which also contains stationery and exhibition records. Twenty volumes were moved without authorisation, and placed on top of some file boxes, so that when the Friends' dishwasher overflowed in October 1989 they received the full force of the flood when it leaked into the store room. As a result the pages of the books fused together and the bindings became warped, mouldy and infested with book lice. The volumes were sent to be treated as far as was possible by the Data and Archive Damage Control Centre at a cost of £2,185 (incl. VAT) which we are in the process of reclaiming on insurance.

A report follows on the final state of the damaged books:

The following eight books were damaged but have undergone successful repair with loss of only a few pages:

1. 9.11.31 - 11.4.32 5. 7.11.39 - 28.1.41

2. 29.1.36 - 18.2.37 6. 29.1.41 - 20.5.42

3. 7.1.38 - 28.12.38 7. 22.5.42 - 11.11.43

4. 28.12.38 - 7.11.39 8. 10.1.44 - 26.3.45

The following four books have been partially destroyed with loss of over 50% of the letters

1. 26.10.28 - 14.3.29 3. 11.7.32 - 27.2.34

2. 17.2.31 - 23.6.31 4. 18.2.37 - 6.1.38

The following eight books have been completely destroyed

1. 10.4.28 - 25.10.28 5. 25.7.30 - 17.2.31

2. 11.3.29 - 11.7.29 6. 3.6.31 - 4.11.31

3. 12.7.29 - 21.2.30 7. 11.4.32 - 12.7.32

4. 21.2.30 - 16.7.30 8. Bird's Charity 1921-51*

* Bird's Charity is "for or towards the maintenance, support, or benefit of poor and deserving young artists of either sex, who are of good character, of British nationality, and under 33 years of age, and possessed of reasonable diligence and ability..." R.A. Annual Report 1909, p.10. (Administered by PRA, Keeper & Secretary, not by Council.)

The volumes are obviously irreplaceable and tragically the years between April 1928 and February 1934, except for a few months, are now lost. Christie's have valued the destroyed volumes between £10,000 and £20,000,

Helen Valentine


All surviving volumes conserved, 2005.