Herbert Somerton Foxwell and the Goldsmiths’ Library: A Brief History

Foxwell as Bibliophile

Despite the heavy demands of his academic calling, Foxwell’s real passion was always for the hunting and gathering of books, particularly in the field of economics. He was a dedicated book-collector and bibliophile, and, even more than this, an instructed and deeply informed collector, not simply as a bibliographer but as an eminent scholar in the field.

Whenever and wherever he could, he hunted books with energy and skill. He used lunch hours, periods between lectures, and holidays to haunt bookshops and street book-stalls. No present pleased him more than a book.

Yet Foxwell was far from wealthy and this fact makes it even more extraordinary that ‘hemanaged to carry on as one of the largest scale book-collectors in the world’, as Keynes phrased it in his obituary. It is indeed extraordinary, but it must be remembered that Foxwell was not collecting in a high-priced field.

While others were after treasures, Foxwell was spending far less. His first purchase was Lardner’s Railway Economy, which he bought in 1875 for 6d, and it was certainly not the only one to cost so little.

Since Foxwell’s collecting was in large numbers of small purchases which were often cash transactions, there are few records of his dealings with booksellers. He would sometimes dispose of unwanted books by selling them; and it is known from a letter of 22 July 1901 to E.R.A. Seligman, that he did at times send such books to one bookseller.

“The Goldsmiths’ Company have bought my library“, he wrote. “If it finds a home near me I, shall probably sell my duplicates shall probably sell some ‘triplicates’ in any case. I have an arrangement with Wm. Muller, 59 Castle Street East, Oxford Street, W., by which I hand them over to him; to avoid disputes between would-be purchasers. I will tell Muller to send you his catalogues.”

Foxwell, a true book lover, took a special interest in the physical quality of his books and in their provenance. He frequently bought a second or third copy of a book which had an important history, and the fly-leaves of many volumes in the Goldsmiths’ Library contain his interesting notes on their provenance.

Foxwell described the Library as:

[A] collection of books and tracts intended to serve as the basis for the study of the industrial, commercial, monetary and financial history of the United Kingdom, as well as of the gradual development of economic science generally.

 

Foxwell, Goldsmiths and Kress

Professor Foxwell made four collections during his life time, two major and two minor. The first major collection is the nucleus of the Goldsmiths’ Library, sold in 1901, and the first minor collection presumably consists of the books added to the collection between 1901 and 1913.

The two other collections were ultimately combined to form the nucleus of the Kress Library of Business and Economics at Harvard University.The database Making of the Modern World and the microfilms behind it, the Goldsmiths-Kress Library of Economic Literature, combine the collections.

 

Goldsmiths’ LIbrary Room

Until 1937, inadequate premises in South Kensington rendered it impossible to house the Goldsmiths’ Library properly. In that year, the Goldsmiths’ Library was installed in the Goldsmiths’ Library room in Senate House, then an impressive new building in Bloomsbury. The room was built and beautifully furnished by the generosity of the Goldsmiths’ Company. The architect of the Senate House and Library was Dr Charles Holden, who always took particular and justifiable pride in the Goldsmiths’ Library room.

Measuring 87 feet by 33 feet and seating 80 readers, the room is fitted with glazed bookcases of English walnut which line the walls and, projecting into the room, form bays between which are built 8 study carrels. The ceiling is of South American cypress wood with panels framed in gold. The windows are glazed with hand-made rectangular Norman slabs and at the south end, a stained glass window by Bossanyi. Over the entrance is an inscription recording the presentation by the Company of the collection in 1903 and of the room in 1937.