A visit to Goldsmiths’ Hall Library

By Clare Ransom


A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to the library at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London. During my degree course I had heard about the library as a place for research and a source of images and resources. Although I have often visited the Assay Office round the back of the building, and been to various events in the Hall, I hadn’t actually crossed the threshold of the library until an invitation to pop in was given during Goldsmiths’ Fair last autumn. However this visit was cut short before I’d really begun when, embarrassingly, my mobile phone disturbed the peace and I had to make a speedy exit – the perils of leaving one’s stand unattended!

A month or two later I arranged to make a proper visit. I was travelling up to London with some Hallmarking to do and had some time to spare. Eleni Bide showed me round.

The library is situated opposite the top of the left main staircase of Goldsmiths’ Hall. It is a beautiful panelled room; bookshelves packed with historic tomes, reading tables and chairs, and the reverent quiet you might expect in a place of study. It might be a little intimidating for the cautious first-timer, but don’t let this put you off – you will be made most welcome.

The Goldsmiths’ Hall library is open to researchers and visitors from Monday – Friday from 10.00am until 4.45pm, at Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London, EC2V 6BN.

If you would like to make an enquiry or arrange an appointment please call  0207 606 7010 or email library@thegoldsmiths.co.uk

Further details from the website: http://www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/thelibrary/

David Beasley and Eleni Bide are the librarians, and between them have a wealth of knowledge on the treasures that lie within. At first impression, for a contemporary silversmith, the resources may seem somewhat limited, as much of the space in the main room is taken up with the jewellery and historical silver book collections and much information on Hallmarks etc.

You may not find all the latest books or most recent gallery exhibition catalogues, but Eleni explained that it isn’t their intention to compete with the university libraries – they don’t have the space, for a start. Their niche is in giving a personal service, taking on individual inquiries and preparing material for you to come and see.

The resources available in this way are so much more than is apparent in the main room. Further through, the adjoining section has filing cabinets packed with images and press-cuttings relating to contemporary and 20th Century makers, with biographies and details of commissions undertaken. Then, upstairs, and not generally open without prior appointment, is a series of rooms filled to the gunnels with all manner of technical books, trade publications, catalogues and subscription magazines.

In fact, the Goldsmiths’ Hall library holds largest collection of specialist jewellery, silverware and related material in the country. There are over 15,000 images of jewellery and silverware and more than 8,000 specialist books and catalogues.


(Photographic credit: Martin Stewart)


If you have a commission for a traditional item – a caddy spoon, or a sugar bowl perhaps, the librarians could find for you a collection of images of historic examples to compare.

If you would enjoy browsing through design drawings of silver objects from the last century, appreciating the skills involved at the design stage, and learning more about methods of production, you could arrange a library session tailor made for you.

Or if you want find out what shows are coming up and where to sell, or would like to know what competitions you could enter, you could make an inquiry by email or phone and have some information sent to you.

Perhaps you have an interest in ethical issues relating to your work, such as ethical gold and silver or fair trade? The library has resource files on these subjects.

Eleni told me how a number of makers have approached the library about historic and/or ‘lost’ techniques, and they have been able to provide them with information allowing them to incorporate a version of these methods in their work.

I asked Eleni if she had any ‘hidden gems’ to tempt people through the door! Here’s what she said:

“I think the Library’s real ‘hidden gem’ is the level of service we provide: whether your question is about the use of silver in medicine, plate from Peru, or advice on selling your work online, we’ll be able to find a range of materials for you quickly, and have them waiting when you arrive. Difficult subjects a speciality!”

David explained how if they haven’t the immediate answers to a query, they will do their best to point you in the right direction, perhaps to another library or archive. Computer cataloguing of library’s books currently goes back to those published since 1995 and work continues to extend this further.

I asked about the possibility of arranging a group visit for Contemporary British Silversmiths to have a tour of the library, and perhaps co-ordinate a tour of the assay office at the same time. This could certainly be organised if there was interest, and we might organise this at some time, but small groups would be welcome on less formal visits, if arranged in advance and especially if there was a common area of interest for study or browsing.

I shall certainly be visiting again to dig deeper into the contents of the upstairs shelves. I shall catch up on back issues of Metalsmith magazine, ask for information on Arts & Crafts silverware and perhaps borrow a recommended video: “Silversmith of Williamsburg”: an American-made re-enactment film showing the commissioning and making of a colonial silver coffee pot!

On another note, if you happen to have a piece of your work in the Goldsmiths’ Contemporary Silver Collection, there is a file on you in the library, with your CV and image. It could be worth considering updating this from time to time with current information. Who knows who might be browsing?