Digitised Wallace Collection 19th century visitors book includes signatures from Rodin and Thomas Hardy

Signatures in the Hertford House visitors’ book
Sir Richard and Lady Wallace’s 19th Century visitors’ book digitised and made accessible online
Published date:

“It is intended that this work and our collaboration with the British Library will continue, so as to make an increasing part of our Library and Archive resources available to a much wider public.” Helen Jacobsen, Senior Curator, Wallace Collection

The project

As 19th century art collectors, visitors to Sir Richard and Lady Wallace’s London townhouse included esteemed guests such as Rodin, Thomas Hardy and other artists, collectors, art dealers and royalty. Now part of the Wallace Collection, the Hertford House visitors’ book (1876-1897) captured a record of these visits and the signatures bear testament to the international fascination with the Wallaces’ collection.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Sir Richard’s birth, the Wallace Collection partnered with the British Library to have this important book digitised, allowing this unique record of social and biographical history to be made available online.

The digitisation process                                   

A particular challenge for the digitisation process was that only the signed pages of the large leather-bound book were foliated (numbered) and was interleaved with blank pages.

In line with our digitisation standards, we needed to photograph both the numbered and unnumbered folios to provide a full digital copy of the original item. The technician manually added a letter suffix identifier to the unnumbered digital folios so that users of the digital image will know where in the manuscript that particular page occurs.

This was one of the final projects the team worked on before the British Library temporarily closed its studios during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Hertford House visitors’ book

The outcome

The digitised visitors’ Book can now be found at https://archive.org/details/wallacecollection.

Wallace Collection’s Research Librarian, Helen Jones, was tasked with deciphering the hundreds of entries in the visitors’ book, finding out who the fascinating people were behind the signatures: “The most interesting visitors for me were the pioneering women who came, most often accompanied by their families. Two of the earliest qualified female doctors in Great Britain, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake, both visited.” Read Helen’s blog post on deciphering the signatures.

The British Library has also worked with the Wallace Collection on other projects, including the digitisation of 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts relating to arms and armour, and the important fencing manuals of Camillo Palladini.

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Key points

  • The Wallace Collection owns a 19th century visitors’ book which guests signed when visiting Sir Richard and Lady Wallace’s famous art collection.
  • The book has signatures by artists and writers such as Rodin and Thomas Hardy as well as members of the royal family.
  • In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Sir Richard’s birth, Wallace Collection partnered with the British Library to have this important book digitised, allowing this record of social and biographical history to be made available online.
  • The Wallace Collection has also partnered with the British Library on other projects, including the digitisation of 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts and the fencing manuals of Camillo Palladini.

Case studies

…“The British Library’s Digitisation Services team were enormously helpful when we were shaping the grant application for this project. We were confident these items were in safe hands with a team that knew what we needed and were familiar with this type of material.” Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum…

“The British Library’s Digitisation Services team were enormously helpful when we were shaping the grant application for this project. We were confident these items were in safe hands with a team that knew what we needed and were familiar with this type of material.” Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum

…“Thanks to the British Library and the West Bank Heritage Trust, priceless photos, correspondence and fascinating items from my great, great, great, grandfather’s travels and life have been preserved for everyone to view.” Antony James Backhouse Lambert, James Backhouse family member …

West Bank Park Heritage Trust commissioned us to digitise and preserve the priceless 19th century scrapbook of James Backhouse, a Quaker missionary, botanist and nurseryman who documented, amongst other things, Australian plant specimens

…"In addition to being a source for rare material, the British Library’s scanning services are excellent, producing high-quality images to the specifications we require" Paul Waldock, ProQuest…

In addition to being a source for rare material, the British Library’s scanning services are excellent, producing high-quality images to the specifications we require, thereby enabling projects to move forward in a smooth and efficient way

…"We were delighted with the British Library service offering onsite photography at our convenience: it was efficient and enjoyable, and produced the most beautiful images." John Sunderland, Friends of Malmesbury Abbey…

Malmesbury and its Abbey, had one of the most important libraries in Europe in the Middle Ages, and the famous historian William was from Malmesbury. The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey commissioned the British Library to digitise four volumes of the bible, known as the Malmesbury Bible earlier this summer.