Historical Manuscripts Commission

Summary report on the records 18th-20th century


The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce

retained by the


(reference: GB-0403-RSA)

C Evans and G Mandelbrote, February 1993
Historical Manuscripts Commission

Table of Contents



Summary report

Main series

Records relating to associated bodies and exhibitions

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Enquiries about access to the records described in this report should be directed to the Library Administrator of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.



The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce was founded in 1754. It was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ in 1908 and is more familiarly known as the Royal Society of Arts. Its founders sought to promote economic, scientific and artistic progress by publicising new techniques and granting monetary and honorary awards to inventors and artists of promise. The Society’s growth in the years immediately following its foundation was rapid, and its membership came to encompass most of the leading lights of agricultural and industrial ‘improvement’ in the late eighteenth century. After occupying a variety of temporary premises in the 1750s and 1760s, the Society commissioned the purpose-built headquarters off the Strand in which it is still housed. The Adelphi was completed to the design of the Adam brothers in 1774, its Great Room decorated with a set of allegorical paintings by James Barry RA.

The main series of the RSA’s minutes survive from its inception and those of the two committees which took on its regular business (the Committee of Correspondence and Papers and the Committee of Miscellaneous Matters) are available from 1760. The consideration of particular schemes submitted to the Society was entrusted to a set of standing ‘Premium’ committees: the committees of Agriculture, Chemistry, Colonies & Trade, Manufactures, Mechanics and Polite Arts. The minutes of these committees also survive from the first decade of the Society’s existence.

Publication of the Society’s transactions did not begin until 1783. Prior to that date, manuscript transactions were gathered together by Dr Peter Templeman and Samuel More, the organisation’s secretaries between 1760 and 1800. A sampling of this early material was published as Robert Dossie (ed.), Memoirs of agriculture and other oeconomical arts (3 vols., 1768-82). The formal proceedings are complemented by a great mass of supporting correspondence and papers, chiefly letters received c1754-1851: the ‘Loose Archives’ comprising approximately 415 boxes. The ‘Loose Archives’ are too extensive and miscellaneous to be listed in this report. However, the material has been fully indexed by name and subject by the RSA’s staff.

The impetus of the Society faltered in the early nineteenth century as more specialised organizations in particular fields assumed the role it had once played. However, a decline in membership and financial strength was halted by a revamping of the Society in the mid-1840s, and a renewed vigour was made evident by the Society’s central role in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Thereafter the RSA concentrated on issues of technical education and industrial design, fields in which it remains prominent.

A full history of the RSA was published upon its bicentenary: D. Hudson & K. W. Luckhurst. The Royal Society of Arts 1754-1954 (London, 1954). A more detailed discussion of its early records can be found in D. G. C. Allan, ‘The archives of the Royal Society of Arts 1754-1847’, Archives, IV, 24 (1960), 220-25.

This report lists the RSA’s historic records which are kept in the book cases of the Library and the adjacent Fellows’ Meeting Room, as well as in the first of two strong rooms. Some of the RSA’s modern records, comprising several dozen boxes of files relating to administration, membership, publications and campaigns since the 1930s are kept in a second strong room. At the time that this report was written they were awaiting sorting and were therefore not listed. Further correspondence and papers c1854-c1930 were deposited with the Greater London Record Office in 1974 and 1987. It is anticipated that this material will be reunited with the main body of the RSA’s records now that adequate storage space has been secured at John Adam Street.

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Summary report

Main series

Minutes (169 volumes) 1754-1924

Rough minutes (1 volume) 1754-55

Rough notes on meetings of the Society and Committees 1839-40

Minutes of annual general meetings (2 volumes) 1925-53

Minutes of the Council (36 volumes) 1846-1948

Rough Minutes of the Council (1 volume) 1874-76

Council agenda book 1870-74

List of Council members (2 volumes) 1845-present

List of Council and Committee members c1869

Minutes of the Council and Finance and General Purposes Committee (3 volumes) 1952-64

Guard Books nos. 1-12 1754-67

Guard Books A, B 1759-79

Index to the Guard Books (3 volumes) 1754-68

Letters received (5 volumes) 1767-78

Copy letter books (4) 1770-1850

Register of letters received and answered (4 volumes) 1850-51, 1854-55

‘Society of Arts Chronicle 1753-1846’ c1846

Draft regulations of the Society nd, 18th cent

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Domestic committees

Committee of Correspondence and Papers minutes (8 volumes) 1760-76, 1787-1845

Committee of Miscellaneous Matters minutes (8 volumes) 1760-68, 1788-1845, 1848-50

Committee of Correspondence and Papers, and Committee of Miscellaneous Matters minutes (1 volume) 1777-87, 1779-87

Special Committee and Committee of Miscellaneous Matters minutes (1 volume) 1842-43, 1842

Committee of Accounts minutes (9 volumes) 1760-1850


Premium committees

Minutes of the Committees (113 volumes) 1758-1928

Rough minutes of the Committees (3 volumes) 1762-65

Minutes of the Committees (General) (8 volumes) 1928-70

Committee of Agriculture minutes (1 volume) 1849-50

Committee of Arts minutes (1 volume) 1848-51

Committee of Chemistry minutes (1 volume) 1849-50

Committee of Mechanics minutes (2 volumes) 1793-94, 1848-51

Committee of Colonies and Trade (1 volume) 1849-50

Rough minutes of the Committee of Mechanics (1 volume) 1848-49

Committees’ attendance book 1839-51

Register of matters postponed for future consideration (1 volume) nd

Register of matters referred to committees (1 volume) 1816-44

Register of premiums and bounties paid (2 volumes, printed, with annotations) 1754-56

Registers of premiums and awards (6) 1755-59, 1763-65, 1816-26, 1844-59, 1863-65

List of recipients of silver medals since 1900 (1 volume)

Awards made in the Owen Jones competition 1879-1921

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Special committees

Minutes of the Art Protection Committee 1849-51

Minutes of the subcommittee for the management of the National Gallery 1847-49

Minutes of the Committee for Artisans Drawing Schools (1 volume) 1852

Minutes of ad hoc committees (1 volume) 1872-73

Committee of Cottages (1 volume) 1928-33


Membership records

Subscription books (10) 1754-1840, 1853-54, 1856-64

List of members (5 volumes) 1840-56, 1868-88

Address book nd

List of contributing members (printed, with annotations) 1795-96

Lists of members in arrears (2 items) 1773-82, c1788-94

Lists of officers and members subscribing to the Transactions (19 volumes) 1784, 1786-93, 1795-96, 1800, 1809, 1817-18, 1828-30, 1832, l834-35, 1837

Signature books 1841-50, 1853-61

Members’ declaration forms (1 volume) 1855-60

‘Red Book’ of autograph letters

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Financial records

Monthly cash accounts (16 volumes) 1762-1817, 1826-56

Accounts ledger 1815-40

Accounts with suppliers c1802-15

Ledger c1816-43

Secretary’s petty cash book 1819-24

Petty cash book 1872-78

Treasurer’s financial statements 1851-1923

Cash books (4) 1769-78, 1859-61, 1865, 1868

Receipt books (7) 1781-88, 1791-1808

Cash account of books sold 1805-30

Expenditure ledger 1833-35

Cash statements (1 volume) 1877-79

Cash payments books (5) 1853-54, 1856-58, 1866-67, 1876-78

Receipts for premiums (1 volume) 1768-93

Wages books 1874-1913

Trusts and bequests (1 volume) 1773-1910

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Transactions and related papers

Transactions by Dr Templeman (2 volumes) 1754-58

Transactions (c75 volumes) 1770-1839

Index to Transactions (1 vol) 1789-90

Samuel More’s Manuscript Discourses’(5 booklets, boxed) 1794-97, 1799

Record of papers read (7 volumes) including lectures at the Great Exhibition 1843-52

‘List of Persons invited to Discussion after the Reading of Papers’ (8 volumes) 1852-59, 1862-68

‘Names of Persons Recommended as Auditors’ (1 volume) 1854

Book of communications to the Society 1846-57

Proceedings of the annual conferences between representatives of the ‘Institutions in Union’ and the Council (4 volumes) 1853-55, 1858

Records of illustrations and models received 1831-45

Letter book relating to models sent to the Society c1820-43



Ledger of members’ purchases of the Transactions 1783-95

Cash account for the sale of Transactions (1 volume) 1791-1823

Sale book for the Transactions and catalogues of Barry’s etchings 1831-50

Accounts of the sale of library catalogues and of the bank note report (1 volume) 1804-44

Advertisers’ accounts with the Journal (1 volume) 1852-53

Lists (2) of subscribers to jury reports 1863, nd

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Records relating to Adelphi buildings

Subscription book for the erection of Adelphi buildings nd

Cash book (for building of Adelphi) 1771-72

Steward’s minutes (1 volume) 1785-1817

Letters and papers relating to James Barry’s paintings in the Great Room (2 volumes) 1777-1804

Inventories of Adelphi Buildings 1773, 1779

‘Lamp’books (3) 1780-1800, 1819-24

Housekeeper’s sundries book 1838-46

Housekeeper’s petty cash book 1841-47

Order books (3) for stationary and other necessaries 1766-70, 1774-87

Post books 1852-53, 1871, nd

Order book for instruments and colours 1852-54

List of members to whom colour boxes were issued c1852

Library book 1824-40

Library purchases 1844-46

Library accounts (1 volume) 1950-71

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Records relating to associated bodies and exhibitions

Art exhibitions

Scrap book relating to the exhibitions of William Mulready (1786-1863) and WiIiiam Etty (1787-1849) 1848-49

Letter book relating to the Etty exhibition 1849


Domestic Economy Congress

Guard book 1881


Exhibition of inventions

Receipts (2 volumes) 1858-59, 1861


Educational exhibition of 1855

List of subscribers


Free Society of Artists

General meeting rough minutes (2 volumes) 1768-80

‘Catalogue of pictures, models, sculptures &c' (3 volumes) 1760-90


Great Exhibition of 1851

List of subscribers

Typescript extracts from the diary of Francis Fuller (1807-87) relating to the Great Exhibition

Presscuttings (1 volume)


International Postage Association

Minutes (1 volume) 1852-54

Guard book 1852-53


National Memorial Fund

Minutes (1 volume incl loose rough accounts) 1862-65

Petty cash book 1862


Paris Exhibition of 1889

Petty cash book relating to the visit of British artisans bank transactions for the same (1 volume)

Scrap book


Royal Commission on the British Section of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 

Papers (1 volume) 1893


John Scott Russell (secretary to the Society 1845-50)

Letters received, relating mainly to the Great Exhibition, the Great Eastern steamship, the death of Prince Albert and the Albert Memorial and the International Exhibition of 1862

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