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Painting students in the Mural Room, c.1936. Margery Dennis Hall collection.

Most collections have a direct connection to the activities and history of the College, including the work of notable students, alumni and members of staff. All collections are open to anyone wishing to use the material for research. Access is by appointment, although basic enquiries can often be answered remotely and electronic documents supplied (subject to the restrictions of copyright and data protection). Please email [email protected] with any enquiries or to make an appointment.

The following descriptions are a general guide and more detailed information can be provided on request. An active digitisation programme is gradually making parts of the collections available online, although only a small percentage of materials has been digitised to date and not all collections described below are fully catalogued. Follow the links for more detailed descriptions of each resource.

Access, location and appointments

Booking an appointment

Our special collections are open to all researchers, whether or not they are current RCA students or staff. However, please note internal users are prioritised when scheduling appointments. To make an appointment, please contact [email protected] to enquire about availability. Please also provide as much detail as possible about your area of research, and let us know which collection(s) you wish to access. If there are particular items you know you wish to consult, please provide details.

Everyone is welcome to use our collections but please note there are certain protocols to follow during your visit:

  • Handle items with care (staff will be on hand to help if needed)
  • Only pencils (and electronic devices) for note-taking. No pens, please.
  • Bags and coats must be left in lockers in the office
  • No food or drink
  • Copies of materials may often be made but please consult staff first for advice before taking photos
  • Depending on the items you are viewing, you may be asked to complete a form regarding copyright and data protection

Staff will be on hand to help you get the most out of your visit so please do not hesitate to ask for assistance or advice at any point.

You do not have to use the full duration of your appointment slot. However, please arrive at the advertised start time unless you have arranged a different arrival time with us. If you are running late, please try to let us know. If you do not arrive within 30 minutes of the advertised start time and have not advised us of late arrival, staff reserve the right to cancel your booking and/or re-assign the slot.

Enquiries about former staff and students 

Enquiries from genealogists or biographers regarding former students and staff at any point in the RCA’s history are welcome, but please be advised that in many cases we can provide only limited personal information, and, in the case of alumni, sometimes no more than confirmation of department and year of graduation (1898 onwards). We do not hold records of students who graduated prior to 1898. Limited amounts of material relating to forerunners of the College, including the National Art Training School/South Kensington School, may be found at the National Archives and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Copies of material

Visitors are often allowed to make copies of materials for private study as long as copyright restrictions are observed and the appropriate forms are completed. Equally, staff can often supply digital copies of materials to researchers working remotely, under the same terms, and are happy to advise.

Policies and procedures

Our collections

Royal College of Art Archive (c. 75 linear metres, excluding photographic and art collections) 

The Royal College of Art (RCA) archive is a substantial resource that documents the history and work of the RCA in multiple formats and across many decades. The majority of material dates from the post-1896 incarnation of the College, when the National Art Training School at South Kensington became the Royal College of Art, while the archive’s particular strengths lie in the period following the 1948 reorganisation of the College under Robin Darwin. The RCA archive can be used to trace the evolution of courses and developments in art and design education, together with the range of work created by students, and the numerous projects, publications and exhibitions with which the College has been associated.

Manuscript and published material

Published material and grey literature within the archive includes runs of prospectuses (from 1898), exhibition catalogues (from 1937), annual reports (from 1937), governing body reports (including the landmark government reports of 1901, 1911 and 1936), and press cuttings (from 1940s). Other series include documents relating to individual departments, programmes and schools (usually exhibition materials or annual publications), and numerous publications from various College imprints, including Inklings (1971–95) and the Lion and Unicorn Press (1952–84). Student magazines include The Beam (1898), Gallimaufry (1925) and The Mandrake (1926–7), together with complete runs of two series of the RCA Students’ Magazine (1911–15; 1921–4) and ARK (1950–78). Student newsletters (typically more irreverent than formal publications) are also included from different phases of College life, and include Newsheet (two runs, c.1956–62 and c.1967–72), Boo! (1970s), Mews Paper (1970s) and OTR (1980s). Across the decades, the student magazines include articles and artwork by numerous notable alumni, from Austin Osman Spare (attended c.1905) to Pauline Boty (graduated 1961).

Manuscript material includes series relating to the management of ARK and the Lion and Unicorn Press. Numerous other projects and functions of the College represented include the evacuation to Ambleside in the Lake District in the Second World War, the operations of the Junior Common Room Committee (students’ union), and the development of teaching spaces and College buildings.

Photographic material

The substantial series of photographic collections contain over 80,000 images of moments from College history in many different formats, from glass lantern slides to born-digital files. College life is represented through over 5,000 images of, for example, department life, Convocation ceremonies, exhibitions, and interiors in print and slide format. The earliest images include a set of interiors of the College during its incarnation as the National Art Training School in the nineteenth century. Major College projects covered include the Lion and the Unicorn pavilion for the Festival of Britain (1951), the design by RCA staff and students of stained glass windows for Coventry cathedral (1956), re-built after its destruction in the Second World War, and the GraphicsRCA retrospective exhibition (1963). The self-contained Record of Student Work series contains photographs of student work as exhibited in the final-year diploma and degree shows from the 1950s, and contains around 2,000 prints (1950s–70s), 30,000 slides (1950s–2002) and upwards of 50,000 born-digital images (2003–ongoing). The record is comprehensive for many years, and the student work of many notable alumni is included. The Royal College of Art collection has also been photographed in its entirety. Images from the collections have been catalogued and digitised to varying degrees, but much of this work is ongoing or undertaken on demand. Some images may be viewed on the websites of the Visual Arts Data Service and the Public Catalogue Foundation.


Special Collections receives many requests for biographical information relating to former staff and students. In the case of former students, we can usually confirm year of graduation and course followed. Qualitative information about living individuals can only be provided in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998) or with the permission of the data subject. However it is often possible to supply contextual detail drawn from photographs, prospectuses, annual reports and departmental publications.

Royal College of Art: Related Collections

These collections, usually donated by the individuals who acquired them, contain material that overlaps substantially with the formal College archive and reflects different aspects of the RCA’s operations and history.

Kenneth Agnew photographic collection (2 boxes)

Contains visual documentation of many RCA  Industrial Design (Engineering) Research Unit and Department of Design Research projects of the 1960s and 70s and complements the L Bruce Archer archive. In slide and transparency format and arranged by ‘Job Number’ (project code). Images often show prototypes, technical processes and assembly alongside finished products, and include projects ranging from medical equipment for the National Health Service (NHS) to the development of solar panels. Kenneth Agnew’s celebrated re-design of the NHS hospital bed (1963) is well represented. Cataloguing and digitisation in progress.

Peter Byrom papers (1 box) 

Correspondence and memoranda relating to the College’s strategic plans and changes of senior management at the Royal College of Art c. 1981–3, in particular relating to the tenure of Rector Lionel March. Donated by Peter Byrom, Chair of Council, Royal College of Art, 1981–6. Complements the contemporaneous diaries of L Bruce Archer in the L Bruce Archer archive. Inventory available.

Elisabeth Clements and J D McCord papers (2 boxes) 


Photographs and other mementos relating to the RCA in the 1930s from the collection of sculptors Elisabeth Clements (graduated 1933) and J D McCord (graduated 1935), who met while students at the College. Contains various photographs of student life, including the Junior Common Room and Sculpture department huts on Queen’s Gate. Also includes sketchbooks and photograph albums recording the work of both sculptors after their time at the RCA, including Elisabeth Clements’s travel scholarship to Germany in 1934. Inventory available.

Robin Darwin memorabilia (2 boxes)


A collection of the remaining Darwin-related papers in the possession of Sir Robin Darwin’s family and held on deposit by Special Collections. It includes sketchbooks and designs for book jackets by Darwin, some personalia, and many photographs, largely of Darwin’s own paintings. Inventory available. Many other Darwin-authored papers, including letters, articles and speeches, appear throughout the main Royal College of Art archive.

Margery Dennis Hall collection (1 box)


Various photographs collected by alumna Margery Dennis Hall (graduated 1937), depicting RCA student life in the 1930s.

Clifford Hatts collection (1 box)


Articles, memoirs and photographs donated by alumnus Clifford Hatts (graduated 1949). Includes material relating to RCA Theatre Group productions and various photographs. Also includes 16mm films (transferred to DVD) of the 1948 Convocation ceremony along with that year’s graduate exhibition and student revues. Inventory available.

Nick Holland papers (1 box)


A collection of letters, memoranda, ephemera, minutes and student newsletters (Newsheet, 1967–8), principally relating to student unrest at the time the College received its Royal Charter (1967) to attain university status and become a wholly post-graduate institution. The unrest was fuelled by the Academic Board’s failure to raise the status of the qualification offered by the Fashion School to Master’s level, creating a disparity with other courses. Donated by Nicholas (Nick) Holland in November 2009. Holland had been president of the Junior Common Room committee (students’ union) throughout the period. The collection includes letters from Sir Robin Darwin and the then Professor of Fashion Janey Ironside. Inventory available.

Patrick Holliman collection of Design Education Unit papers (1 box)


A collection of RCA papers c. 1984–5, including correspondence and reports mainly generated by the Design Education Unit (DEU) led by Ken Baynes. Collected by Patrick Holliman, employed by the DEU as a resource officer. Includes advocacy documents and studies by Ken Baynes, Janet Daley and Phil Roberts, and publications related to design education. Inventory available.

Gerald Nason collection of ARK magazine and Newsheet papers (1 box)


A set of photocopies of correspondence surrounding the controversial, and ultimately pulped, issue 34 (1963) of RCA student magazine ARK. The largely image-based issue had caused controversy with a range of irreverent and satirical photo-montages, involving Princess Margaret and Winston Churchill, among others, and College management deemed it unfit for public distribution. Gerald Nason was editor at the time and donated copies of the correspondence to the Library in 1990. In 2014, he added a second series to include select issues from the first run of the RCA Newsheet (1956–63), which includes contributions from David Hockney and Pauline Boty, and a photocopy of the original issue 34 of ARK. Inventory available.

W R Lethaby manuscript (1 file)


W R Lethaby’s 11-page manuscript notes for a proposed syllabus when invited to become Professor of Ornament and Design at the Royal College of Art, c. 1901. Contains proposals before appointment and an outline of the prepared syllabus on arrival at the College. Digital copy available. 

Although there are often areas of overlap with formal College papers, they do not exclusively reflect the RCA’s operations as an institution, and often represent professional and personal activities beyond the College. As such, they are listed separately here.

L Bruce Archer archive (34 boxes)

Leonard Bruce Archer (1922–2005) was an engineering designer and academic credited with helping to transform the process of design in the 1960s. As Research Fellow and later Professor of Design Research at the Royal College of Art, Archer argued that design was not merely a craft-based skill but should be considered a knowledge-based discipline in its own right, with rigorous methodology and research principles incorporated into the design process. Different stages of Archer’s model for the design process would later be understood in now-familiar terms such as ‘quality assurance’ or ‘user-centred research’.

Archer headed the Department of Design Research (DDR) at the RCA for 13 years (1971–84) but his methods were first tested on an RCA-based project to design improved equipment for the National Health Service (NHS) in the 1960s. Perhaps the most celebrated outcome of these endeavours was the perfection of Kenneth Agnew’s design for a hospital bed that would become standard issue across the NHS. 

The L Bruce Archer archive was donated to the RCA by Archer’s family in 2007. The archive comprises diaries, correspondence, conference proceedings, memoranda, offprints, lecture notes and other teaching materials. Among the key affiliations of Archer's career, some of the best represented include the Royal College of Art (c.1974–2002; his detailed 'daily logs' provide description and analysis of College operations in the 1970s and 1980s, and complement the contemporaneous Peter Byrom papers (p.13), which provide different accounts of the same events), Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm 

(c.1960), and Ohio State University (1980–90). Documentation of conference proceedings includes schedules and printed literature and, in some cases, transcripts of papers delivered. Conferences covered include: ICED’81 (Harrogate, 1981), Culture.Space.History (Middle East Technical University, 1990), and DATER (Loughborough, 1991). Teaching materials include a wide range of lectures (1960s–90s), arranged by audience, institution or subject. The archive also includes a series of filmed presentations, prepared for the Indian Institute of Technology (c.1980s). The hospital bed project is represented through various tangential papers in different sections of the archive. Inventory available.

See also: Kenneth Agnew photographic collection and Peter Byrom papers. The archive of the Department of Design Research itself is housed at the V&A’s Archive of Art and Design, as the College had no formal archive at the time of the DDR’s dissolution in the 1980s. 

Maxwell Armfield papers (1 case)

One presentation case with partitions containing unpublished notebooks and charts of colour experiments, together with published material on colour harmony by artist and illustrator Maxwell Armfield (1881–1972).  Most of the material is hand-drawn or hand-painted and attempts to create colour harmonies by mapping colours to the Indian musical scales (ragas) or systems such as the zodiac and Tarot, reflecting Armfield’s interest in Theosophy, Eastern religions and the occult. An accompanying ‘colour compass’ consists of a colour wheel with rotating masks to create harmonious schemes. There is a small collection of Armfield’s esoteric writings on colour, published under the pseudonym Hugh Darval. Acquired for the Colour Reference Library from the Armfield estate.

Art & Architecture archive (13 boxes)

The Art & Architecture archive contains minutes, membership data, publications and posters of the Art & Architecture (A&A) group, an assembly of practitioners that aimed to influence debate around the value of public art in the built environment. It spans the years 1982–2007 and comprises: administrative papers, including correspondence (1982–2004); documentation of A&A-organised events and conferences (1982–2007); minutes of meetings (1982–2000); accounts (1994–2003); membership information (1980s–1990s); and documentation of A&A funding bids (1983–2004). Printed matter includes a complete run (to issue 60) of the Art and Architecture Journal (1984–2006), and a range of other A&A publications and ephemera, many of which were designed by Pentagram. There is also a set of posters used to advertise the lecture series. The collection is augmented by a range of peripheral material published by other sympathetic bodies, including the Public Art Forum and the Landscape and Arts Network. The archive was donated by A&A founder members and RCA alumni Jane Riches and Graham Cooper in 2007. Inventory available.

Edward Bawden sketchbook (1 box)

One sketchbook (1960) by Edward Bawden containing drawings from a visit to Portugal. Also includes related letters from Bawden regarding its creation and donation to the College, 1963–9.

Henry Cole journal (1 box)

One travel journal by Sir Henry Cole (1808–82) describing a six-month tour of France, Switzerland and Italy in 1858, on which Cole was accompanied in part by Richard Redgrave RA (former Headmaster of the Government School of Design and Art Director of the South Kensington Museum). Some entries relate to plans for the South Kensington site and the pair’s inspection of classical architecture as inspiration for the design of the proposed London buildings. The journal relates to the larger series among the Henry Cole papers at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was donated to Robin Darwin in 1964 by one of Cole’s descendants to honour Cole’s contribution to the College’s history. A full transcript is available. 

Villiers David Foundation papers (1 box)

Papers relating to the establishment of a fine art award in memory of arts connoisseur Villiers David (1906–85), together with a small amount of biographical material concerning David himself. After David’s death in 1985, heir Gérard Schlup established a fine art prize in his memory to provide support to artists early in their career. This award was run by a committee from its inception in 1992, but the use of the Foundation’s income and administration of the prize was transferred to the RCA in 2006. These papers were donated to the RCA archives in order to document the origins of the prize and the work of the Villiers David Foundation. Papers comprise minutes, accounts, correspondence and other administrative records.

Madge Garland archive (6 boxes)

Madge Garland became the RCA’s first professor of Fashion when the course was established under her direction in 1948. She had previously held the post of fashion editor of British Vogue and worked as a consultant to the fashion industry. Garland’s papers were donated to the RCA in 2012 by her literary executor, and include correspondence, photograph albums, address books and diaries, along with a series of unpublished memoirs, files of notes towards projected publications, and a bound set of Garland’s published writings for the Bystander magazine. Many of the photographs relate to Garland’s early career and in particular her life in the 1920s and 1930s with her then partner, Vogue editor Dorothy (Dody) Todd. Other material includes letters from correspondents in her diverse social circle, including John Betjeman, Hardy Amies and Rebecca West. Garland destroyed many of her papers in later life, and this material is believed to be all that remains of her personal archive. Inventory available.

GPO stamp albums (2 volumes)

Two stamp albums, apparently assembled by the General Post Office (GPO), containing postage stamps from 1952 to 1970. Many of the designers, all of whom are identified, have RCA connections, and include David Gentleman (graduated 1953), Rosalind Dease (graduated 1954) and John Norris Wood (graduated 1955). The albums also contain a range of first-day covers addressed to Robin Darwin, including a set signed by David Gentleman.

History of tapestry collection (2 boxes)

A collection of photocopies, photographs and press cuttings, along with correspondence with libraries, archives and individuals, concerning the history of various tapestries and the genealogies of the families who owned them. The materials were collected by F P Thomson, partly in preparation for his book Tapestry: Mirror of History (David & Charles, 1980). There is little original material in the collection but one series involves first-hand recollections of tapestry companies in Cambridge c.1981.

Sybil Pye notebooks (1 box)    

Three ring-bound notebooks give an apparently complete record of bookbinder Sybil Pye’s work from 1905 to 1955. Pages are numbered sequentially, 1 to 164, and provide the date, title of book, details of binding colours and materials, as well as a record of the owner or purchaser and any exhibitions. In most cases there are black-and-white photographs of the finished binding. Pye is regarded as one of the first modern design binders: she was self-taught, designed her own tools, and favoured a technique of using inlaid leather binding that broke with Western traditions for the craft. The notebooks were donated to the College by David Pye, former Professor of Furniture at the RCA and Sybil Pye’s nephew. Conservation and digitisation in progress.

The Palfrey collection of Frank Short papers (1 box)    

A collection of papers relating to Frank Short (Professor of Engraving at the RCA, 1913–24), apparently collected by H E Palfrey and his son Harry Palfrey of Stourbridge. The collection includes Short’s Plate Book, 1882–1908, which documents Short’s various works during this period, catalogues of his exhibitions and some of his letters. A substantial amount records the Palfreys’ activities in relation to the work of Short and others, especially through the dealer Matthew B Walker. As such it also allows the study of twentieth-century patronage of the engraver’s art. 

Textiles pattern books (47 volumes)

A collection of 47 textiles pattern books, many of which were originally acquired from the studio of Deryck Healey, while others were internally generated. Firms represented include C & S Swaisland (c.1850s), Geo P & J Baker, and Warner & Son (c.1890s–1920s). Other notable books include samples of London Underground fabric (c.1940–50), a Chinese swatch book (c. late eighteenth century) and a book of ‘designs sold’ by the RCA’s School of Textile Design. These select books were transferred from the Textiles programme to Special Collections in 2012 at the same time as the remaining volumes were relocated to the Joshua Ellis company in Yorkshire. In 2013 the Swaisland books received conservation treatment as part of the Fabric of Our Town project with Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre, and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The books were partially digitised for the project’s online resource. Inventory available.

Carel Weight letters (1 box)

A series of letters from Carel Weight (Professor of Painting, 1957–72) to a friend, Mrs Muriel Hague, donated by the recipient. The letters span 1956–82 and sometimes describe commissions and work in progress. Inventory available.

Henry Wilson archive (7 boxes)

A substantial collection of sketchbooks of designs, writings, photographs and correspondence relating to Henry Wilson (1864–1934), architect, jeweller and one-time president of the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society. The papers were donated to the College by Wilson’s family in 1969, in recognition of his time spent teaching metalwork at the College in the early twentieth century. Major projects by Wilson, including the Elphinstone tomb in Aberdeen (1912–26), and the bronze doors of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York (1927–31), are represented, while correspondence includes letters from Auguste Rodin, W R Lethaby and C R Ashbee. The archive also reflects Wilson’s long association with Gothic Revival architect J D Sedding, for whom he worked as an assistant. Inventory available.

College Collection

The Royal College of Art collection (usually known as the ‘College collection’) contains over 1,300 artworks by staff, students and friends of the College. It is predominantly a collection of paintings but also includes prints, drawings and sculpture. The collection has its origins in the 1920s but only began to expand with the appointment of Robin Darwin as Principal in 1948. Darwin felt the College should be acquiring works to celebrate its achievements, and to lend a sense of prestige to the newly introduced Senior Common Room. He initially donated various works from his own collection and encouraged staff to follow suit. By the mid 1950s, the College had begun to collect the best work of its Painting students for retention in a permanent collection, a practice that continues to this day. Alumni represented include David Hockney, Peter Blake, Chris Ofili, Tracey Emin and George Shaw, among hundreds of others. The collection also includes work by artists who were not RCA students, such as Lucian Freud and William Scott; these have mostly been donated by staff and friends of the College. A small objects collection includes silverware designed by staff and students. Works are frequently the subject of research and are often loaned to major exhibitions. Most have been digitised and may be viewed on the VADS and Public Catalogue Foundation websites.

For terms and conditions of loans, see College Collection Loans.

Graphic Design and Illustration archive (4 plan chests and c.25 boxes)

A collection of posters, catalogues, illustrated books and other materials created by students of the Graphic Design and Illustration courses and their subsequent iterations, including Communication Art & Design (from 2000) and Visual Communication (from 2012). The collection contains items dating back to the establishment of the School of Graphic Design in 1948 under Professor Richard Guyatt. Among the earliest materials are posters designed for in-house events in the 1950s and 1960s by John Sewell (graduated 1954) and Brian Haynes (graduated 1963), among many others. These complement selections in the neighbouring Printmaking archive (below) and reflect the courses’ inter-relationship at the time. Later materials help to expand existing holdings in the main College archive and include booklets, catalogues, and other publications designed by Graphic Design students for various RCA departments. A selection of typographically experimental student magazines includes Yak (1987, designed by Andy Altmann, Dave Ellis and Phil Baines, later Why Not Associates) and Studio (1992, designed by Alastair Keady). The collection also includes prints by a range of notable alumni, including Jonathan Barnbrook (graduated 1990), and unusual examples of student work such as T-shirts (Suzi Godson, 1989), tea towels (Clare Stevens, 1991), and Flexidiscs (Paul Neale, 1990). 

The work of students who specialised in illustration is also well represented through prints, posters and artists’ books. Notable alumni featured include Michael Foreman (graduated 1963), Anne Howeson (graduated 1977) and Tom Gauld (graduated 2001). One plan chest contains materials from the College’s celebrated letterpress studio and the typography workshops of Alan Kitching and Ian Gabb. These include pull sheets (proofs) from different projects, booklets and other examples of student work, together with related third-party material such as classic study booklets, and type specimen sheets from leading suppliers including Monotype and Stephenson Blake. The archive was developed and preserved over many years by Richard Doust (graduated 1965, tutor from 1986). Cataloguing and digitisation in progress. 

Gillian Patterson’s Box of Lions (1 box)

A presentation box and set of artworks given to former Painting tutor (and earlier staff member of the RCA’s Department of Design Research) Gillian Patterson, on leaving the RCA in 1988. Staff and students created small works, each depicting a lion, Patterson’s favourite animal. The box contains different interpretations of the subject in a wide range of media by Painting students of the time, including Tracey Emin and John Kirby. Staff represented include Mick Perry (letterpress technician) and then Pro-Rector John Hedgecoe. Donated by the Patterson estate. Inventory available.

Printmaking Archive       

The Printmaking archive consists largely of works donated by students on graduation, a practice that began in the 1930s and has continued ever since. The archive contains upwards of 10,000 prints and over 30 ‘publications’ (boxed sets of prints by various artists on a theme), including the series Coronation (1953), Shakespeare (1964), Thirty-Five Artists (1982) and Folio (2011). Work by staff and visiting artists has also been collected, the latter including prints by Cornelia Parker, Paula Rego and Terry Frost, among others. As the archive spans over eight decades, it provides an opportunity to study emerging techniques and themes while reflecting the changing status of printmaking at the RCA as it moved from the School of Engraving (1930s) to Graphic Design (from 1950s) to a Fine Art programme in its own right (from 1985). Related materials include artists’ books created by Printmaking staff and students, including Dick Jewell, Christiane Baumgartner and Nigel Rolfe, and papers relating to the operations of the department (administered as part of the College archive). A programme of cataloguing and digitisation is in progress. Partial inventory available.

Conditions of loan

The Royal College of Art Collection is an invaluable resource of over a thousand works that represent significant developments in British painting from the middle years of the 20th century to the present. It is primarily composed of works donated by students and staff. The collection has been digitised and images are available to view on the website of the Visual Arts Data Service. Works are often loaned to other institutions for temporary exhibitions.

Works are sometimes loaned to institutions for temporary exhibitions. These are granted at the discretion of the Custodians of the collection and are subject to the borrower’s acceptance of our Conditions of Loan. Among the requirements are the following:

  1. A formal application for each loan must be made in writing at least nine months in advance of the opening date of the exhibition. Applications should be emailed to [email protected], together with a scanned copy of the venue’s facilities report and confirmation that loans will be covered by insurance on a nail-to-nail basis. Loan requests without these supporting documents will be automatically declined.
  2. All loan requests will be considered by the Custodians at the next available opportunity. Requests cannot be granted at short notice.
  3. No request for a loan will receive final approval unless the College receives a signed copy of our Conditions of Loan from the prospective borrower.
  4. Once the loan has been approved by the collection Custodians, and deemed fit for loan by conservators where appropriate, a flat administration fee of £150.00 + VAT per work per institution will be charged to the borrower. In addition, the borrower will reimburse the College for any conservation, framing, condition checks and packing necessitated by the loan.

Please refer to the full set of the Conditions of Loan (PDF), to be signed and returned once a request has been granted. Please ensure you will be able to meet these requirements before making a request.

Conditions of Loan (PDF)

Artists’ Books

Special Collections holds over 600 British and international artists’ books, a format broadly defined as books created with the intention of holding the status of a work of art, often in a limited edition or hand-made format. Artists represented include Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Ed Ruscha and Dieter Roth. In addition, as part of the Royal College of Art archive, Graphic Design and Illustration archive and Printmaking archive, Special Collections holds a number of books produced by RCA staff and students, including work by Catrin Morgan, Tim O’Riley, Dick Jewell, Christiane Baumgartner and Nigel Rolfe. Cataloguing in progress; inventory available on request.

Colour Reference Library

The Colour Reference Library (CRL) is one of the largest collections of published material on colour anywhere in the world. Numbering over 1,600 books, together with pamphlets, press cuttings and archival material, it spans six centuries of study and supports multiple approaches to the subject. Major colour theorists and systems are represented alongside more obscure figures and ephemeral material. The Colour Reference Library has dedicated pages on the RCA website here. Books may be searched on the main Library catalogue

For more detail, visit the Colour Reference Library page.

Lion and Unicorn Press Books

A complete set of 40 books published under the College’s Lion and Unicorn Press imprint. The Lion and Unicorn Press (1952–84) was an initiative of Professor Richard Guyatt and his newly formed Graphic Design school, and allowed staff and students to design collectable, limited-edition books for sale to subscribers. Over the course of its life, books by David Hockney, John Piper and Quentin Blake were published, while classic works from Chaucer to Bodoni were re-issued with imaginative designs. The project allowed students to gain experience in book production and provided an opportunity for experimentation with different techniques in binding and printing. One of the most celebrated publications was Captain Cook’s Florilegium (1971), an atlas-sized (24x18 inches) book with engravings of plant specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific islands. These were printed for the first time from the original copper plates, loaned to the College by the neighbouring Natural History Museum. The Royal College of Art archive contains a series of papers related to the administration of the press.

John Minton Books

A collection of books and periodicals with cover designs and/or internal illustrations by John Minton (1917–57), Painting tutor at the RCA (1949–56). Books include Minton’s own Time Was Away (1948), H E Bates’s The Country Heart (1949) and John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957). Periodicals include individual issues of The Strand, Lilliput, The London Magazine and others.

Other Special Collections books

Around 700 books have been transferred from main Library stock to Special Collections on account of their age, complexity or fragility. These include nineteenth-century series on architecture and botany, but there is no particular subject specialisation. Popular materials range from catalogues of the Great Exhibition (1851) to publications on taxidermy, to fragile or loose-leaf materials from the twentieth century such as Live in Your Head (Kunsthalle Bern, 2006) and Fluxus (A, 1979). Partial runs of periodicals in unusual formats, including Fuse (1991–7) and Visionaire (1990s, 2000s), are also included. Books are listed on the main Library catalogue.

Silvie Turner papermaking Collection

A collection of 83 books, pamphlets, catalogues and samples covering the history and techniques of papermaking around the world, acquired from Silvie Turner, printmaking scholar and associate of the Printmaking programme. Many of the unique or ephemeral books were collected during the period 1970–95 as research for the publications Handmade Paper Today (Lund Humphries, 1983) and The Book of Fine Paper (Thames & Hudson, 1998). The formally published books have been catalogued and may be found on the Library catalogue. Ephemeral material may be browsed on site by appointment.

Contact us

For queries regarding the RCA's Archive and Collections, email Neil Parkinson, Archives & Collections Manager

Email us at
[email protected]
Plate from Mary Gartside - Essay on Light and Shade (detail) (1805)