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Graham Gadd Archive at National Museums Scotland

Published by on 22 May 2024

Charlotte Trueman and Emma Baillie were awarded a joint internship, supervised by BIFMO and National Museums Scotland (NMS), to digitise the bills and billheads held in the Graham Gadd Archive. The archive includes more than 1000 nineteenth-century furniture bills, several of them with elaborately decorated billheads. 

Hampton - Gadd archive
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
F. N. Hamptom, 8 Church Road, Burgess Hill, 1894 [NMS GSG 3/89].© National Museums Scotland

Charlotte and Emma explain that the aim of the project was twofold: to digitise the bills for NMS so that they might be more easily accessed for research purposes, and to utilise the information found in them to augment BIFMO. For our own interests, we were keen to understand the billheads as distinctive visual representations of the different makers, offering clues as to the types of furniture they specialised in and what their premises may have looked like. We also hoped to further develop our knowledge of nineteenth-century British furniture design and retail practices, and possibly discover more about regional furniture makers that may have previously gone undocumented.

The initial stage of the project took place in Autumn 2023 at the National Museum of Scotland, where we spent a total of four days working under the supervision of Stephen Jackson (Senior Curator, Furniture and Woodwork) and Jill Dye (Library Services Manager). After getting to grips with the process of digitisation, we worked steadily through the extensive collection of bills, removing each one from the folders, scanning it, making notes of any interesting details in an Excel spreadsheet. When spending so much time with the material we began to notice certain patterns and developments, such as the shift from representing individual pieces of furniture on the billhead to representing the entire shop and/or premises, and the introduction of photography in place of engravings. 

Burton - Gadd archive
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
E. E. Burton, 810 Harehills Lane, Leeds, 1910. [NMS GSG 8/37].© National Museums Scotland

Each bill seemed to reveal new information about the maker, from the types of furniture they specialised in to the expansion of their premises over time. Some bills contained personal details or correspondences, giving further insight into the makers’ lives.

After completing this element of the project at NMS, we moved on to  the second phase which involved organising and processing the information for publication on the BIFMO site. Over three days we worked from the spreadsheet created by the NMS library team, listing each item in the Graham Gadd Archive, and compared the entries to digital copies of the billheads. This ensured that the information in the spreadsheets (such as the date, address and maker's name) aligned with the information on the bills, whilst simultaneously making a note of any makers not yet included in the BIFMO database.

Of the approximately 1,100 bills in the Graham Gadd Archive, we found that around half of the makers were recorded in BIFMO, with around 500 yet to be added. The majority of the undocumented furniture makers worked outside of London, where information is often scarce and patchily recorded. Even for those makers recorded in BIFMO, the archive contained a wealth of information that can be used to enrich their existing biographies.  

Morris Wilkinson & Co
Copyright (Attribution/Credit)
Morris Wilkinson & Co, Nottingham, 1926 [NMS GSG 8/20].© National Museums Scotland

We both had an enjoyable time undertaking the research project whilst gaining valuable digital archival skills and insight into National Museums Scotland as an organisation. Handling the delicate bills gave us an appreciation of the importance of digitising such a collection, so that it may be both preserved and made more readily available to researchers. Whilst working on the project, we both became interested in the many previously undocumented or understudied regional furniture makers represented and therefore chose to research a few of these makers further in two additional BIFMO blog posts.

Over coming months, the information and images will be added to BIFMO.


About the authors

Charlotte Trueman

Charlotte Trueman is a valuer at Ryedale Auctioneers in Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, responsible for evaluating and appraising antiques, fine art and other valuable objects. She was awarded a MA with distinction from the University of York (2020) and a BA in the History of Art at York (2018). 

Emma Baillie

Emma Ballie is a consultant for Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, her thesis focused on the architecture and interiors of eighteenth-century Scottish country houses. She was awarded a MA from the University of Buckingham (2019) and a BA with honours in the History of Art at the University of Edinburg (2017).