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Letters and Papers

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 L&P
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Letters and Papers
Date(s): 1741-1806
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3,660 in 119 volumes and 1 box
Name of creator(s): Various
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:


Scope and content/abstract:

Scientific papers sent to the Royal Society, many of which were published in the 'Philosophical Transactions'. As the name implies, the series is a combination and continuation of Early Letters and Classified Papers into the 19th century. Later, the sequence divided into Philosophical Transactions and Archived Papers. From the time that the Letters and Papers (or New Guard Books as they were originally known) were created, none of these original papers were copied into Letter or Register Books. Scientists represented include William Herschel (66 papers) William Watson (36 papers) Henry Baker (32 papers) Everard Home (31 papers), William Stukely (30 papers), and John Smeaton (23 papers). As the series progresses, the character of the documents alters - the earlier decades contain larger numbers of short letters, but by the 19th century most of the manuscripts are in the form of long monographs. The texts are supported by a large quantity of original illustrations throughout the series. This collection provides a virtually unbroken run of presentations by leading 18th century scientists; the few gaps include 1746-1749, when no papers were collected. Occasionally such missing items may be located in the archives of other institutions.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The series is arranged into 'Decades', or groups of 10 volumes rather than 10 years, with supplementary volumes interspersed with these sets. 12 such decades from the whole series, originally 126 volumes, are now bound as 119. There is also a supplementary box of loose papers.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Each volume contains a list of contents forming a chronological list of the documents in the form of a reference number, author, title, extent, date of reading to the Society and place of publication in the 'Philosophical Trnasactions'. Each paper is listed in the Archive Card Catalogue, where the information is expanded to include the number of pages of illustrations in the papers. There is a printed guide by A H Church 'The Royal Society; some account of the Letters and Papers of the period 1741-1806' (Oxford, 1908).

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Letters and Papers have been filmed with funding from the Mellon Foundation. The microfilm is available to researchers in the Library. Printed Guide by AH Church 'The Royal Society: some account of the Letters and Papers of the period 1741-1806' (Oxford, 1908) discusses the series, sets out the arrangement of the decades in tabular form, and provides an author index referring to decade and page numbers. The publication was based on a manuscript listing of the papers by Church where each decade is described volume-by-volume, the papers in each decade are indexed by author, and then listed in numerical order. Details given are the same as the contents list in each volume.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Copied from the Royal Society catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Feb 2009.

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