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Friday, 10 March 2017

Soane & Town, Architects


New Spaces Now Open at Soane Museum

Our 7 million pound restoration is now complete.

We’ve just got bigger (and even better!). Our 7-year programme of restoration is complete, returning the Museum to the original design of Sir John Soane. 

Previously ‘lost’ areas have been restored, and new spaces are open for the very first time. These include the Catacombs, the Regency-era kitchens, and our second temporary exhibition space – the Foyle Space. An astonishing 365 objects from our collection are now back on public display for the first time since Soane's death in 1837, and we're thrilled to say that the Museum now has full step-free access. 
-- Recent press release, the Sir John Soane Museum, London

Twin Libraries

The following is excerpted from Ithiel Town: An American Original by Richard Carreño, published by the Thompson, Connecticut, Historical Society (1995)

Much of Town's professional and personal life remains murky.  Perhaps the least known aspect of his life bridges his thirty-year career as a private book collector.  What is known is that during that time Town had amassed an architectural library of about 11,500 volumes, one of the premier collections on the topic anywhere.

According to Michael C. Quinn, "Town's fine arts collection had no peer in America, and probably rivaled European libraries of the day in its comprehensive scope of written and visual printed materials."

One measure of the leviathan size of Town's library is how it compared with comparable collections.  When Jefferson's library was sold to congress in 1815, it contained forty-three volumes in its architectural section.  Peter Harrison's collection numbered twenty-nine titles.  Even Bulfinch's library only tallied about twenty-seven texts.

The intimate size of these other libraries was in keeping with an early tradition of the working library.

Instead, Town became a collector -- a massive collector.  Perhaps unbeknownst to him, the British architect, Sir John Soane, was pioneering a similar effort in England.  Soane's collection, at 7,783 volumes, was sizeably smaller than Town's.  Yet both collectors were likely tapping the same book-selling sources in England and on the continent.

"Both men while requiring illustrated volumes for their professions, responded to the architectural book as an object precious in itself," according to Quinn.

In this context, Quinn has also noted Soane's departure from tradition.  His observation also serve for Town.

"Even though Soane certainly drew on the information contained in his architectural books, their sheer number broke decisively with the earlier tradition of the intimately known working library.  Sir John Soane had extended the instinct of the connoisseur and collector beyond actual works of art, to encompass printed materials devoted to architecture and to the fine arts."

In America, Town was the companion piece.  In published catalogs of the holdings, the collection is routinely referred to as "rare," "choice," "costly" "scarce," "valuable," "extensive," "elegant," and "splendid."

Because of Town's meticulous and driven need for acquisition, any definitive reason for Town's decision to dispose of the library in 1842 has remained a constant puzzle.  This, especially, since Town had built a stately house at 6 Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven (razed in 1942) to house his indulgence.

Quinn notes that Town had always planned to sell the collection citing an 1832 will.

Still mystifying is the timing.  Why just two years before his death in 1844 did he undertake the sale?  Did he have a precedent notion of his impending demise?