Goldsmiths' Company


Sophia Tobin - Deputy Librarian

Sophia Tobin is Deputy Librarian at the Goldsmiths Company, one of The City of London Livery Companies. Sophia explains the role of the Company in the modern world, the role of the library within the organisation, who uses the library, and discusses the kind of work she is involved in on a daily basis.

Sophia talks about the engagement and digitisation projects already underway for the 700th anniversary of The Company's Royal Charter in 2027.

The interview highlights a changing role for Librarians and Archivists as not just knowledge guardians but as data stewards, guiding visitors through the library's content. She discusses opening the collection to a wider audience via digitisation but at the same time encouraging users to physically experience the treasures of the Library at the Goldsmiths' Hall.

The collection ranges from Anglo-Norman French documents written on vellum to digital files from the 1980s. Sofia picks some of her favourites including an illuminated lapidary of gemstone cuts from the 1300s, correspondence from Thomas Cromwell and a first edition of the 1677 "A Touchstone for Gold and Silver Wares: Or, a Manual for Goldsmiths, and All Other Persons".

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello and welcome to the max communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is Faith Williams and i'm joined today by Sophia Tobin deputy librarian for The Goldsmiths Company Sophia would you like to introduce yourself and tell us how you came to be in your position yeah sure thank you um so i came through a bit of a circuitous route really uh i worked in the precious metal trade i actually researched sold uh and that's how i came into the kind of winner of the goldsmith's company and became aware of them uh uh on my background in history and history of art um i think there's always been a bit of an inner librarian in there I've always been quite obsessed you know making sure information is findable uh but i so i began basically as a researcher going to the company library and um became more aware of what it's about uh and just to say that the company is for anyone who doesn't know about the goals of this company it's a livery company so it's a membership organisation and it's been going uh you know for centuries and centuries our first royal charter was in 1387 and the company has an assay office which hallmarks gold and silver so it's really connected with gold and silver in the trade and it also supports training in silver and jewellery and apprenticeships and it has a big charitable remit as well so it also gives lots to charity and the library itself and the archive supports all of those things whether directly or indirectly so i began working in the library nine years ago and i began as a library administrator and uh gradually have worked my way up um through being an assistant librarian and now i'm deputy librarian so that's how i kind of came into the library um yeah so how do you spend an average day i think the good thing about working in a library is there is no such thing as an average day we have a huge variety of holdings so we have a huge variety of researches and you don't have to be a member of the company to research in the library so it's open to anyone who wants to come by appointment and it's a reference library i should say as well it's not a circulating library so i might on an average day be dealing with research inquiries by email so people might email in and ask us to identify a hallmark or they might be a family history researcher who wants to know about our membership records so i might be looking into things like that i might be dealing with readers in the reading room itself talking to people about their research and the kinds of things we can help them with so not all of our books are on display for example so we often talk to people about what they need um our catalogue also isn't yet online which is something we're working on at the moment so often people are quite dependent on us to know what they should be looking for and we can access our catalogue and give them reading lists and so forth so i might be doing that um i also do image licensing for the company and i deal with copyright inquiries as well so that might be something i'd be working on i might be working on the digital project that we're working on at the moment as i say to try and get our holdings online and to open up the archives in the library to uh to the world essentially so it's a big big project for us and then i might be giving tours or lectures uh we give tours of the building so the company is based in goldsmiths hall which is a grade one listed building and has very kind of significant uh decoration and architecture and furnishings so we give tours of that as well um during lockdown we've been uh giving lectures online so um a colleague a librarian my colleague Elaine Bide and i um were involved in a lecture series over zoom to do with women in silversmithing and then finally i might be doing cataloging so cataloging obviously incredibly important to make our holdings findable and at the same time often i think lots of librarians say it's the thing that that ends up piling up in the corner that there's always something more urgent to do but you know it's really really important so i might be doing that as well wow i think there's lots of ] the company was founded in 1327 is that right that's when the company got its first charter its actual history stretches back even further kind of into the mists of time so we think there was a there was certainly a guild in the 1100s maybe the 1200 the more informal associations but 1327 is the big date for us because that's when the charter was done so we've been based on that the site that we're on now as well since the 1300s and i mentioned goldsmiths hall itself so that's the third incarnation of the hall it was built in the 1830s so yes it's got a very very rich history and our archives actually begin in 1334 that's our earliest uh kind of paper-based record that we have existing and our earliest records are actually in anglo-norman french so you know it they we're very lucky they've been translated by a wonderful academic called lisa jefferson and we have them in published warm as well from the from the 1300s going into the 1400s but as you can imagine because the company is has such a long history uh we have a huge variety of holdings so as i say archives from the 1330s onwards um and then things like designs we have objects such as the office weights or punches we have photographs av material over 8 000 books on silversmithing and jewellery and lots of journals as well so there's a huge variety of material i should say actually the library itself rather than the archive was begun after the second world war and that was to help promote the trade and to educate and stimulate the trade in the economic downturn after the war wow that's an incredibly rich history who accesses the collection then what type of people and what are they looking for well you might imagine because we have so many different kinds of holdings if there's a huge variety of people who come so as i said we the goals in this company focuses a lot on on the trade and on goldsmithing and silversmithing training jewellers and silversmiths so we have students that come in sometimes as part of the apprenticeship scheme or as part of groups from the goldsmith center which is an associate organisation which has subsidised workshops and runs lots of training schemes and supports trade um and at the core of that is the apprenticeship scheme which has been going on for centuries so we might have apprentices coming in we might have students coming in uh we might have practising silversmiths uh and jewellers coming in to look up technical things but then you will also get for example history of art students who are interested in silver and gold and the decorative arts you get scholars um phd students uh who would come in to look at our records and our holdings and you would also get members of the public who are just interested in the hallmark on a family wedding ring or are researching their family tree and then there's another really important group of users which is our internal users so we have the goldsmith's company a collection of silver and gold and that's looked after by curator and curator staff and they might come to the library to research pieces and in addition you have people in the assay office who might be researching hallmarks and you have communication staff who are obviously interested in you know telling the story of the company so you know on any one day you might have in one corner a silversmith looking up how to enamel in enamel gold in a certain way you might have a phd student at the other end of the table and you might have someone popping in from the curator's department up a book on the 18th century so it's quite a variety what what is the size of your membership were they all are they all current sort of smithers um no not necessarily so there are several routes into the goldsmith company and the traditional way would be through apprenticeship so learning to be a silversmith or a jeweler but you can also come in through something called redemption which is if you are um somebody who's involved in the trade in some way um you can be invited in in other ways um so we have a variety of members which means that you don't actually have to be involved in the craft to be a member of the company um but um i mean obviously everyone who's a member would be interested in the craft and interest in the community but we also have you know people like lawyers or teachers or who people who have family connections through the company who would who would come in and be part of the membership so it's quite a rich membership but but as i said with the library you don't actually have to be a member to um access it and that's something that we're always kind of saying to people and we always want to make clear that we're really here for everyone so if you know if you're interested in silver and gold and jewellery you can book an appointment and come in you don't have to kind of justify why you would come in you um the company have close links with with other organizations probably most um obviously the goldsmith's university um was founded by by the goldsmith company and then moved on is that right that's right yes um so that was founded um in the 1890s 1880s 1890s i won't say the exact date i'll probably get it wrong but yes the company founded it um because as i said the company's often involved with charity and one area that it's particularly involved in his education not just um through the apprenticeship scheme and for goldsmiths and jewellers but but wider you know with a wider focus as well they still maintain that so yes they founded what was then the new cross institute which has since become uh goldsmith's college and um they then over time they have handed that over so now goldsmith's college is is independent of the company it just bears the name i believe that um our clock may sit on the board of the uh of the college but we don't have any control over over what they do so you don't kind of um team up with them on any projects or anything like that anymore not not with them specifically i mean we've always there are the charity departments always really interested in education and have various projects going but no they're kind of self they're self-governed now but of course you know the name is on there so that's good yeah but you have recently um entered into a partnership with the museum of London yes indeed yes and and that's part of the build-up to the 700-year anniversary of the first charter so there are lots of projects going ahead i mentioned the goldsmiths project the digital project for us to get our holdings online which is a huge project but yes the museum of London as well um the company have given money towards that and towards galleries which will um show some wonderful goldsmiths work hopefully show some people practising the craft as well and that's all kind of under discussion but yes the company is supporting uh the museum of London the new museum of London so that will hopefully be sort of physical examples of workmanship throughout the ages yes absolutely absolutely and of course the museum of London holds as well the cheap side hoard which is a wonderful wonderful um hoard of jewellery from the 16th and 17th centuries which was found and which was dug up in the early 20th century and uh since found its way luckily into the museum of London so that will be on display as well i believe do you have any interaction with the other livery companies in London uh yes yes the um all the delivery companies are you know are you know are linked in various ways uh and um as a library and an archive we certainly have connections with um not just with other livery company archivists but also with basically city of London um archivists so there are various ways of meeting up informally and formally and we all do talk to each other about what we're doing with our collections because although collections within delivery companies are very different often so i mean we're very lucky with the range of archives that survives for example um we we've all got the same you know focus we in in lots of ways so yes we do have interaction with the other companies are there any particular challenges you find with um managing the library you've mentioned that the collections are separate and looked after by curator do you have lots of interaction with them is that a bit tricky sometimes no no it's a very cordial relationship uh we're all kind of working towards the same purpose which is to support goldsmithing and jewelry and silversmithing um so yes the curators department look after the precious metal we look after the works of art and the archives obviously um that's that's a very good relationship um but there are challenges uh with the library and archive definitely um because there's such a wide variety of materials and formats that presents its own kind of preservation issues because you know you have everything from a vellum 16th century piece through to a digital file from the 1980s so there is a there are a lot a huge range of things that you have to think about and in terms of pairing for the collections um and we also have a slight problem with some of our 20th century material because in the past the kind of institutional memory of long-standing members of staff then sometimes things weren't catalogued in depth because they kind of just knew about these things and of course we're moving away from that in libraries from the idea of um you know an individual holding things in their heads so um yeah so we are we're working on the catalog and we have an archivist now which we have for a long time who is going to be looking at cataloguing and we cataloguing some of our archives to make them kind of more findable and more visible for various audiences um another challenge really is visibility as i said we're working towards putting our catalogue online uh and our holdings online in various ways but another thing is that we are based in a very beautiful but very intimidating building so goldsmith's hall is a glorious building and people who go into it tend to gas but at the same time if you're coming there for the first time and i remember that myself visiting it for the first time it is very intimidating so you want to be seen as a really open and friendly place to be um and um so the building has that element to it that it sometimes puts people off um another thing which i think libraries and archives have in common is is that they want to persuade younger readers that not all knowledge is digital that it is worth coming to look at hard copy books that hard copy archives um but not everything is on the internet and we try to do that in lots of different ways when we when we're dealing um with with our with our readers and when we're talking to the phone and by email um and that goes kind of hand in hand although it sounds a bit of a contrast with the idea that we're opening up our digital offering we want to make things visible to people as much as we can whilst also not losing the value of the beautiful amazing archives and books that you can consult in real life um so the role of libraries i think is changing in lots of ways and it's that dual thing that you're trying to do all the time um and and also you have to accept that people are learning differently now and that's not something that you should necessarily fight you know if people we librarians aren't data guardians anymore we're kind of data stewards so we should be able to give curated um offerings to people who want that we should be able to give digital things to people who want that and also promote um the hard-copy stuff as well i think that's really interesting you mentioned that because actually that is why people like libraries and bookshops as well that you get a personalised sort of um guide really yes yeah and i think i mean it's really wonderful when you have people come into the library and they see things like an illuminated manuscript or a specific book from 1890 that tells them exactly what they need to know and that wonderful kind of opening up to the real thing as well as the digital thing and i i i'm not you know downgrading the digital stuff at all because i think link things like linked data are incredibly important that we that we should be part of that too um and i should say as well another challenge is to understand that that people learn differently so i said that we have lots of different types of users in the library and sometimes you're dealing with people who are academics and learning that way and sometimes you're dealing with people who are doing vocational courses in a very practical and hands-on and those people learn differently and so that's one challenge with when we're running teaching sessions which we which we do as part of our work is to adapt the way that we handle the materials and the way that we um deal and try to teach um people too so what are your hopes for the future of the collection you've mentioned your um 700th anniversary of your royal charter that'll be 2027. where do you hope to be then is there an audience you want to target or a goal you want to achieve or do you want to add more to your collection and there's there's kind of there's lots of things um obviously the project we're working on the digital project it's really important that we achieve that which means getting our catalogue online and getting some of our holdings online and really really opening things up um kind of seen as the history keepers of the company in a way and there are amazing stories in that history and we want to make those stories available to people so that they can so they can see them and and and you know uh be part of them as well um i think that the wonderful thing about our collection is that it is a living collection it's not static so it is constantly changing and i just want that to continue and for it to fully reflect all of the people that are involved with the goldsmiths company um and continue to be something that's really valuable so ours is an ancient craft but it's it's incredibly modern as well people are still practicing it today and uh just to continue with the collection to be representative essentially of everyone that's involved um with the train um i think also i just really like most librarians and archivists want people to know how special the collection is and to value it and i think doing the work that we're doing uh in the run-up to the 700th anniversary both through things like the museum of London and also through our digital project and other projects um hopefully it will kind of open it up for the world and people will be able to see what a wonderful resource it is making it more accessible to people absolutely no accessibility is key and we really want our holdings to be accessible we you know we don't want to be kind of just sitting in our our little library uh we want everyone to be part of it yeah because as you just said mental work is an ancient craft and it's still practised all around the world and so you must have a lot of people who would be interested in your collection yes yes absolutely and i think it's it's the craft and um it's always developing there are always new innovations places like the goldsmith center are constantly talking to people who are innovating in all kinds of different areas um there's a big ethical dimension to it as well you know people are looking at their jewelry and how that's sourced and the library holdings are valuable in those ways as well but also there's something magical about jewelry and about gold people even people who aren't involved in the craft be the kind of magic of it um and you know for as long as there have been human beings we have looked at precious metals and gemstones as incredibly symbolic incredibly important and having greater significance to us they're kind of in you see in early texts they're kind of these glimpses of heaven sometimes um so there are all kinds of levels that you can approach the collection on whether it's technical or the history and symbolism of um you know the craft and of gold and silver over the ages people like shiny things they just do they they do that's it basically they like shiny things and when i'm giving a kind of introductory session in the library with my colleagues often one of the books i will get out and i will get a really glamorous book out that has lots of gemstones on it like this wonderful book by Jeffrey Munn about tiara's huge book it was linked with an exhibition at the vna people love tiaras they just want to look at beautiful things sometimes um obviously there's context to that too which which can be learned about um but you know it's it's a source of fascination it always has been for people so you've mentioned a few items but what in your opinion is the most interesting item there are so many interesting items i know that's a cop-out um i i'll mention a few if i may yeah um we have um the early books of ordinances or the rules of the company the goldsmiths company which date from the 1500s um and they're kind of composite books so there are various dates to them and there is an illuminated um lapidary which is all about gemstones uh beautiful beautiful illuminated manuscripts absolutely glorious and it talks about where different gemstones come from and what their symbolism is so i find that really entrancing and most people do as well something about that combination of the illumination and the looking at the you know the different symbolism and it's all bound in with with the rules of the company so it was obviously meant to be a very precious book so i love that um but as a librarian um i think i should go for an actual published book and i really really love a book called a touchstone for golden silverwares and it dates from the 1670s there was a version in 1677 and one in 1679 and it's by somebody called William Badcock and it's all about the craft of goldsmithing uh it's about you know everything from how you fold a paper to hold a sample for essaying and through to things like fakes and forgeries uh so it's a kind of very you know old manual for goldsmithing and the amazing thing is that some of those elements are still present in the trade today because it's an ancient craft so i i really love that book it has a frontisp showing a workshop a goldsmith's workshop people making pieces um and it's just a wonderful wonderful uh book so i'm going to plump for that oh very interesting um thank you for agreeing to speak to me today it's been really interesting hearing about the age and just range of your collection i can't wait to see what comes of this partnership with the museum of London they're great at putting on exhibitions and things like that so i'm sure it will be very exciting for you to come up with things are you going to have a role in that i think we will feed into that um and obviously we will have a role in um supporting the research of curatorial staff and and and other people at the museum of london and within the goldsmiths company so we will be involved in various ways i think certainly something to look forward to is there anywhere you want to point people in the direction of obviously you can visit you at the very intimidating but not actually building on sites but is there anything you have digitized at the moment that people can look at well at the moment that there are a few highlights from the archives on our website so the website is um and if you click through on the craft you will see a link to the library and archive um so there are a few of our treasures on there so for example we have a letter written by Thomas Cromwell from wolf hall so if anyone's interested in you know the Hillary mantel novels we do have that um on screen and we have a few design drawings up as i say we're working on getting a lot of our holdings up but we will be updating our website and so please do have a look at what we have on our website and there's also a goldsmith's company Instagram account which has lots of wonderful things on there and we do post on there as well so if you want shiny things Instagram is the place to go presumably absolutely yeah i definitely have to follow that one and yes thanks so much for talking to me today Sophia it's been wonderful it's a pleasure thank you very much for cheers