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By CJ Crennell and John Underwood on

Trade literature uncovered

CJ Crennell and John Underwood investigate trade literature from the Science Museum's Library and Archive.

Our world class Trade Literature collection features promotional, advertising and instructional literature from thousands of companies from the 1800s to the present day.

Examples include technical manuals for cars, home wares brochures, trade magazines, and advertising materials for practically everything a person might want to buy in their lifetime: from Thomas Crapper sanitary ware to Gamages ‘Cyclists pocket revolver ’ and a Rolls Royce 1925 New Phantom (clockwise below).

Unfortunately these ephemeral items were often thrown away because of their transient nature, without anyone realising what a valuable historical resource they could be for future generations.

Even the most disposable items can connect us all to a particular time and place.

You may never have thought much about adverts, business cards and other promotional materials, but they can be an amazingly rich research source.

These items can be used for studying the history of science, engineering, and medicine, answering technical questions or even investigating sociological and cultural questions about our interactions with science and technology.

We care for over 100,000 items related to Trade Literature in the Library and Archives at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire.

These items join our collection either as printed materials associated with an object that was acquired by a curator (below) or via donations from individuals, companies and organisations.

One such organisation is the National Trust. Its headquarters, Heelis, is in Swindon, close to our Library and Archive.

Over the last decade, Darren Beatson, the National Trust’s Record and Archives Senior Coordinator, has generously donated relevant trade literature to the Science Museum Group.We, and other libraries and museums, have benefited from acquiring material that the National Trust no longer needs. These items cover all aspects of the National Trust’s activities from estate management to public access and hospitality.

As you can see from the images above and below, these items provide a unique insight into the workings of a complex organisation (such as the National Trust) for our Trade Literature collections.

We would like to thank Darren and the National Trust for their continued support and donations to our collection.

If you would like to know more about the Trade Literature we care for, or are interested in researching a particular company, please contact us or visit our webpage.

We have twice sought permission to use images in this blog. If you believe an image has been used incorrectly, please contact us and we will remove the image.