From the Reading Room.

Kirstin Smith, a PhD candidate in the Drama Department at Queen Mary (University of London), has been in this week looking at a number of volumes from the Goldsmith’s Library of Economic Literature.

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Silver vs. gold.  Free silver and the people…  (front cover ) By C.M. Stevans.

The books Kirstin chose to consult concern the debate in the USA in the late nineteenth century as to whether that country should return to the system of ‘bimetallism’, where a nation’s holdings of gold and silver act as a guarantee of the value of a currency.   As the ratio for the value of silver to gold was to be set at 32 to 1, rather than the actual value of 16 to 1, economists agreed that ‘free silver’ would cause inflation.  The key point for politicians was whether this inflation would be beneficial – Democrats thought it would and Republicans did not.  1893 had marked a severe depression in the USA and many believed inflation was necessary to get the economy moving again (a debate still raging today).  It would have been especially beneficial for the farmers of the Midwest and the South, as increased prices for their crops would enable them to repay debts quicker.  The financial establishment of the Northeast, the railroads, industry, diversified farmers and business all favoured the Gold Standard; many of these were creditors and inflation would devalue the loans they had provided.  Free silver was a populist movement that portrayed its campaign as a fight between ordinary Americans against bankers, railroad barons and other proponents of laissez-faire capitalism. 

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Real Bi-Metallism or true versus false coin – a lesson for “Coin’s financial school’. (p. 71) By E. Wheeler

Free silver was also portrayed as anti-British – still a potent vote catcher at that time.  As a policy objective bimetallism failed and the USA moved to the Gold Standard at the end of the nineteenth century, before the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 completely overhauled the US monetary system.

It was with the above in mind that I asked Kirstin why she was particularly interested in the volumes we had fetched for her and how they related to her wider research.  Her answer was a surprise.

‘I’m researching the emergence of stunts as a form of performance, word and concept, so why am I reading about the bimetallism debate in the USA at the end of the 19th century?  One of the earliest references to stunts I’ve found so far is in a New York newspaper in 1897.  It’s about William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat politician who led the campaign for ‘free silver’.  Through Bryan and the Free Silver campaign I am thinking about how stunts relate to value.  I’ve been reading a campaign handbook, Silver vs. Gold.  Free Silver and the people ([G.L.] E.896) by C.M Stevans which as well as being of direct relevance to my research also raises many interesting points concerning modern conceptions of value, currency, guarantee and the power of banks today.’

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Coin’s financial school (p.123) By W. Harvey

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Coin’s financial school (p.21) By W. Harvey



Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring railways

Rastrick diary

Rastrick diary

According to an assessment in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 4 (1923-4), between 1829 and 1849 “there was hardly a [railway] line projected or carried through on behalf of which he [i.e. John Urpeth Rastrick] did not appear professionally either as witness, surveyor or engineer”. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states more modestly that from 1825 onwards Rastrick “was employed to support, in parliament, a large portion of the principal railway lines in the United Kingdom”, and our own treasures volume says cautiously: “Until 1849, he was to be involved as witness, surveyor or engineer for many railway projects in the United Kingdom”. The fact remains – he was a prominent and significant railway engineer. The University of London Library acknowledged the value of his work when in 1908 it appealed successfully to the Worshipful Goldsmiths’ Company for money to buy his early notebooks, plans and estimates, as well as a large number of early pamphlets on English, American and Italian railways; three further purchases of notebooks, diaries, letters and papers were to follow between the 1920s and 1965. Introducing the handlist of the Rastrick archival material in Senate House Library, T.D. Rogers wrote that whereas published accounts of Rastrick tended to enumerate his work and achievements, “A study of the diaries and letters in this collection may help to reveal a person as well as an engineer, to correct some dates, and also to provide new ones for an account of his life”. What emerges most clearly from his diary of 1840, when he was working among other things on a route between London and Brighton, is his extreme energy.

            However significant textually, diaries and notebooks tend not to be visually

Views on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway

Views on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway

attractive, so we needed an additional image for the entry in the treasures volume. This sent us to the early books on railways in the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature – Rastrick’s and Herbert Somerton Foxwell’s – to find an image to accompany the entry in the treasures volume on Rastrick’s diary. We felt that we came up trumps with John Blackmore’s Views on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway (1836-1838) with 23 plates by J.W. Carmichael intended to show “the delightfully varied scenery and interesting country” around the railway.

Going Underground with the Institute of Historical Research: Marking 150 Years of the Tube

The Institute of Historical Research is about to hold a conference (17-18 January) “Going Underground: Travel Beneath the Metropolis, 1863-1913” to mark the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. Senate House Library was pleased to offer a small display in the Jessel Room, on the first floor of Senate House, to support the event. Since 1908, when the University purchased manuscripts and pamphlets about railways which had belonged to the railway engineer John Urpeth Rastrick, the Library has had strong holdings on railways within its Goldsmiths Library of Economic Literature, and over the years several accruals have concerned the tube, from booklets about individual lines to maps and monographs. The books in the display show enduring general interest in the London Underground. The main exhibit is a large map at a scale of 1:15,840 and measuring 111.8 by 102.8 centimetres. Produced by Robert. J. Cook & Hammond in 1903, this shows lines running, lines under construction and lines proposed. Its limits are Highgate, Wimbledon, Wormwood Scrubs and the Isle of Dogs. The map was too large to fit in the display case in its entirety, but we ensured local relevance by including Russell Square in the portion shown.

Focus on railways

Dr Carlos Galvis of the Institute of Historical Research addressed the Senate House Library Friends on ‘Transport Collections in the Goldsmiths’ Library’, and supported the talk with a display from the Library’s works on railways. It was a good chance to showcase a topic that has been a strength of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature ever since it entered the University of London in 1903, and one that become still stronger with subsequent purchases – most notably from the collection of the railway engineer John Urpeth Rastrick, the first part of which was purchased in 1908. The appreciation of the Friends at seeing Bradshaw timetables, early tourist guides based on use of the railways, and railway reports was warming: ‘we all gathered around the exhibition admiringly afterwards. THANKS so much from the Friends’.