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Senate House Library

Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature

The Goldsmiths' Library includes over 70,000 items from the 15th to the 21st century covering all aspects of economic and social history

The Collection

Subject: Economics; economic history (social sciences)

Comprising a broad range of material of particular value for economic and social history, the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature contains some 70,000 printed books, pamphlets, periodicals, manuscripts, broadsides and proclamations from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, with particular strengths to 1850. It began as a collection to support a scholarly edition (never completed) of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) but soon expanded.

Subjects covered include economic thought, financial and monetary policy, early English and French socialism, slavery, railway history, temperance and the condition of the people. Such is its comprehensive that booksellers use the phrase “Not in Goldsmiths” to denote rarity. Texts range from the first editions of economic landmarks—works by Malthus, Ricardo and so forth—to obscure anonymous items. Some former owners include Adam Smith, Arthur Young, David Ricardo, Richard Oastler, James Turner, Victor Considérant, Robert Owen and William Pare. A particular treasure is a copy of Das Kapital inscribed by Karl Marx to a fellow German exile, Peter Imandt. Further subject coverage information can be found below.

The collection is based on the library of some 30,000 items of Herbert Somerton Foxwell (1849-1936; see ODNB), an academic economist and bibliophile at London and Cambridge who described his library as as ‘a collection of books and tracts intended to serve as the basis for the study of the industrial, commercial, monetary and financial history of the United Kingdom, as well as of the gradual development of economic science generally’. Read more about the brief history of this collection below. Foxwell noted salient features about items or their provenance on about one-fifth of his books or pamphlets.

The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths purchased Foxwell’s collection in 1901 on the initiative of their Clerk, Sir Walter Prideaux, and presented it to the University of London in 1903. Gifts from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths have enabled Senate House Library to augment the collection ever since. Additions have included the purchase of the Goldsmith's Library supplementary collections: The Sabatier Collection (1906), Sheffield Collection (1907), Rastrick Collection (1908), Temperance Collection (1930) and Reform Club pamphlets (1964). More information on the Goldsmith's Library supplementary collections can be found below.


Catalogued online from microfilms and cards; for copy-specific information, it is necessary to consult the books themselves. For an overview of the library, do a mixed classmark search on [G.L.] or, for items acquired before 1982, see the printed catalogue (see below).

Access to the full text of most items in the Goldsmiths’ Library published before 1851 and some published 1851-1914 is available via The Making of the Modern World.

Much material beginning with the classmark [G.L.] immediately followed by a letter is held offsite and requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched.

Related material

  • Family Welfare Association Library, University of London
  • Porteus Library, University of London
  • MS1163 Manton Marble Collection, University of London Archives (American politics, foreign relations, economic matters)
  • UL/1/7, ‘The Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature, 1903-1953’ (description of the collection)
  • MS602MS789MS790, MS1115, MS1166 (invoices, correspondence, etc. concerning Foxwell and the Goldsmiths’ Library)

Further reading

  • Canney, Margaret and David Knott, Catalogue of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature (5 vols.; London: Cambridge University Press, 1970-1995). Includes description of Foxwell and the library by J.H.P. Pafford, vol. 1, pp. ix-xxi.
  • Canney, Margaret, Robert Owen, 1771-1868: Catalogue of an Exhibition of Printed Books held in the Library of the University of London, October-December 1958 (London: [University of London Library], 1959).

Herbert Somerton Foxwell and the Goldsmiths’ Library: A Brief History

Subject coverage of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature

An excellent insight into the diverse subject coverage of the Goldsmiths’ Library collection can be found in the subject arrangement that was devised for the printed Catalogue of the Goldsmiths’ Library of Economic Literature.

The basic chronological arrangement of the items in the library itself is followed in this printed catalogue, and supplemented by the adoption of fourteen general subject divisions. Eight of these subject divisions are the same as those named by L.W. Hanson, in his seminal bibliography Contemporary Printed Sources for British and Irish Economic History 1701-1750.

To these have been added the headings “Corn Laws”, “Population”, “Slavery” and “Socialism”, which, although they might equally well have been included within the larger subjects, have been given separate headings because they represent subjects in which the Goldsmiths’ Library possesses material of special interest.

“Politics” and “Miscellaneous” have also been added for subjects which, though found in the collection, are not strictly economic. The full list is given below; together with some of the less obvious subjects included in each.

  1. General. Including general treatises on sociology and political science as well as economics; topography, and the theoretical and general aspects of emigration.
  2. Agriculture. Including fishing, mining, surveying and landed property in all its aspects, except tithes.
  3. Corn Laws. Including their agricultural, financial and commercial aspects.
  4. Population.
  5. Trades & Manufactures. Including practical manuals and technology in general.
  6. Commerce. Including shipping, piracy and smuggling.
  7. Colonies. Including all subjects relating to particular colonial areas, but not usually those concerning the relationship between the mother country and the colonies.
  8. Finance. Including, coinage, numismatics and tithes.
  9. Transport. Including transport technology.
  10. Social Conditions. Including public order, public utilities, debtor and creditor (except discussions from a financial standpoint), penology, criminology, trades unions and temperance.
  11. Slavery.
  12. Politics. Including some political theory.
  13. Socialism. Limited to theoretical works on the subject and not including works on other subjects from a socialist viewpoint.
  14. Miscellaneous. Including national defence, local government, subjects not relevant to the social sciences (e.g. theology), and the unclassifiable.

Goldsmiths’ Library supplementary collections