Collection of Early Drawing Instruments

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 25, 2010

The following 2007 press release from Columbia University regarding the Alpern Collection of drawing instruments notes that “an exhibition and catalogue are in preparation.” Well, here they are (nearly so anyway). . .

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A pocket set of silver instruments with an ivory scale/protractor, housed in a silver-mounted case covered in shagreen – the skin of a sting ray. English, 2nd half of the 18th c.

February 28, 2007 An outstanding collection of early architectural drawing instruments has been donated to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University by noted New York architectural historian Andrew Alpern.

The collection comprises 170 English, Continental and American sets and individual pieces spanning over 250 years of exquisite craftsmanship in silver, ivory, steel and brass.  Sets range from small portable sharkskin or tortoise-shell cases containing the architect’s essential tools – pen, scales, dividers, compass and protractor – to large mahogany cases containing every aid imaginable for the aspiring draftsman. Assembled over a 40-year span, the collection is fully functional.  According to Alpern, “Preparing construction drawings (as I have) employing 18th-century solid silver instruments of superb quality is vastly more satisfying than using ordinary modern ones.”

“We are tremendously grateful to Andrew Alpern for his gift of these rare and precious instruments” said Avery Library’s Director, Gerald Beasley, who added that “Computer-aided design has entirely supplanted their manufacture and use, but this only increases their research value to historians of architectural design.”

The collection, which also includes numerous trade catalogues and other rare books about the instruments, is available to researchers by appointment at Avery Library’s Department of Drawings and Archives. An exhibition and catalogue are in preparation.

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This elegant volume documents three hundred years of exquisite drawing tools, richly photographed and described, for architects, draftsmen, and engineers. Crafted in silver, ivory, steel, and brass, the instrument sets catalogued here range from small silver-mounted tortoiseshell pocket étuis to multitiered mahogany cases housing every professional aid imaginable. Computers have supplanted their manufacture and use, yet these exquisite traditional instruments are still fully functional. ISBN 9780978903732, $60 (September 2010).

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