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Sam Smith Collection

Call Number: MSS 14

Scope and Contents

The collection comprises original work by Sam Smith including ink drawings, mock-ups, hand-carved wooden boats, paper model sets, and typescripts for three unpublished works: Bioscope Palace, Edward and his marvellous telescope, and Trudi, Angela and John Darme. One of these unpublished works, Bioscope Palace, illustrates Smith's interest in toy theater and silent cinema.

Also present is related correspondence, primarily between Smith and Max and Barbara Wilk. The letters cover many topics, including Smith's unpublished works and his exhibitions. Letters in the collection are from the period of ambition and recognition that Smith enjoyed in the 1970s. The tone is personal and comical and it is obvious that Smith took great care in producing the letters, as they are always hand addressed and signed with love from Sam. The collection also includes secondary material about Smith, including exhibition catalogs and magazine clippings


  • 1972-1996
  • Majority of material found within 1972 - 1979


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Max and Barbara Wilk.


The collection is arranged into eight series: I. Bioscope Palace; II. Edward and His Marvellous Telescope; III. Trudi, Angela and John Darme; IV. Paper Model Sets; V. Carved and Painted Wood Sculpture; VI. Exhibition Material; VII. Correspondence; and VIII. Miscellaneous


4 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection comprises original work by Sam Smith including ink drawings, mock-ups, hand-carved wooden boats, paper model sets, typescripts, and correspondence.

Biographical / Historical

British artist Sam Smith is best known for his hand-carved wooden toys and sculpture. He was born on 27 July, 1908, in Southampton, England. His father, Edwin Thomas Smith, was a steamship captain and a great influence on Smith's art. Smith often depicts themes of the sea, including boats, sea side towns, mermaids, and sea captains.

Smith was educated at Victoria College, Jersey, between 1918 and 1925, and later at Bournemouth School of Art and Westminster School of Art, London, from 1926 to 1930. He aspired to become a painter, but even after one of his paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1925, he did not find success. In 1933 he became an assistant at the Little Gallery in London. While at the Little Gallery, Smith began carving small wooden objects; these later transformed into wooden toys sold at the gallery. By 1935, he began to receive some critical recognition.

Smith's activity creating wooden sculpture was interrupted by World War II, during which he was sent to work as an illustrator of bridge-building manuals for GTC Redbridge Bailey Bridge Company. Smith's experience rendering technical drawings would later prove helpful in his own career as an artist and sculptor.

After 1945, and with the help of Henry Rothschild, Smith began to exhibit his work more frequently, with shows at Primavera, London, and later at the Portal and Serpentine Galleries in London. Smith's work continued to increase in popularity and he began producing on a larger scale. He soon began to supply toys to department stores, boutiques, and private collectors.

Smith's work was widely received in the United States after 1955. He achieved far greater success in the American market, where he developed a cult-like following. The more successful he became, the more expansive and ambitious were his pieces, including some large-scale wooden sculpture, paper cut-out books, and toy theaters. Smith had many dedicated patrons and promoters, including Max and Barbara Wilk, and in 1972 the Bristol City Art Gallery held his first major retrospective exhibition. The exhibition later traveled to Camden Arts Centre, London, and the Beauford Arts Centre, Devon. This exhibition was extremely successful and gave Smith the recognition in his home country that he had previously enjoyed in the United States.

Other exhibitions would follow and some are written about in his letters to Max and Barbara Wilk. In 1976, BBC2 Arena released an award-winning film, Sam Smith: Genuine England. In the early 1980s Smith had a major exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery, London. Illness followed soon thereafter, and Smith died in 1983.


  • Lister, Eric. Twentieth Century British Naïve and Primitive Artists. London: Astragal Books, 1977.
  • Burr, James. “An Alternative Art.” Apollo, Dec. 1980, p. 428.
  • Sam Smith: Genuine England. 2003. Jessica Jewett and Jamie Ridyard. 8 Dec. 2011
  • Pasierbska, Halina. “Smith, Alan Verner [Sam] (1908-1983)” Oxford dictionary of National Biography. 2004. Oxford University Press. 8 Dec. 2011 >
  • Sam Smith: Genuine England, Arena, BBC2, 1976.
Sam Smith Collection
compiled by Sarah Welcome
December, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts
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P. O. Box 208280
New Haven CT 06520-8280 US


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