The Letter-books in the Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian Archives

© Catarina Garrido e Helena Gonçalves

The Gulbenkian Archives hold a significant number of letter-books, belonging to the Calouste Gulbenkian archives in London, Paris and Lisbon, among others.

Bearing witness to a time when people communicated through letters, and when personal, professional, and business matters were handled and managed through written correspondence, the letter-books – organized sets of copies of documentation sent by a person or company – emerge as an essential tool for controlling and accessing this information.

In the CSG archives we find several sets of general letter-books produced by Calouste Gulbenkian or his collaborators in London, Paris and Lisbon: “Copy Books”, “Copie de Lettres”, and “General Letter Books”. There are others organized by subject -“Banks”, “Private”- , by correspondent – “Armenian Church Trustees”, “Gulbenkian Ltd”- , by the person who wrote the letters – “Letter Books: Nubar Sarkis Gulbenkian”- or even letter-books with copies of letters written at a certain place – “Deauville”, “Paris and Monte-Carlo”, “Aix-les-Bains”.



These letter-books are more or less sophisticated objects, often presented as leather-bound books. A very thin sheet of paper – “bible paper” – was used, and copies were usually produced using carbon paper. The copies are arranged in chronological order, and can also be divided by subject or correspondent. They contain indexes by correspondent were updated whenever a new letter was inserted. The information was also controlled through handwritten inscriptions placed on the letters that allowed them to be compared with others which existed in the letter-book for the same correspondent.



The CSG’s archives contain more than 500 letter-books which keep copies of letters written from 1897 to 1955 by Calouste Gulbenkian, his family, his staff or companies. The oldest letter-book from these archives is the one from Sarkis Gulbenkian, Calouste’s father, which keeps the copy of his letters from 1883 to 1893. This immense set of documents, which spans the entire life of the Founder, is a unique source for the study of both Calouste Gulbenkian and his contact networks.

Updated on 21 july 2021

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