Architectural Drawing Instruments Donated to Avery Library

NEW YORK, 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.

2007-02-28.avery_alpernset7Nnairne A pocket set housed in a silver bound <i>étui</i> covered in tortoise shell. English, 3rd quarter 18th c. By Edward Nairne<br><i>Photo: Gil Amiaga</i>
2007-02-28.avery_alpernset5whitford 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 18th c.<br><i>Photo: Gil Amiaga</i>

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.

The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library is one of the most comprehensive collections relating to architecture and the fine arts in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archeology. The Library contains more than 400,000 volumes, including 35,000 rare books, and receives approximately 1,000 periodicals. Avery’s Drawings and Archives collection includes one million architectural drawings and records. The Library is home to the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, an operating program of the Getty Research Institute, which is the only comprehensive American guide to the current literature of architecture and design.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

02/28/07 LMK