ADAM (ROBERT) Autograph letter signed, 1772
Lot 1
ADAM (ROBERT) Autograph letter signed, 1772
Sold for £875 (US$ 1,470) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("Robt Adam"), to a client ("My Lord"), discussing a commission in hand: he regrets that the present situation prevents him from fixing a date for meeting in Edinburgh "& setting things agoing", although he hopes to be able to do so "in about a month"; meanwhile, he undertakes "to fix Belwood immediately to see the Works carried into execution, as I know him to be capable, Honest & Diligent, & am convinced he will do his utmost to give your Lo[rdshi]p & every body entire Satisfaction"; he regrets nevertheless that "this Emergency" forces him to collect all moneys that are owing: "All the four Brothers have been so much & so constantly employed in settling & arranging our different affairs that we have been able to think of nothing else for some time past. I am hopeful we shall at last get over all our difficultys, but it will still require some time & constant application...As we are obliged to Collect all the debts due to us, I shall take the Liberty to send...a small Bill for drawings done since last Settlement", 3 pages, lightly foxed, some wear at folds (short splits, a few small holes), but overall in good and attractive condition, 4to, Adelphi, August 15, 1772


  • 'ALL THE FOUR BROTHERS HAVE BEEN SO MUCH & SO CONSTANTLY EMPLOYED': Adam and his brothers face financial disaster over the Adelphi Project. The Adelphi – the great speculative development in London built by the four brothers (adelphoi in Greek) – had been begun in 1768 but fell a victim of the financial crash of July 1772. It was to be saved only by a lottery authorised by Act of Parliament the following year.

    Although it seems clear that this is the 'emergency' referred to in this letter, the work being undertaken for Adam's unnamed correspondent cannot, as yet, be firmly identified. The titled recipient was evidently based in Edinburgh and it seems – from the reference to "setting things agoing" – that however long work might have been planned, construction had not yet started. It also seems reasonably to infer, from the reference to giving "your Lo[rdshi]p & every body entire Satisfaction", that it was a public rather than a purely private commission. This might point to Adam's correspondent being his friend Lord Frederick Campbell who, as Lord Clerk Register, was responsible for commissioning Edinburgh's Register House, where the public records of Scotland were to be housed.

    Adam's designs for Register House are dated 1771 and building begun in 1773. The work was supervised by Adam from London, with occasional visits being made his brother John, who was living in Edinburgh. The reference in our letter to "Belwood" is almost certainly to William Belwood (1739-1790), the Yorkshire architect and surveyor who was assisting Adam at this period. However the clerk of works responsible for day-to-day supervision when building began a year or so later was not to be him but James Salisbury who was, like Belwood, an Englishman. By the time work was fully underway in 1774, Belwood had set up his own architectural practice in York and so was otherwise employed. While Adam's assurance that Belwood would "immediately" see "the Works carried into execution" could be thought to imply a less long-term enterprise than Register House; his tendering "a small Bill for drawings done since last Settlement" does indeed fit in with such a project (in which case, "the Works" might refer to a specific task such as the digging of the foundations). See illustration overleaf.
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