The Lamb Collection

Mr A.C. Lamb

Dundee Central Library holds one of the largest and most varied collections of local history materials in Scotland. Without the dedication of Alexander Crawford Lamb, the legacy of over 450 boxes of ephemera, including maps, photographs, books and prints would have been lost to future generations. The collection was acquired after his untimely death during a trip to London by Edward Cox, a local business man, and donated to the city. Alexander Crawford Lamb (1843–1897) was the son of Thomas Lamb, the owner of a temperance hotel in Dundee’s Murraygate. A second hotel was opened in 1867 in Reform Street, for which A.C. Lamb became responsible after his father’s death in 1869.

A. C. Lamb became aware that in 1871 old buildings were disappearing due to the implementation of the Improvement Act. He therefore sought to record their existence by collecting views of anything which illustrated Dundee's trade, commerce and the activities of its citizens. Apart from being a collector of artefacts, A. C. Lamb also spent many years producing a piece of work illustrating the history of Dundee, called “Dundee: Its Quaint and Historic Buildings'”.

Lamb formed large and valuable collections of modern oil paintings and water-colour drawings; a representative and very large collection of engravings and etchings from the very beginning of these Arts; of coins, medals and camei; of rare porcelain; of pre-historic flint implements; and of works in English literature, distinguished for their rarity or unique bindings, and specially strong in early or sumptuously printed editions of Shakespeare, Scott, and Burns.

Lamb’s Collection was known throughout the city. It formed the basis of the celebrated “Old Dundee” Exhibition (1892–3). Lamb himself wrote several articles and books, the most famous of which was his monumental study Dundee: Its quaint and historic buildings, published in 1895 by the local printer, George Petrie. It was reviewed in The Spectator on 19th October that year: “Mr Lamb deserves high praise for his painstaking and interesting work, which must have cost many years of self-denying labour. It is too large and costly to pass into the hands of the general public, though a judicious selection might easily be made for their use; but many in Dundee can well afford to purchase it, and they ought not to miss the opportunity of possessing themselves of a splendid memorial of their ancient city”.

The reviewer concludes: “A word of praise must be given to the illustrations which adorn Mr Lamb’s sumptuous volume”. A Prospectus, which was printed in 1893, announces a limited edition of 350 copies, each with 50 plates, printed on specially-manufactured paper (in two varieties – one for the illustrations, the other for the letterpress), at a cost of five guineas (£5.25).

Lamb’s activities were not restricted to collecting and documenting Dundee’s past. As well as running a busy city centre hotel, he was a member of various associations and clubs (particularly those interested in artistic pursuits), and a keen participant in politics.

The Local History Centre is open:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday – 9.00 am to 6.00 pm
Wednesday – 10.00 am to 6.00 pm
Saturday – 9.30 am to 5.00 pm

Staff in the Local History Centre may be contacted on:

Tel: 01382 431550
Fax: 01382 431504