Joseph Smith 1673/4?-1770

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Joseph SMITH 1673/4?-1770

Biographical Note

Little is known of Smith's early life, but he was educated at Westminster School. He went to Venice in 1700 as a junior partner in the merchant banking firm of Thomas Williams, and developed a successful and varied career as a banker, merchant, art dealer and bookseller. He commissioned paintings and became an agent for Canaletto. He was British Consul at Venice 1744-60 and is often referred to as Consul Smith.


Smith was involved in brokering sales of books and manuscripts for wealthy patrons - the earliest such connection being with Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester in 1717 - and he also amassed significant collections himself, of which several catalogues were issued between the 1720s and 1750s. Richard Rawlinson noted a visit to Smith's library in 1725, where he saw over 200 incunabula, many printed on vellum. In the 1730s he established a publishing and bookselling business in Venice, in partnership with Giambattista Pasquali. During the second quarter of the 18th century Smith was acquiring books from all over Europe. In 1755 Pasquali published for him the Bibliotheca Smithiana, a huge catalogue running to over 900 pages and listing over 12,000 items. Its contents were mostly bought by George III in 1762 for £10,000, and became a foundational building block of what is now the King's Library in the British Library. After this sale, Smith continued to collect books and manuscripts, which were dispersed in a series of sale in London after his death, mostly in 1773.

Characteristic Markings

Smith used a series of engraved armorial bookplates, Franks 27323-5 (usually found in books other than those sold to George III).


  • Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
  • De Ricci, Seymour, English collectors of books and manuscripts, Cambridge, 1930.
  • Gambier Howe, E. R. J., Franks bequest. Catalogue of British and American book plates bequeathed ... by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, London, 1903-4.
  • Hellinga, Lotte, The Bibliotheca Smithiana, in G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor (eds), Libraries within the Library, 2009, 261-79.
  • Morrison, Stuart L. "Smith, Joseph (1673/4?–1770), book collector and patron of the arts." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Morrison, Stuart L., Records of a bibliophile: the catalogues of consul Joseph Smith, The Book Collector 43 (1994), 27-58.