by Susan Leedham, Cottonian Project Assistant

Behind the scenes, we’re preparing to publish the catalogue of our historically important Cottonian Collection online later this year. As part of this we’ve had the opportunity to have a closer look at some of the exciting prints within the collection.

Whilst cataloguing a portfolio of prints after portraits painted by Joshua Reynolds recently, we came across a small piece of paper tucked into the volume and hidden between the prints.

Upon closer inspection, we discovered it was a short letter addressed to William Cotton III (who donated the Cottonian Collection to the people of Plymouth) from Edmund Henry Parker, the 2nd Earl of Morley at Saltram House.

Dated 25 August C.1840, the letter thanks William Cotton III for allowing the Earl and his wife to view the collection at his home in Ivybridge.

Included with the letter was the gift of a print after Reynolds’ portrait of the Earl’s grandmother, Theresa Parker (nee Robinson).

The Earl writes: ‘I did not see, in your very valuable collection of works of Sir Joshua, a print of the full length of my Grandmother Mrs Parker. It is one of the best pictures of Sir Joshua’.

Letter to William Cotton III from from Edmund Henry Parker, the 2nd Earl of Morley #1

Letter to William Cotton III from from Edmund Henry Parker, the 2nd Earl of Morley #2

The large portrait (which can be seen on display at the National Trust’s Saltram House) was painted by Reynolds in 1770-72 and shows Theresa standing in a garden with her finger on her pulse.

William Cotton III lived at Highland House, Ivybridge from the late 1830’s until the early 1850’s. He and the 2nd Earl of Morley would have moved in the same wealthy circles in Plymouth. Even so, Cotton III would probably have been extremely flattered to have an Earl drop by to view his collection and to present him with a print!

After the Cottonian Collection was donated to the people of Plymouth and installed at the Plymouth Proprietary Library in 1853, the Earl of Morley became one of its first trustees.

To this day, the care of the collection is overseen by a board of six representatives. The board is made up of three of William Cotton III’s descendants and three committee members from the Plymouth Proprietary Library.