National Museums Scotland Archive

Scope and Content

The National Museums Scotland archive contains Directors papers and correspondence, annual reports, registers, scrapbooks, illustrations, plans, photographs and other museum records.

1. Directors' Papers

  • Letterbooks (30 vols; 1861-1937)
  • Correspondence (43 boxes; 1854-1982: mainly 1900s)
  • Exhibitions
  • Lectures, Films and Talks
  • Friends of the Royal Scottish Museum
  • National Committees and Reports

2. Other Museum Records

  • Annual Reports
  • Edinburgh University Natural History Museum – daily, weekly and annual report books
  • Press cuttings scrapbooks (1857 to date)
  • Museum of Scotland Project
  • Royal Museum Project

3. Museum Registers (1855 – 1966)

  • Original registers
  • Microfilmed registers

4. Illustrations, plans and photographs

  • Watercolours
  • Photographs of the interior and exterior
  • Architectural plans of the Royal Museum Scotland (1869-1991)
  • Posters
  • Framed photographs of Directors and Staff
  • Ephemera

Administrative / Biographical History

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was founded in 1780, very much in the spirit of the enlightenment, to collect the archaeology of Scotland. Its collections passed into public ownership in 1858 as the original collections of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland

These collections, which had had various homes previously, were housed from 1891 until 1995 in specially built galleries in Finlay Buildings, Queen Street, Edinburgh (also occupied by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery).

The Industrial Museum of Scotland was founded in 1854 and reflected the impetus of Victorian ideals of education. It started international collecting and research as well as forming close links to the collections and teaching of Edinburgh University, which continue today. Renamed the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art, it opened in its first bespoke building, designed by Francis Fowke, in Chambers Street in 1866.

In 1904 it was renamed the Royal Scottish Museum. In 1970 the Royal Scottish Museum incorporated the Scottish United Services Museum. Two other museums were later added: The Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield in East Lothian in 1975; and the Museum of Costume at Shambellie House in 1982.

In 1985 the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland was amalgamated with the Royal Scottish Museum. The 1985 amalgamation created the National Museums of Scotland (rebranded as National Museums Scotland in 2006), the largest multi-disciplinary museum in Scotland, with four million items in its collections and the largest body of curatorial and conservation expertise in the country.

The Museum of Scotland was opened in 1998, to tell the country’s history from earliest times to the present day. The redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland (2006-2011) transformed the adjacent Victorian building, opening up public spaces, providing new facilities and displaying our natural world, world cultures, art and design and science and technology collections in innovative new ways.

Today, National Museums Scotland incorporates the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National War Museum, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National Museums Collection Centre.

Access Information

Library open Monday to Friday 10:00 - 17:00. Please make an appointment with the library beforehand. Email

Other Finding Aids