London Metropolitan Archives - Item Details


Date of Creation:

1567 - 1990

Reference Code:


Scope and Content:
  • The Corsini collection, which consists of correspondence and some business records, is the largest surviving archive of any England-based merchant of the Elizabethan period. While providing unique insight into the history of these politically and religiously turbulent times, it is also of particular interest to the study of postal history, as the letters, which were sent from across Europe, bear meticulous postal endorsements.

    Because the Corsini collection was sold and dispersed at the Christie's-Robson Lowe sales in the 1980s, the material held at LMA consists almost exclusively of photocopies and/or microfilm copies of the original documents. Only two original documents are held at LMA: a letter dated Nov 1590 (CLC/B/062/MS22280A), and an insurance policy for a cargo dated 1583 (CLC/B/062/MS22281).

    The records comprise mainly copies of mercantile correspondence, which falls into the following categories:

    - letters addressed to Philip and Bartholomew Corsini in London, 1567-1601 (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21317/001-011, MS22274/001-021, MS22280/001-010 and MS24481/001-009)

    - letters addressed to the Corsinis, their family, heirs and executors in Italy (Florence, Piacenza and Livorno) and Antwerp, 1578-1798 (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21322/001, MS21323, MS21324, MS22275, MS22276, MS22280/011 and MS24482/001-002)

    - letters addressed to Francesco Venturini, merchant and banker, and his partner and successors in Livorno, 1663-1708 (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21322/001-005, MS21325/001-002, MS21326/001-002 and MS22283/001-006)

    - letters addressed to Angiolini and Frangini, merchants in Florence, 1701-42 (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21322/005-006).

    In addition to correspondence, the collection includes insurance policies (1580-84) and other miscellaneous business records such as bills of lading (1571-98), which can be found mainly in CLC/B/062/MS24482.

    The letters concern mainly commercial matters, such as local exchange rates; credit and payment; the range of commodities available; prices and how they were affected by local taxation, famine or plague; progress of goods; and the condition of goods after having been exposed to adverse weather or pirate attacks. Many letters also provide political and diplomatic news, making it evident how international tensions adversely affected trade routes and the availability of certain goods. Family news are also occasionally reported. There are some very prominent political figures among the senders, including Queen Elizabeth and members of her Privy Council.
Extent: 80 production units
Other Formats: Location of other copies:
Mainly available on microfilm only. Microfilm copies of the auctioned Corsini documents are also held at the J Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, California.
Classification: BUSINESSES
Former Reference: MS 21317; MS 21318; MS 21322 - MS 21326; MS 22274 - MS 22277; MS 22280 - MS 22283; MS 24481 - MS 24483
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:

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Administrative History:
  • Brothers Philip (Filippo) and Bartholomew (Bartolomeo) Corsini were merchants from Florence, Italy, and descendants of a noble Florentine family that produced a number of dukes and a pope. In the late 16th century they were based in Gracechurch Street, then known as Gratious Street, in the City of London, in a grand mansion - a reproduction of their Florentine family house - which faced Saint Benet's church. Gratious Street is also referred to in various 13th-16th sources as Grass Street; it was renamed Gracechurch Street after the Great Fire of 1666.

    Philip (d. 1601) came to London in 1559, and within ten years became the largest importer of European goods to England (chiefly, but not exclusively, finished textiles); he was also a substantial exporter. His younger brother Bartholomew (d. 1613) joined him in London in 1579, while the youngest brother Lorenzo (d. 1590) operated the family business from Florence.

    During the operation of the considerable import and export business out of the Corsinis' house, agents across Europe corresponded with them extensively about the various business activities, occasionally including political or family news along with detail of local commercial conditions.

    After Philip Corsini's death in 1601, Bartholomew retired to Italy and continued to trade from bases first in Florence and then in Piacenza. On the death of Barthlomew Corsini in 1613 the business and estate in Italy were managed by his heirs Neri and Felippo Corsini, his executors Niccolo Gianni and Lorenzo Segni (later replaced by Francesco Medici) and his estate bankers Vincenzo Corsini and Giabattista Biffi.
Creator: Corsini | Philip | fl 1568-1600 | merchant
Corsini | Bartholomew | fl 1568-1600 | merchant
Custodial History: The records were in the possession of the Corsini family in Florence until 1980s, when the large body of about 3,600 documents relating to the Corsini brothers' England-based business was auctioned by Christie's-Robson Lowe at various sales held in London and Zurich between 1984 and 1988, as follows:

- London, 4 Sep 1984: 'The Corsini Correspondence' Sale I (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21317)
- Zurich, 30 Oct 1984: 'The Corsini Correspondence' Sale II (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21317) and 'The Postal History of Western Europe and the Mediterranean' Sale II (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21322]
- Zurich, 17-18 Apr 1985: 'Postal History 16th-18th centuries, Europe and Middle East' (ref. CLC/B/062/MS21323-21326)
- London, 11 Jun 1986: 'The Corsini Correspondence' (ref. CLC/B/062/MS22274-22276, MS22280, MS22282)
- London, 5 Nov 1986: 'Francesco Venturini Archive' (ref. CLC/B/062/MS22283)
- London, 11 Oct 1988: 'Historical letters to Gratious Street, London, 1570-1601' (ref. CLC/B/062/MS24481-24482)

Before being sold and dispersed, the Corsini collection was fortunately photocopied and microfilmed with financial assistance from the JP Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, and deposited at Guildhall Library (now at LMA) together with the sale catalogues (ref. CLC/B/047).
Copyright: Depositor
Source of Acquisition:
  • 1986/019
  • 1988/058
  • B16/177
Access Restrictions: These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 2018
Arrangement: The collection has been divided into groups reflecting the six Christie's-Robson Lowe sales at which they were sold. Within these groups, photocopies of documents are arranged in the chronological order of receipt, whereas microfilms (except MS21323-6) are arranged in the lot number order, i.e. alphabetically by country and town from which the letters were sent. The two original documents have been listed in a separate section.

Related Material: Christie's-Robson Lowe sales catalogues of the Corsini auctions (ref. CLC/B/047) are crucial for the study of the Corsini collection. They provide much detail about the political background, the Corsini family, and about individual letters and their senders and recipients - including translations of crucial excerpts into English.

The original items are now in private and other repository collections, except for the two items deposited in this collection (ref. CLC/B/062/MS22280A and CLC/B/062/MS22281).

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) holds on display: original insurance policy 29 October 1582 covering a cargo of lead from London to Leghorn (correct as of September 2019).

The Postal Museum purchased lots in the Robson Lowe sale as accession 308. Among them is an original letter to Bartholomew Corsini, 1583 (PH 34/14b) and further items in album PH 34 and some in PH 174. As of July 2017 these items have not been catalogued: please contact Postal Museum for further information.

Folger Shakespeare Library holds some letters (MS Add 941, 942).

Records relating to the Corsini brothers' Florence-based business are still in the possession of the Corsini family and are held at L'Archivio dei Principi Corsini in Florence.

LMA accession reference B17/079 comprises Mike Scott Archer’s research papers as joint author with Philip Beale and Adrian Almond of 'The Corsini Letters' (Stroud: Amberley Publishing 2011): access by appointment only
Publication Notes:

"The Corsini Letters" by Philip Beale, Adrian Almond and Mike Scott Archer (Stroud: Amberley, 2011) is a comprehensive study of the collection and essential background reading.

"The Corsini Letters 1537-1637", an article in The Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 9 issue 2 (1988) by Jaqueline Cox describes the sale of the collection.

These publications have been used in writing the LMA catalogue introduction to the Corsini collection.

'Florence and the Great Fire: New Sources on English
Commerce in the Late Sixteenth Century', by Guido Rossi in 'The Journal of Legal History', Vol. 33, No. 1, April 2012, pp. 93-100 (available online:

Language Notes: Nearly half of the of correspondence is in Italian, and a quarter each in English and French. There are also occasional letters written in Spanish, German, Dutch, Flemish, Portuguese and Latin