Special Collections Twenty at 20: Well-travelled letter book returns

To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number eight.

Daniel B. Patterson letters

The letter book of notable Auckland architect Daniel B. Patterson (1880-1962) arrived one afternoon with its donor straight off a flight from Canada.1 It was donated by the son of one of Patterson’s business partners who inherited it from his father.
The bound volume contains copies of around 800 letters written by Patterson to clients, contractors and collaborators between August 1910 and May 1916. We were delighted to reunite it with other Patterson-related material which we already held in Special Collections. That included more than 450 sheets of architectural drawings for around 60 buildings and seven books from his personal library. Together these items provide researchers with insights into Patterson’s work, professional relationships, and influences.

Letter books


Daniel B. Patterson letter book.

Letter books for recording mechanically produced copies were commonly used from the late 18th century until the 1950s, although other copying techniques started to become popular from the 1920s. Described as the hard drive of their time,2  the original document was written in strong water-soluble ink or with a copy pencil then placed against a dampened and necessarily flimsy page in the letter book. After pressing for a short time an impression of the writing was left on the letter book page.3

Symonds Street brick factory


Daniel B. Patterson, Proposed brick factory Symonds Street (PS28), Patterson Collection.

Some of the earliest letters in the volume relate to a brick factory on Symonds Street (1910). This project was one of Patterson’s first after he immigrated to New Zealand from England in 1909. The plans for the factory, which were already held in the collection, show its location on the corner of Symonds Street and City Road, the site now occupied by the Cordis Hotel.

Patterson worked largely as a sole practitioner until the 1950s when the partnership of Daniel B. Patterson, Lewis and Sutcliffe was formed. He continued to practice until his death in 1962 aged 82. Over the course of his lengthy career, he designed a variety of buildings including Auckland Savings Banks, St David’s Presbyterian church in Khyber Pass, Sisters of the Mission Convent, Devonport’s Victoria theatre, factories, fire stations, houses and commercial buildings.

Discover more

Sarah Cox, Special Collections


1 Daniel B. Patterson letter book. 1910-1916. MSS & Archives Arch 2022/1. Architecture Archive, Special Collections, University of Auckland.

2 Boonshoft, M. (2015). Letterbooks, indexes and learning about early American business. New York Public Library.

3 Batterham, I. (2008). The office copying revolution: History, identification and preservation: A manual for conservators, archivists, librarians and forensic document examiners. National Archives of Australia.

Image 1 & 2: Daniel B. Patterson letter book  

Image 3: Daniel B. Patterson, Proposed brick factory Symonds Street (PS28), Patterson Collection.