Ruthven Todd was born and educated in Edinburgh, and from 1932 to 1934 worked as a farm labourer in Mull before moving to London where he joined the Bohemian world of writers and artists in Fitzrovia. In 1947, he left for the United States where he eventually settled in Martha's Vineyard and became an American citizen. From 1960 until his death, he lived in the Balearic island of Majorca.
Most of the papers date from Todd's Majorcan period, but because he based much of his work on his own experiences and memoirs, they include a substantial amount of material on literary life in London in the 1930s and 1940s. They also reflect his wide interests, which ranged from William Blake to botanical drawing and cookery.