‘Carefully keepe them together’: a prize for student collectors

This year begins with a call for entries to the Colin Franklin Book Collecting Prize, open to students at the University of Oxford. [See: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/fellowships/the-colin-franklin-book-collecting-prize] Entries are due by 26 January 2015.

As inspiration, consider a volume which was part of two different collections formed over a century apart. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) developed from the 1770s onwards a fine collection of early imprints of Shakespeare’s works. Several of Malone’s books and notebooks contain handwritten remarks about the early editions he had already secured, or hoped to buy, and estimations of how his collection outshone others. This was not just trophy-hunting. Malone’s collection supported him in a lifetime of scholarship and literary disputation on the subject of Shakespeare. Some time before 1805, Malone wrote that he was still hunting the first (1593) edition of Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis. It must have been with great satisfaction — and, yes, the trophy-hunting does shine through here — that he was able to add a note when he paid ‘the enormous price of twenty-five pounds’ to acquire the unique surviving copy from a Manchester bookseller.

This particular book had previously belonged in the collection owned by Frances Wolfreston (1607-1677), and kept at her home, Statfold Hall, Staffordshire. She wrote her name on the title page, ‘frances wolfreston, hor bouk’. In her will, Wolfreston left her ‘phisike’ books and ‘godly’ books to her third son, and specified that all the rest, including a rich collection of Elizabethan and 17th-century poetry and drama, could be loaned to any of her sons or daughters to read, but that her son should ensure they were returned, and he ‘shall carefully keepe them together’.* Aided by the inscriptions, her children would remember that these were her books. The Venus and Adonis was not the only unique survival preserved in this collection. See the ‘Wynken de Worde’ blogpost on Frances Wolfreston as a collector, here.

The spirit of the Colin Franklin Prize recognizes that book collections fulfil personal aims and express intellectual journeys for readers, and that collections are also for the future; the current rarity, age, or monetary value are not relevant criteria in the judging of the prize.

*See the article by Paul Morgan, “Frances Wolfreston and ‘Hor Bouks’: A Seventeenth-Century Woman Book-Collector”, The Library, Sixth series, Vol. XI, No. 3, September 1989.

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