Frances Wolfreston (1607–1677) was a gentrywoman from the English Midlands whose life and expansive library first came to scholarly attention with publications from Johan Gerritsen in 1964 and Paul Morgan in 1989. A large portion of her library was dispersed at auction by Sotheby’s in 1856, with some books going directly to institutions like the British Library and others to the libraries of prominent male collectors of the 19th century. Most ultimately ended up in institutions concentrated in the United Kingdom and the United States. Morgan identified 103 books from Wolfreston’s library in an appendix to his essay “Frances Wolfreston and ‘Hor Bouks‘: A Seventeenth-Century Woman Book Collector.” Arnold Hunt discovered an additional 29 books in 2009, and other books with Wolfreston’s ownership inscription have surfaced at random throughout the years, but no systematic hunt for more had been attempted since Morgan’s death.
In 2013, as a library and information science student in D.W. Krummel’s bibliography course, I encountered Wolfreston’s ownership inscription in a copy of Lady Mary Wroth’s Urania (1621) held by Illinois State University’s Milner Library. When I shared the find with him, Don said, “I think you should concentrate your project on this one book – seriously.”
Since then, I have been working to reconstruct more of Wolfreston’s life and library and am currently in the process of writing the first book on this pivotal early reader. As of 2018, I have helped broaden the total number of identified books from her collection to over 200. The purpose of this site is to crowdsource the identification of those 1856 auction books which still remain untraced some 150 years after they were first sold. I am also highly interested in locating books of Wolfreston’s that were sold outside of the 1856 Sotheby’s sale, of which the Urania and her famous 1593 Venus and Adonis are just two. Any new information is welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The site continues to be under construction, but I hope to eventually include a comprehensive list of 1) books identified as Wolfreston’s and 2) books from the 1856 sale thought to be Wolfreston’s, but not yet identified.