Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks

Sir Augustus W. Franks, wood-engraving, repro. in Art Journal Illustrated 1891, p.167. NAL pressmark: PP.6.B

Sir Augustus W. Franks, wood-engraving, repro. in Art Journal Illustrated 1891, p.167. NAL pressmark: PP.6.B

Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks was a Keeper at the British Museum and President of the Society of Antiquaries. His collection of Continental porcelain was on loan to the Bethnal Green Museum for nearly 20 years.

Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks was born on 20 March 1826, the eldest child of Captain Frederick Franks RN and Frederica (née Sebrwght). He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he developed a lifelong interest in antiquarianism. In 1851 he joined the British Museum as an assistant; he was appointed Keeper of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography in 1866, in which capacity Franks was responsible for developing the Museum’s collections, sometimes through personal financial subventions and the donation of objects from his own private collection; his bequest to the British Museum numbered 3300 objects. In 1868 Franks declined an invitation to serve as one of the South Kensington Museum’s art referees, although he later advised on the acquisition of objects, including a vase offered for purchase by Howell & James Ltd. He acted as a juror for the ceramics class at the Paris Universal Exhibition 1878.

Franks loaned his collection of 512 pieces of Continental porcelain to the Bethnal Green Museum in 1896 where it was displayed in the North Gallery until its transfer to the British Museum in 1915. Franks himself prepared a descriptive catalogue of the collection. His collecting interests were eclectic: Chinese and Japanese porcelain and pottery, drinking vessels and Japanese works of art, Continental porcelain, rings and gold ornaments, monumental brass rubbings and British and American bookplates.

Franks was a member of several learned societies, including the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was President from 1891 until the time of his death. Oxford and Cambridge Universities conferred upon him honorary degrees and he was knighted in 1894. Franks died on 21 May 1897 in London and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.


Information in the V&A Archive

MA/1/1258/1-2: Nominal file – Sir Augustus W Franks

MA/1/H3073: Nominal file – Howell & James Ltd

MA/1/R741/3: Nominal file – J F Riano

MA/3/14: J. C. Robinson reports, vol. III, part 3, 1865

MA/4/1, 4, 6-9, 11, 13-14, 20-23, 25-27, 29-30, 33, 36-44, 48: Abstracts of correspondence, 1864-1914

MA/31/5: Register of loans in

MA/49/2/71 & 72: Press cuttings

ED 84/208: Employment of experts and professional assistance for special tasks, 1868-1935

Forty-fourth report of the Department of Science and Art. London: George E Eyre and William Spottiswoode, HMSO, 1897

Other archival sources

See the National Register of Archives

Selected printed works:

Franks, A W, Catalogue of a collection of oriental porcelain and pottery lent for exhibition by A W Franks. London: Printed by G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for HMSO, 1876. NAL pressmark: 96.M.10

Franks, A W, Catalogue of a collection of continental porcelain lent and described by Sir A Wollaston Franks. London: Printed by G. E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode for HMSO, 1896. NAL pressmark: 96.B.129

Franks, A W, ‘The Apology of my Life.’ In A W Franks: Nineteenth-century Collection and the British Museum, eds Marjorie Caygill and John Cherry. London: British Museum 1997. NAL pressmark: NB.97.1045 Wilson, D M. The forgotten collector: Augustus Wollaston Franks of the British Museum. [London]: Thames and Hudson, c1984. NAL pressmark: 509.A.113

‘Sir A W Franks.’ [Obituary]. The Times. 24 May 1897

Wilson, David M, ‘Franks, Sir (Augustus) Wollaston (1826–1897).’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

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