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MS 435

Reference code

MS 435


John Carter archive



Administrative / Biographical history

Carter, John Waynflete (1905-1975)

John Carter, bibliographer and author, was born in Eton on 10th May 1905. His father, Thomas Buchanan Carter, was an Eton master as well as an architect and Anglican priest, and John became a king’s scholar of the College. In 1924 he went up to King’s College, Cambridge, where he took the classical tripos. During this time a series of lectures by A.E. Housman ignited Carter’s interest in the study and collecting of rare books.

After graduating from Cambridge Carter joined the booksellers and publishers Charles Scribner’s Sons; he worked as their European agent from 1927 to 1939, and again from 1946 to 1953. During the Second World War he joined the Ministry of Information, working first in censorship and from 1994 in information services in New York.

Carter’s first book, Binding Variants in English Publishing, 1820-1900, was published by Constable’s in 1932; two years later they published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (1934), which Carter had written with Graham Pollard. The two authors argued that a number of so-called early editions of works by Victorian authors were in fact forgeries facilitated by Thomas J. Wise, one of the most well-known book collectors of that time.

Carter’s subsequent publications were less controversial, but equally well received. His Sandars lectures for the University of Cambridge (1947) were published in 1948 as Taste and Technique in Book-Collecting. A collection of shorter pieces, Books and Book-Collectors, followed in 1956. Most notably, ABC for Book Collectors (1952) remains a much-loved and used reference book for book collectors, sellers and cataloguers.

In 1936 Carter married Ernestine Marie Fantl, herself a writer and an associate editor of the Sunday Times.

Throughout his career Carter continued to hunt rare books internationally, including the Shuckburgh copy of the Gutenberg Bible. From 1953 to 1955 Carter served as personal assistant to the ambassador in Washington, for which he was appointed CBE in 1956. In that year he joined Sotheby’s as an associate director, remaining there until 1972.

Carter died in Westminster on 18 March 1975.

References: Alan Bell, ‘Carter, John Waynflete (1905–1975)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30904, accessed 9 Sept 2015]



Extent & medium

9 boxes (TBC)

Content description

The archive has a large collection of John Carter's working papers, including manuscripts, typescripts, research notes and correspondence with others in antiquarian book circles. There are papers relating to Carter's work on individuals like A.E. Housman, T.J. Wise and William Johnson Cory, as well as files dedicated to Carter's work for the Bibliographic Society and Charles Scribner's Sons. Also included are miscellaneous papers relating to other bibliographical work and research done by Carter.

John Carter's personal papers form the other part of this archive. The material from Carter's time at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, includes school books, medals and scrapbooks. There is also a collection of photographs of Carter and photographs that belonged to him. The later years of Carter's life are represented by business cards of Carter at Sotheby's, a file of personal research into a painter called Ansdell Smythe and a file collected by Ernestine Carter about her husband's final illness and death.

As a whole, the archive complements the collection of John Carter's publications in College Library, including his personal copy of 'Binding Variants in English Publishing 1820-1900'. The archive represents Carter's contribution to bibliography whilst also emphasising his wider interests in individuals such as A.E. Housman and Thomas Browne.


Some of the material in this archive was bequeathed to Eton College Library by Ernestine Carter after John Carter's death, while the remainder was purchased for Eton College Library from the posthumous sale of Carter's belongings. Where individual provenance is known, it is specified at file or item level.
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