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MS 435

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MS 435


John Carter archive



Administrative / Biographical history

From the ODNB: "Carter, John Waynflete (1905–1975), bibliographer and antiquarian bookseller, was born at 6 High Street, Eton, on 10 May 1905, the eldest of two sons and two daughters of Thomas Buchanan Carter, an architect but later an Eton master and in Anglican orders, and his wife, Margaret Teresa Stone. Strong family connections on both sides prompted his lifelong devotion to Eton College, where he was a king's scholar (and eventually became a fellow in 1967). He was subsequently, from 1924, a scholar of King's College, Cambridge, where he took first classes in both parts of the classical tripos. In his last year at Cambridge he attended A. E. Housman's lectures, which he found highly sympathetic. Housman's account of the Renaissance editors of Catullus encouraged Carter's collection of the works of a poet whom he long cherished intentions of editing (the books are now at the University of Texas). Carter repaid his debt to Housman by editing his Collected Poems (editions from 1939 onwards, anonymously) and Selected Prose (1961); and with John Sparrow he compiled a bibliography first published in 1941 and revised in 1952. His enthusiasm for old books was thus sharpened by the critical spirit and a systematic approach that marked all his bibliographical work. His wife, Ernestine Marie Fantl (1906–1983) [see Carter, Ernestine Marie], daughter of Siegfried Fantl of Savannah, Georgia, whom he married in 1936, shared his tastes and discrimination; she became a leading fashion writer and an associate editor of the Sunday Times. On leaving Cambridge Carter joined the London branch of the New York publishers and booksellers Charles Scribner's Sons, for whom he worked as European agent from 1927 to 1939, returning after war service as managing director from 1946 to 1953. The antiquarian book business Carter built up rapidly gained a high reputation in the trade. He came into contact with the book collector Michael Sadleir, who as a director of Constable's published his first book, Binding Variants in English Publishing, 1820–1900 (1932). It was Sadleir, too, who had the courage to publish An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets (1934), in which Carter had collaborated with Graham Pollard. The young co-authors had come to suspect as creative forgeries some fifty early ‘editions’ of the lesser works of prominent Victorian authors (for example, the so-called ‘Reading’ edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese) which all antedated the known first editions and were therefore of special interest to collectors. The Enquiry combined textual criticism with the chemical analysis of papers and intensive scrutiny of the typographical anachronisms these expensive pamphlets shared. It made a fine detective story in a great age of detective stories, and its final, carefully unstated indictment of the then most eminent and respected of living British book collectors, Thomas James Wise, created a sensation. The bibliographical establishment was strongly defensive of its pundit, but Carter (as the better-known of the two authors) did not weaken; neither did Pollard and Sadleir. Beyond initial general denial, Wise could offer no defence; he died in 1937. Carter and Pollard continued to gather additional evidence for a second edition of the Enquiry, which eventually came out posthumously (much augmented in a Sequel, by Nicolas Barker and John Collins) in 1983. Carter's bibliographical interests extended far beyond scrutinizing suspect Victorian pamphlets. He had excellent taste in fine printing, particularly of the sixteenth century, and his own fine italic hand was modelled on the calligraphy of the same period. His enthusiasms for the prose of Sir Thomas Browne and the illustrative work of Paul Nash were happily combined in the Curwen Press edition of Urne-Buriall (1932), a masterpiece of inter-war British book production. With his bookseller friends Percy Muir and David Randall he made a speciality of music manuscripts and first editions. His serendipity as a book hunter once discovered a set of Audubon's signed drawings of 1827 for Birds of America. Carter discerned the potential of detective fiction as a collecting genre, on which he contributed a pioneering essay to New Paths in Book Collecting, which he edited in 1934. He was a pioneer, too, in the history of science, preparing in 1938 a Scribner catalogue of Science and Thought in the 19th Century. His interest continued as the fashion and the academic discipline developed, with the great Printing and the Mind of Man exhibition of 1963, and its authoritative catalogue; Carter was one of the principal organizers. In 1939 Carter joined the Ministry of Information, first in censorship duties and from 1944 in New York, where his work for British information services included Victory in Burma (1945), to tell America of the British share in the burden of war in the Far East. He returned to Scribner's in 1946, until the London branch closed in 1953. In 1951 his career as a bookseller had culminated in his tracing and purchasing the Shuckburgh copy of the Gutenberg Bible, which as a great novelty he arranged to be flown across the Atlantic to its new owner. Carter briefly resumed his career in the public service as personal assistant to Sir Roger Makins, then ambassador in Washington, from 1953 to 1955; he was appointed CBE for his services in 1956. He then joined Sothebys as an associate director (1956–72) and was much involved in the rapid expansion of the firm, using his transatlantic connections to great advantage. In 1947 Carter was Sandars reader at Cambridge University; the lectures were published as Taste and Technique in Book-Collecting (1948), and were followed by Books and Book-Collectors (1956), a gathering of his elegant occasional writings. His ABC for Book Collectors (1952, and frequently revised) was immediately recognized as authoritative; it is still valued, not least for its pungent commentary. Carter was a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, and to the Book Collector, edited by his friend John Hayward. Although he never produced the major work of scholarship his friends hoped for, having too modest an estimate of his own capacity, he was a fine ambassador for the whole world of antiquarian books. Some members of the trade, thinking him condescending, disliked him, but he was unfailingly kind, and generous with his time, particularly to beginners. The award of the gold medal of the Bibliographical Society in 1974 (by which time illness forbade a formal presentation) showed that the world of books knew what it owed him. Carter's standards were high, in scholarship and deportment alike. Tall and handsome in appearance, elegant in dress, with an eyeglass ‘before which’ (his Times obituarist, A. N. L. Munby, claimed) ‘head waiters quailed’, he took his transatlantic cultural responsibilities seriously enough to compose a short treatise on the correct mixing of a dry Martini. Carter died at St George's Nursing Home, 61 St George's Square, Westminster, on 18 March 1975." 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

8 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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