Humphrey Dyson ca.1582-1633

From Book Owners Online

Humphrey of Humfrey DYSON ca.1582-1633

Biographical Note

Born in London, the son of Christopher Dyson, wax chandler (d.1609); became a freeman of the Wax Chandlers’ Company but spent his working life as a public notary. As such, he drew up the wills of several people associated with theatrical companies. His historical interests are evident from his library; he helped compile the 3rd and 4th editions of John Stow’s Survey of London (1618, 1633).


Dyson’s place in history rests primarily on his personal library, which has long been regarded as noteworthy not only for its size but also because he owned a number of contemporary plays, masques and other literary works. The books were sold after his death (following instructions in his will), with many acquired by Richard Smith (d.1675); these were subsequently dispersed in the sale of that collection in 1682. The original size of Dyson’s library is unknown; over 400 vols are traced today. Six notebooks made by him ca.1630 list over 1100 books and manuscripts relating to English political and ecclesiastical history (All Souls, Oxford ms 117). Examples: British Library C.25.e.13, C.122.b.20; Bodleian Library 4to.P.14.Th.Seld; Cambridge UL Syn.7.57.51, Syn.8.54.65.

Dyson's inscription, from the titlepage of The sege of the castel of Edinburgh, 1573, British Library C.21.c.46

Characteristic Markings

Typically wrote his name on titlepages, and occasionally annotated his books. He also had an ink stamp made, dated 1611, which appears in some of his books (an unusual practice for the time).


  • Jackson, W. A. Humphrey Dyson and his collection of Elizabethan proclamations, Harvard Library Bulletin 1 (1947), 76-89.
  • Jackson, W. A. Humfrey Dyson’s library, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 43 (1949), 279-87.
  • Jayne, S. Library catalogues of the English renaissance. Godalming, 1983.
  • Nelson, A. H. The library of Humfrey Dyson, forthcoming (Oxford Bibliographical Society).
  • Ramsay, Nigel. "Dyson, Humfrey (d. 1633), book collector." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Steele, R. Humphrey Dyson, The Library 3rd ser 1 (1910), 144-51.