Thomas Rawlinson 1681-1725

From Book Owners Online

Thomas RAWLINSON 1681-1725

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Sir Thomas Rawlinson, vintner and Lord Mayor of London, from whom he inherited a large estate in 1708. Matriculated at St John's College, Oxford in 1699, but did not graduate; he was admitted at the Middle Temple and became a barrister there in 1705. He did not practise law but devoted most of his energy and fortune to book collecting and antiquarian pursuits. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1713, and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1724. He did not administer his money or property well, and lost a lot of money in the South Sea Bubble. His marriage to his servant Amy Frewin in 1724 lost him much respect, and she is reputed to have hastened his death; he died leaving debts of around £10,000. His political sympathies were against the Hanoverians, and he was both a Jacobite and a nonjuror.


Rawlinson devoted most of his life and fortune to collecting books and he amassed tens of thousands of books and manuscripts. He was well known for it during his lifetime, and was lampooned in The Tatler as Tom Folio, "a learned idiot"; on the other hand, he was generous in giving access to his books to a wide circle of contemporary scholarly acquaintances, and was particularly friendly with Thomas Hearne. His rooms at Grays Inn became so full of books that he had to sleep is a passageway, until he moved the library into a house in Aldersgate Street in 1716. His library was wide-ranging as regards subjects and he actively sought out rare and unusual material.

His financial problems forced him to begin to sell books in the years before his death, and the first of a series of six auctions was held in December 1721. On his death, his brother Richard hoped to inherit the library but the directions in Thomas's will (reputedly influenced, or altered in her favour, by Amy), combined with his debts, meant that everything had to be sold. Richard organised a further series of ten auctions held in London 1726-33 through which the books and manuscripts were dispersed. At least 50,000 printed books and 1000 manuscripts went through these sales, possibly the largest library ever sold in England after that of Richard Heber. Many books were bought by Richard and so became part of his bequest to the Bodleian Library, but others went into many hands, and Thomas's books will now be found in libraries all over the world. The size of the library, and the release of so many books onto the market, meant that purchase prices were depressed and the sales did not realise as much money as was hoped for. A separate sale of his paintings was held in April 1734.

Characteristic Markings

Rawlinson's books are most readily recognised from his regular habit of writing "C.& P." (for collated and perfect) on endleaves. This code has been used by many owners and booksellers, but has become particularly associated with the Rawlinson brothers, who both used it. Thomas used a smaller, neater hand than Richard, whose letters are typically larger, thicker and clumsier.


  • De Ricci, Seymour, English collectors of books and manuscripts, Cambridge, 1930, 45-6.
  • Enright, Brian, The later auction sales of Thomas Rawlinson's library, The Library 5th ser 11 (1956), 23-40, 103-113.
  • Harmsen, Theodor. "Rawlinson, Thomas (1681–1725), book collector." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Oldham, J. Basil, Shrewsbury School Library bindings, Oxford, 1943, p.104.
  • Shaddy, Robert, Thomas Rawlinson, and Richard Rawlinson, in W. Baker and K. Womack (eds), Nineteenth-century British book collectors and bibliographers, Detroit, 1997, 288-96.