Thomas James Wise

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Thomas James Wise
Thomas James Wise.jpg
Born (1859-10-07)7 October 1859
Died 13 May 1937(1937-05-13) (aged 77)
Nationality British
Notable works Bibliographies for many early poets and dramatists
Spouse Selina Fanny Smith, Frances Louise Greenhaigh

Thomas James Wise (7 October 1859 – 13 May 1937) was a bibliophile who collected the Ashley Library, now housed by the British Library, and later became known for the literary forgeries and stolen documents that were resold or authenticated by him.[1][2][3]

Collecting career[edit]

Wise began collecting books as a schoolboy, spending his pocket money at the barrows in Farringdon Street. He was a keen collector of first editions in original condition. His interests were Poetry followed by drama and his collection dating back to Elizabethan publications was an exhaustive representation.[1]

His collection was funded by selling duplicates and acting as an agent for wealthy collectors. Wise was given an honorary M.A. degree by the University of Oxford and elected an honorary Fellow of Worcester College due to his services to bibliographical science. He become a member of the Consultative Committee of the Friends of the Bodleian[1] and was elected President of the Bibliographical Society in 1922–1924.[4]

Forgeries and thefts[edit]

In 1934 his reputation was damaged by the publication of "An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets" by John Carter and Graham Pollard.[4][5][6][7] This proved that a large number of rare first edition pamphlets from 19th century authors which depended solely on Wise's published works for their authenticity were fakes. Wise and a fellow bibliophile Harry Buxton Forman had been involved in the fabrication and sale of many of the same pamphlets to collectors.[1][8][9]

Shortly after Wise's death the Library was sold to the British Museum by his widow for £66,000.[10] The works were compared with the British Museum's former collection at which point it was discovered that over 200 book leaves were missing and 89 of these matching leaves were found in the Wise volumes.[11] Henry Wrenn had built up a drama collection (housed in the University of Texas)[12] and Wise had helped with supplying these volumes, when the Texas authorities sent relevant volumes for comparison, 60 of these books were also found to have been completed with thefts from the British Museum library.

A detailed scientific investigation by David Foxon was published by the Bibliographic Society in 1959 with the conclusion that Wise must have known that some of the book leaves added to his collection were stolen and that it was probable that he would have taken the leaves himself.[13]

Personal life[edit]

In 1890 Wise married Selina Fanny Smith (aged 22) and they moved into 52 Ashley Road, Hornsey Rise (leading to the name of the "Ashley Library"). By 1895 Selina deserted her husband on the grounds that he was fully devoted to his book collection rather than their marriage. In 1897 they were formally divorced and Wise moved to St. George's Road in Kilburn (now Priory Terrace).[4]

Wise remarried in June 1900 to Frances Louise Greenhaigh and dedicated the final volume of the Ashley Library catalogue to her.[4]


Wise's published works included detailed bibliographies of Tennyson, Swinburne, Landor, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin, the Brownings, the Brontës, Shelley and Conrad. He was the copyright owner and co-editor of the Bonchurch edition of Swinburne's works.


  1. ^ a b c d Mr. T. J. Wise Bibliographer, Editor, And Collector (47684), The Times, 14 May 1937, p. 17 
  2. ^ "Forging a Collection; Thomas J. Wise and H. Buxton Forman, the Two Forgers". University of Delaware Library, Special Collections. 21 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  3. ^ "Forger And Thief; New Chapter In Cautionary Tale Of Thomas J. Wise; D. F. Foxon". The Times. 18 October 1956. p. 11. 
  4. ^ a b c d Maggs, Frank Benjamin; Wise, Thomas James (1965), The Delinquent Bibliophile: Thomas James Wise and the foundation of the Ashley Library, Radlett Literary Society, OCLC 24596991 , British Library shelfmark
  5. ^ Carter, John; Pollard, Graham (1934), An enquiry into the nature of certain nineteenth century pamphlets, Constable, ISBN 978-0-8383-1261-2 
  6. ^ Carter, John; Pollard, Graham; Mitchell, Stewart (September 1934). "An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets". The New England Quarterly (The New England Quarterly, Inc./jstor) 7 (3): 602–606. Retrieved October 4, 2014.  (subscription required)
  7. ^ Barker, Nicolas; Collins, John; Carter, John (1983), A sequel to An enquiry into the nature of certain nineteenth century pamphlets by John Carter and Graham Pollard : the forgeries of H. Buxton Forman & T.J. Wise re-examined (Print), London; Berkeley, CA: Scolar Press, ISBN 978-0-85967-639-7 
  8. ^ Collins, John F. R. (1992), The Two Forgers: a biography of Harry Buxton Forman & Thomas James Wise, Oak Knoll Books, ISBN 978-0-938768-29-6 
  9. ^ "The First Editions of T.J. Wise". The New Yorker: 168. November 10, 1962.  (subscription required)
  10. ^ "The Ashley Library; Purchase For The Nation, The Late T. J. Wise And His Books". The Times. 11 September 1937. p. 11. The purchase consists of about 7,000 volumes, both printed and in manuscript, and no comparable addition to the British Museum Library has been made since 1846, when Thomas Grenville bequeathed his collection. 
  11. ^ (Foxon 1959, p. 1), "...a total of 206 leaves were stolen from the Museum's early quartos. Eighty-nine of these have been identified in Ashley copies and sixty in Wrenn copies; up to fifteen more may be added to this total from three suspect Wrenn copies... my personal opinion is that the plays are probably the only class where thefts were widespread."
  12. ^ "Harry Ransom Center, John Henry Wrenn Library". University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  13. ^ (Foxon 1959, p. 3), "In general it seems likely that Wise would not have risked sharing his guilty knowledge with an emissary but would have made the thefts himself; the rest of this study is written on that assumption.


  • Foxon, David Fairweather (1959), "Thomas J. Wise and the pre-Restoration drama: a study in theft and sophistication", Transactions: Supplement, Bibliographical Society (Great Britain) (Bibliographcal Society) 19, OCLC 1470724