Robert Proctor (bibliographer)

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Robert George Collier Proctor
Robert George Collier Proctor.jpg
Born (1868-05-13)13 May 1868
Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England
Disappeared 5 September 1903 (aged 35)
Near Pitztal, Tyrol, Austria
Died 6 September 1903(1903-09-06) (aged 35)
Near Pitztal, Tyrol, Austria
Nationality British
Occupation Bibliographer and librarian

Robert George Collier Proctor (13 May 1868 – 6 September 1903) was an English bibliographer, librarian, book collector, and expert on incunabula and early typography.

Early life and education[edit]

Proctor was born in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England, on 13 May 1868, to Robert Proctor and Anne Tate, and was a distant relative and namesake of John Payne Collier.[1] He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in classics from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1890. While at Oxford, where he was known for his book collection, Proctor's interest in antiquarian studies, archaeology, and bibliography grew and he compiled a catalogue of incunabula and early printed books in the library collection at Corpus Christi College. Proctor continued his studies of early printing at Oxford, cataloging incunabula at the Bodleian Library, New College and Brasenose College.[2]

Professional life[edit]

Proctor joined the British Museum on 16 October 1893 as an assistant in the Department of Printed Books. He quickly became an expert on early typography and began describing every known European type fount used before 1520.[2][3] Proctor rearranged all of the incunabula in the British Museum geographically by place of printing in what is known today as "Proctor order" and he compiled An Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum: From the Invention of Printing to the Year 1500 which was issued in four parts from 1898 to 1903.[2] Proctor developed a Greek typeface based on type found in the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.[2] Working with William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, Proctor grew interested in Icelandic literature and published translations of the Vápnfirðinga saga and the Laxdæla saga in 1902 and 1903, respectively.[2][4][5]


In August 1903 Proctor began a solo walking tour in the Austrian Alps. He left Pitztal on 5 September without a guide and was never heard from again. In December 1903 a judge granted an order presuming Proctor's death on 6 September of that year.[6] His friend, Sydney Cockerell, speculated that Proctor may have committed suicide.[7]


After Proctor's death a memorial fund was established and used to collect and publish (in 1905) his Bibliographical Essays. The fund also provided for the compilation and publication of the three remaining parts of Proctor's index of early printed books covering the years 1501 to 1520. Even today, some large collections of incunabula are arranged in "Proctor order" ("This means that the books are arranged and described in order of country of origin, then of town, then of printer, in chronological order").[2]


Selected writings of Robert Proctor:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson, Barry (1985). Lost in the Alps: A Portrait of Robert Proctor, the "Great Bibliographer" and of His Career in the British Museum. London: B.C. Johnson. p. 7. OCLC 17484098. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rhodes, Dennis E. "Proctor, Robert George Collier". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35621.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Pollard, Alfred W. (January 1904). "Robert Proctor". The Library. 2nd Series. 5 (17): 15. doi:10.1093/library/s2-V.17.1. 
  4. ^ The Tale of the Weaponfirthers. Translated by Robert Proctor. Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable. 1902. OCLC 3676154. 
  5. ^ The Story of the Laxdalers. Translated by Robert Proctor. London: Printed for the translator by Charles Whittingham & Company, and to be obtained at the Chiswick Press. 1903. OCLC 3004467. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Barry (1985). Lost in the Alps: A Portrait of Robert Proctor, the "Great Bibliographer" and of His Career in the British Museum. London: B.C. Johnson. OCLC 17484098. 
  7. ^ "Robert Proctor, William Morris and the Mysterious Death of 'the great bibliographer'". Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR). Cardiff University. 11 June 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]