Anthony Askew 1722-1774

From Book Owners Online

Anthony ASKEW 1722-1774

Biographical Note

Born in Kendal, Westmorland, son of Adam Askew, physician. MB Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1745, after which he spent two years at Leiden University before travelling extensively on the continent. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1749 and began practising as a physician in Cambridge the following year, before moving to London soon afterwards. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1753, and physician to St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1754. Askew was a keen classical scholar and planned to edit the works of Aeschylus, but after a proposal was issued in 1746 nothing further was published.


Askew is best remembered for his remarkable library of printed books and manuscripts, and for being one of the formative figures in developing fashionable book collecting during the middle decades of the eighteenth century; Dibdin considered his book sale to be "a sort of aera in bibliography". The sale catalogues quickly became desirable as works of reference. His house in Queen Square, London was full of books across several floors and he owned at least 7000 when he died. His particular interest was classical texts, and he aspired to acquire copies of every known printed edition of every Greek author. He bought or inherited a number of important whole collections, including the Greek manuscripts of Richard Mead, purchased for £500, and the manuscripts and annotated books of the classical scholar John Taylor, left to him in 1766.

Most of his printed books were auctioned in London, beginning 13 February 1775. The catalogue includes 3570 lots, and while it includes books on history, geography, medicine and other subjects in Latin, English, French and Italian, the bulk of the sale (over 80% of the whole) comprised classical texts in Latin and Greek. His manuscripts and annotated printed books were separately sold in an auction beginning 7 March 1785; this included 639 lots, of which about half were printed books with extensive marginalia (including many of those bequeathed to him by John Taylor). The manuscripts proper included Greek, Latin and English ones from the middle ages onwards, and a small handful of Chinese, Indian and middle eastern ones. Many of the lots in this sale were bought for Cambridge University Library by Richard Farmer, but others went to the British Museum and to various well-known collectors of the time, including Richard Gough and Michael Wodhull.

Askew's autograph album, compiled during his time in Leiden and his continental travels thereafter, 1746-47, is now MS 47 in Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Characteristic Markings

Askew did not generally inscribe his books, but had many rebound in gilt-tooled goatskin or russia leather.


  • Bibliotheca Askeviana. Sive catalogus librorum ... Antonii Askew, [London, 1774], ESTC t3221.
  • Bibliotheca Askeviana manu scripta, [London, 1784], ESTC t2516.
  • De Ricci, Seymour, English collectors of books and manuscripts, Cambridge, 1930, 52-53.
  • Fletcher, W. Y., English book collectors, 1902, 219-21.
  • McKendrick, Scot, Collecting Greek manuscripts in eighteenth-century England, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 17 (2020), 85-130.
  • McKitterick, David, Cambridge University Library: a history: the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cambridge, 1986, 326-36.
  • McKitterick, David, The invention of rare books, Cambridge, 2018, 125.
  • Mercer, M. J. "Askew, Anthony (bap. 1722, d. 1774), physician and book collector." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Stubbings, Frank, Anthony Askew's Album Amicorum, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 6 (1976), 306-21.