Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Franks, Augustus Wollaston

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FRANKS, Sir AUGUSTUS WOLLASTON (1826–1897), keeper of the department of British and mediaeval antiquities and ethnography at the British Museum, born at Geneva on 20 March 1826, was elder son of Captain Frederick Franks, R.N., and of Frederica Anne, daughter of Sir John Saunders Sebright [q. v.] His godfather was William Hyde Wollaston [q. v.], a friend of his mother. His early years were spent abroad, chiefly in Rome and Geneva. In September 1839 he went to Eton, where he remained till 1843. On 10 June 1845 he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1849 and proceeded M.A. in 1852. He had no leaning towards mathematics, then in the ascendant at Cambridge, and he devoted his leisure to mediæval archæology, and began the collection of rubbings of sepulchral brasses, which he continued during his whole life, and ultimately gave to the Society of Antiquaries. He was one of the founders of the Cambridge Architectural Society and an early member of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, while he was also one of the four undergraduate members of the Ray Club.

On leaving Cambridge Franks devoted his energies to the Royal Archaeological Institute, a band of young and vigorous workers then newly established, and he laid the foundations of his great knowledge of ancient, and mediæval art, in arranging the collections which formed an attractive feature of the institute's annual congresses. In 1850 he undertook a definite piece of work as secretary of the exhibition of mediæval art, held in the rooms of the Society of Arts, the first of many similar gatherings, and the precursor of the Great Exhibition of the following year. The interest that he had shown in the antiquities of his own country led to his accepting in 1851 a post as assistant in the department of antiquities in the British Museum, where, until then, no attempt had been made to form a series of British remains. Here he found his true vocation, and from that time until he retired in 1896 he had but one idea, the progress and enrichment of the collections under his charge; his whole time and energies, and later his more ample means also, were entirely devoted to this one object. Early in his museum career, besides editing a volume of Himyaritic inscriptions, Franks successfully performed the responsible duty of managing the purchases at the Bernal sale in 1855, for which the government had granted 4,000l. a large sum in those days of small prices. The allegation often made in parliament and elsewhere, that at this sale the South Kensington Museum (then at Marlborough House) and the British Museum competed against each other, is untrue, for at the Bernal, as at later sales, the two institutions employed the same agent, and were in daily consultation with regard to their respective purchases. When in 1860 Edward Hawkins (1780-1867) [q.y.] retired from the keepership of the unwieldy department of antiquities, which included all the antiquarian side of the museum, with the addition of the print-room, it was divided into sections ; and finally, in 1866, the arrangement now in existence was inaugurated, under which Franks was appointed the keeper of the department of British and mediæval antiquities and ethnography. Franks was a friend of the ethnologist, Henry Christy [q. v.], and Christy's important museum of ethnological remains was left, on his death in 1865, to trustees, of whom Franks was one. By Franks's efforts the collection was presented to the British Museum, but the collection remained in Christy's house in Victoria Street until 1883, when, by the removal of the natural history collections to South Kensington, room was at last found for it in the buildings at Bloomsbury. Ethnology was a new subject to Franks, but his energy and perseverance were equal to the task, and he arranged the collection in Victoria Street so that the public could be admitted to study it, and made such considerable additions, chiefly from his own resources, that by the time it reached the British Museum it was more than twice its original size.

During the early years of his career at the museum Franks took a special interest in ceramics, and greatly helped Joseph Marryat in his book on 'Pottery and Porcelain' (1851). He made a collection of both English and foreign porcelain and pottery, and some of the finest examples of Italian majolica in the British Museum were presented by him as early as 1855. At a later date, in order to provide the trustees of the British Museum with a material argument in favour of a special grant for purchases at the Fountaine sale [see Fountaine, Sir Andrew], he offered to present objects equal in value to the grant applied for, viz. 3,000l., and the application was successful. The porcelain of China and Japan had always attracted him, and he aimed at making as comprehensive a collection as possible. He exhibited his collection of eastern ceramics at the Bethnal Green Museum in 1876, and printed a catalogue, of which a second edition appeared in 1878, when he presented the collection to the British Museum, though it was not removed thither until 1884. The catalogue was prepared with great care and still remains a standard work on the subject. His interest in oriental art was not, however, confined to pottery ; he made a large collection of oriental art of diverse kinds, some of which he gave to the museum at intervals, while retaining certain classes of objects in order that the series might be made more perfect, and that duplicate or inferior pieces might be eliminated. He thus kept in his possession until his death the collection of Japanese sword-guards and ivory carvings (netsuké), partly with the object just mentioned, but more especially with a view to carrying out the plan he had long cherished of preparing and printing catalogues of the various collections he had formed before presenting them to the nation the end he always had in view. A great quantity of material for these catalogues had been gathered, but he was not destined to carry out the scheme in full, and the catalogues of the oriental porcelain and of a collection of continental porcelain, now at Bethnal Green, are all that he was able to complete. Another of his most important collections was that of ancient finger rings, of which he possessed a series quite unequalled, while drinking-vessels of all kinds and materials formed another definite class ; this collection was for many years during his lifetime on loan at the British Museum. Less well known was the extraordinary collection of objects in gold from Bactria of the time of Alexander the Great or earlier, which Franks obtained through Indian dealers, and augmented by acquiring the collection of Sir Alexander Cunningham [q. v. Suppl.] In addition to these he had a good collection of mediæval and later jewellery, as well as several interesting finds of the later classical period. The whole of these various collections passed under his will to the British Museum.

The one acquisition of recent times of which he was justly proud was the famous enamelled gold cup of the kings of France and England, which had figured in the English royal treasury from Henry VI to James I. This he secured in 1892 for the British Museum from Messrs. Wertheimer, who ceded it at the price of 8,000l. they had paid its previous owner, Baron Pichou. In the first instance he actually bought the cup himself, but reflection showed that his collecting powers would be unduly limited by so costly a purchase, and he therefore decided to appeal to his friends for help. The contributors included some of the city companies ; the balance, about 800/., was paid by the treasury.

An amusement of his later years was the collecting of book-plates (ex libris), which had its origin in his friendship with John Byrne Leicester Warren, lord de Tabley [q.v.] His immense collection is now in the British Museum. It served to pass agreeably many hours when ill-health prevented more serious work.

Apart from his direct benefactions to the British Museum, the charm of his personality, as well as the signal help he was often able to render, caused many of his intimate friends to leave their collections to the museum for which he had done so much. There can be little doubt that to his influence was mainly due the acquisition of the collections of Felix Slade [q. v.], John Henderson (1797-1878) [q. v.], Lady Fellows [see Fellows, Sir Charles], William Burges [q. v.], and Mr. Octavius Morgan.

Franks's services to the state and to archæology were not, however, confined to the walls of the museum. He was commissioned by the government to examine and report on the proposed purchase of the collection of George Petrie [q. v.], the Irish antiquary, and it is to his favourable report that Dublin owes the possession of these important antiquities. Later he was asked by the chancellor of the exchequer, George Ward Hunt [q. v.], to report on the famous Meyrick collection [see Meyrick, Sir Samuel Rush], which had been offered to the government for purchase ; his report was favourable, but a short-sighted economy prevented the acquisition. The collection was sold piecemeal, and the principal objects went abroad. As the juror in the section of pottery at the Paris exhibition of 1878, Franks was able to render good service to this important English industry, and at the same time to increase his knowledge of the processes of the modern potter.

In 1873 Lord Ripon wished to ascertain whether it would be possible to transfer the administration of the South Kensington Museum to the trustees of the British Museum, and Franks was a member of the committee appointed to consider the matter, but the committee unfortunately reported against the scheme.

A somewhat original mission was proposed to Franks in 1890, when the Swiss government wished to establish a national museum. As the central authority found itself unable to decide between the rival claims of the various towns, the intervention of foreign authorities was invited, and Franks, M. Darcel of the Louvre, and Dr. Essenwein of Niirnberg, made a tour of Switzerland, inspecting the sites for the museum and the art treasures and antiquities available in the various towns. The decision was in favour of Berne, but the Swiss national museum was nevertheless established at Zurich.

With the Society of Antiquaries Franks was long closely identified. He was elected a fellow in 1853, and in 1858 accepted the responsible post of director, which he held until 1867, when the duties of his newly created department at the museum forced him to resign. But in 1873 he again occupied the same post, and held it till 1880. His wide range of knowledge made his presence at the meetings of great value to the society, while as editor of 'Archæologia' his knowledge and accuracy were utilised in a more permanent way. His own contributions to 'Archæologia' and 'Proceedings' were neither few nor unimportant; and unfortunately it is only in this form that shreds of his great learning are preserved, ranging in these two publications from prehistoric implements and exploration at Carthage to an important correction of date in connection with the will of Holbein. His principal antiquarian discovery was in the differentiation of a class of prehistoric antiquities to which he applied the term 'Late Celtic,' and he rightly claimed that the highest development of this special form of art was to be found in our islands. His theory was very generally accepted, but it found a strong and persistent opponent in Dr. Lindenschmit of Mayence. He was often pressed to accept the office of president of the society, but uniformly declined, until his retirement from the museum was imminent, for the practical reason that as the president was ex officio a trustee of the museum, he could not act in the dual capacity of keeper and an active trustee, and thus the society would lose its representative on the board. He became president in 1891, however, and remained in office till his death. As soon as he had retired from the keepership in 1896, the trustees paid him the high compliment of electing him to the standing committee.

In 1894 Franks was made K.C.B. In 1889 the honorary degree of Litt.D. was conferred on him by the university of Cambridge, and the university of Oxford created him D.C.L. in 1895. He was elected F.R.S. in 1874. The Royal Academy appointed him in 1894 their 'Antiquary' in succession to his old friend and colleague, Sir Charles Newton [q. v. Suppl.], and in connection with the academy also he was a trustee of the British Institution scholarship fund. He was a member of the Roxburghe Club, and his labours in completing the monumental work on playing-cards by Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Schreiber [q. v.], whom blindness overtook with her task unfinished, led the Company of Cardmakers to elect him of their body. His frequent journeys to the continent caused him to be as well known abroad as at home, and he was an honorary member of the principal foreign learned societies.

Franks died in London, unmarried, on 21 May 1897, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. A bronze medallion profile portrait, life-size, by C. J. Prsetorius, is at the Society of Antiquaries, and another in the British Museum.

Retiring in disposition, with a strong dislike to public demonstrations and public speaking, Franks was a true student, a gatherer of knowledge for its own sake, as well as for the purposes of his work. His training made his knowledge wider and more general than is possible for men of a later and more specialised generation. On the other hand, an unusual power of concentration on a definite subject, which was a character of his work, gave him at the same time the minute knowledge of the specialist. He was proud of the honourable traditions of the museum, and always preferred the old methods to any change that might involve loss of the ancient dignity of the institution. That his ambition, within its walls, was entirely limited to the perfecting of his own department is clearly seen in his refusal of the post of principal librarian in 1878, while in like manner he on two occasions declined the directorship of the South Kensington Museum.

Besides the bequests to the British Museum Franks left books to the Society of Antiquaries. In them has been inserted a specially designed book-plate, which includes a three-quarter bust of Franks.

Franks's chief publications were: 1. 'Book of Ornamental Glazing Quarries,' London, 1849. 2. 'Examples of Ornamental Art in Glass and Enamel,' 1858. 3. 'Himyaritic Inscriptions from Southern Arabia,' 1863. 4. 'Catalogue of Oriental Porcelain and Pottery,' 1876 and 1878. 5. 'Japanese Pottery,' 1880. 6. 'Catalogue of a Collection of Continental Porcelain,' 1896. He edited Kemble's 'Horæ Ferales,' 1863; and Hawkins's 'Medallic Illustrations of British History,' 1885.

[Private information.]

C. H. R.