Shelf Lives

Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books

Unconsidered Trifles: Francis Jenkinson and the War Reserve Collection


A Christmas card from the trenches, one of several preserved in the collection. WRD.46.383.34.

Francis Jenkinson (1853–1923)—classicist, entomologist and bibliographer—was University Librarian from 1889 until his death. He oversaw the gift to the Library of notable collections such as Lord Acton’s library and the contents of the Cairo Genizah, but the material relating to the First World War which he amassed between 1914 and 1919 is his most significant personal collecting achievement.

Jenkinson appreciated the long-term value of the ‘unconsidered trifles’ that abounded during the First World War. He made a point of collecting unofficial, personal, and ephemeral material: the flyers, journals, cards, and other disposable literature produced by all sides in the conflict. Early in the war he made a public appeal for such material, and members of the public, serving members of the armed forces, and Jenkinson’s own acquaintances all responded by donating items from around the world. The ‘War Reserve Collection’, as it is known, forms an extraordinary documentary record that numbers, at a conservative estimate, at least ten thousand items.

portrait of Francis Jenkinson

John Singer Sargent’s 1915 portrait of Francis Jenkinson, funded by a subscription raised to mark twenty-five years of his University Librarianship.