Ratcliffe, John (d.1776) (DNB00)

RATCLIFFE, JOHN (d. 1776), book-collector, kept a chandler's shop in the borough of Southwark, where he acquired a competency. Large quantities of books were brought him to wrap the articles of his trade in, and, after yielding to the temptation of reading them, he became an ardent collector. He took to spending whole days in the warehouses of the booksellers, and every Thursday morning the chief print and book collectors, including Askew, Croft, Topham Beauclerk, and James West, came to his house, when, after providing them with coffee and chocolate, he produced his latest purchases. His books were kept at his house in East Lane, Rotherhithe. He died in 1776, after spending thirty years in book-collecting.

His library was sold by Christie in Pall Mall, London, the sale beginning on 27 March 1776, and lasting for nine working days. A priced copy of the catalogue ('Bibliotheca Ratcliffiana') is in the British Museum, and the collection, which comprised many old English black-letter books, thirty Caxtons, and some fine manuscripts, is described as 'the very essence of old Divinity, Poetry, Romances, and Chronicles.' There were only 1,675 articles, but many of them consisted of numerous volumes. Four lots (10 to 13) comprised 155 plays. The last article but one was 'Mr. Ratcliffe's Manuscript Catalogue of the rare old Black Letter and other curious and uncommon Books,' in four volumes, which fetched 7l. 15s. The entire collection would at the present day have realised more pounds than it actually produced shillings. The Caxtons fetched on an average 9l. each.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 621–2, viii. 456–7; Gent. Mag. 1812, pt. i. p. 114; Dibdin's Bibliomania (ed. 1876), pp. 392–4; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. i. 556.]

W. P. C.