Charles Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), collector

Charles Dyson Perrins
Charles Dyson Perrins © National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles William Dyson Perrins is probably best known today in connection with the Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce developed by his grandfather, which helped create the family’s fortune. In Worcestershire, however, Perrins’ name remains associated with his many philanthropic projects, from hospitals to the Dyson Perrins Church of England Academy. But for scholars of manuscripts he is known because of the imposing catalogue of 135 volumes written for Perrins by George Warner, retired keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum, published in 1920.

Perrins’ first major manuscript purchase became a legend of the trade. In 1904 he went into Henry Sotheran Ltd., apparently in search of something to read on the train, and came out with the fourteenth-century Braybrooke or Gorleston Psalter (now in the British Library), which he subsequently bought for £5,250. Perrins was advised on the purchase by Sydney Cockerell, who later used fifty of Perrins’ manuscripts as the core of the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of illuminated manuscripts in 1908. Cockerell also began cataloguing Perrins’ manuscripts, but later ceded the task to George Warner. The collection was dominated by late medieval and renaissance manuscripts, many of them produced in Italy.

In 1907 Perrins purged his collection, selling manuscripts anonymously at Sotheby’s. After his death in 1958 the Gorleston Psalter and a Persian manuscript were left to the British Museum, two manuscripts were bequeathed to his widow and the rest of the collection was sold, with three major sales at Sotheby’s in 1958, 1959 and 1960.