Frank Wild Reed (1874 – 1953) was a New Zealand pharmacist (although he was born in England), who never visited France, but who studied French and became a translator of French works when he wasn’t busy in his pharmacy. Frank’s brother, Sir Alfred Hamish Reed, became a noted collector of books, an author and publisher. Alfred’s superb collection of books was given to the Dunedin Public Library. Alfred collected early printed Bibles (the family was very devout), and rare manuscripts. However, Frank’s tastes were somewhat different.
When his family made the move to New Zealand in 1887, the boy was permitted to bring with him only 12 books. One of those was The Queen’s Necklace, by Alexandre Dumas père. The “dimly lit building” that was the Whāngārei Library provided more Dumas novels – Ascanio and The Black Tulip – and his passion for Dumas began. The Reed brothers grew up in Northland and both went to work with their father digging for kauri gum in the bush. In 1888, at the age of 14, Frank began an apprenticeship with a Whāngārei pharmacist – he stayed at the job until he retired in 1926.
With no internet to help him, and little information in New Zealand libraries about the massive output of Dumas, Frank gradually compiled lists from advertisements in the backs of books, and then sent off orders to Auckland booksellers. Soon he began ordering from England as well. He was delighted when he got his hands on a prospectus from the publisher Methuen, which planned to bring out a complete edition of all of Dumas’ works, in English translations, to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth in 1902. Through his correspondences, Frank gradually became friendly with many of the book dealers overseas who supplied him with what he could not find in New Zealand.
Letter writing brought him into contact with Robert Singleton Garnett, translator of many of Dumas’ novels, and recognised as the English-edition authority on his work. Garnett helped Frank source rare items, and the men enjoyed a 16-year correspondence. When Garnett died in 1932, he willed his own Dumas collection of 740 items to Frank Reed. Frank began to learn French and, in his turn, translated Dumas – his translations include lesser-known prose works, plays, and poems. His translations fill about 20,000 typescript pages (amazingly, this work was done after 12-hour days at the pharmacy!).
Frank ended up amassing the largest collection of Alexandre Dumas material outside of France. He stipulated that his collection was to go to the Auckland Library after his death, and the Reed Dumas Collection (part of the Sir George Gray Special Collections) is held there today. It consists of about 3000 volumes, 2000 original holographs, works written by Frank about Dumas, letters, portraits and foreign language editions.
In 1933 Frank published The Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père, which earned him the title of ‘Officier de I’Instruction publique’ for this service to French culture. His book was used as the basis for later bibliographies and is still referenced by book dealers today.
Now, what I want to know is why, when I was avidly reading my way through Dumas in my teens, not a soul ever told me that this collection was virtually on my door-step? Why was there no French-class excursion to view these treasures? Did any of my teachers, or did my parents, know about this collection? Frank died before I was born, but oh how I’d have loved to meet him and talk with him. My parents took me to Whangarei to admire kauri gum – I’d much rather have met this remarkable man and book collector!
This month my ‘Tea with a Book Addict’ features Alexandre Dumas and his great novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Learn the amazing life story of this generous and larger-than-life author, discover how he started a tourist industry, learn the story of the fan who happily slept in a room with his coffin, and discover why Dumas’ great tale of revenge has remained one of the most beloved books of all time.
I wish Frank Reed could have been the first person to watch my video talk about a writer we both love. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.