Edward Crawshaw was born in 1842 at Crawshawbooth, Rossendale in Lancashire. His mother was a dressmaker, but the 1851 census records Edward as living with his aunt’s family. Her husband was a block printer. Edward was educated at the local school and by 1861 he was working locally as a grocer’s assistant. In 1864, he married Elizabeth Smith, the daughter of an engraver, and by 1871 he is recorded as a “chemist and druggist” in Burnley. He clearly prospered and by 1891 he had moved to London and established himself as a manufacturer of aniline dyes. For many years he lived in Tollington Park, Islington until his death in 1922.
Despite his humble beginnings, Crawshaw was a man of considerable learning and varied interests. At some point in his career, he studied at Owens College, Manchester. He was a member of several professional and trade bodies, including the Society of Chemical Industry and the Pharmaceutical Society, he published several papers and was well regarded within his professional sphere. He was also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Microscopical Society and the Physical Society.
He was noted for his knowledge of early printed books and for the significant collection which he built. He also collected Japanese works of arts. He was active within the temperance movement and published articles on its history, and was also interested in the early history of Methodism; in this field too he accumulated an extensive collection of books, letters and memorabilia. Crawshaw himself disposed of a significant part of these collections in his later years, with many items sold at auction by Sotheby’s in 1912 and again in 1920.