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William Downing Webster (11 May 1868 – 14 January 1913) was a British ethnographic dealer and collector, best known for his collection gathered from material seized by British troops during the Benin Expedition of 1898.


Webster was born in 1868 in Greenwich to Robert and Sarah Webster. Although his father was in the potato trade, Webster was initially employed as a stained glass designer in Lancaster before becoming a dealer in ethnographic antiquities in the 1890s. In 1891 he married Agnes Harrison in Kendal. He published a series of catalogues detailing his collection during the next two decades, and staged a number of exhibitions of ethnographic material at Earl's Court. In 1899 he traveled throughout Britain purchasing material from British soldiers returning from the Benin Expedition, amassing a large quantity of material that was carefully recorded in his catalogues. In 1904 his marriage broke up and he separated from his wife and two daughters and lived with his housekeeper Eva Cutter in London sold the entirety of his collection in a five-day auction. He died from alcoholism in Effingham in 1913 and is reportedly buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.


  • Waterfield, Hermione; King, J. C. H. (2006). Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760–1990. Paris: Somogy éditions d'art. ISBN 0-304-36333-2.
  • Webster, W.D.; Leen, J.G.B. (2017). W.D. Webster Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens - Second Edition: Indexed Photographic Reference. ISBN 1973745984.