English collector. Educated privately, he was commissioned to the Rifle Brigade in 1914. He was invalided home in November 1916 and made a director in his family’s brewing firm. He began his book collection in 1929, at first with an interest in modern bindings. In 1931 he commissioned Sybil Pye and R. de Coverley and Sons to produce a binding to his own design for Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. Consistently stressing the importance of appearance and condition, Abbey began buying antiquarian books in 1933 and manuscripts (of which he ultimately owned 143) in 1946, with advice from Sydney Cockerell. After World War II he had the largest private collection of his time, including 1914 18th- and 19th-century books of watercolour prints.
Auctions of his collection were held between 1965 and 1967 (buyers included Paul Mellon and the Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart) and, after his death, between 1970 and 1975. He bequeathed books and manuscripts to the British Museum and Eton College.
- Travels in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770–1860 (London, 1953)
- A Bibliographical Catalogue, 2 vols (London, 1956–7)
- Dictionary of National Biography, 63 vols and suppls (London, 1885–)
- J. J. G. Alexander and A. C. De la Mare: The Italian Manuscripts in the Library of Major John Roland Abbey (London, 1969)