Pollard was educated at King's College School in London and St John's College at the University of Oxford. He joined the staff of the British Museum in 1883, as assistant in the department of printed books; he was promoted to assistant keeper in 1909, and keeper in 1919. In the latter year, Pollard was appointed professor of english bibliography at the University of London. He was honorary secretary of the Bibliographical Society from 1893 to 1934 and edited the society's journal The Library for thirty years (1903–34). He received the society's gold medal in 1929.
Pollard wrote widely on a range of subjects in English literature throughout his career, and collaborated with various scholars in specialized studies; he edited Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and a collection of Fifteenth Century Poetry and Prose. With Gilbert Richard Redgrave, he edited the STC, or A short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475–1640 (1926). He provided a bibliographical introduction to a facsimile print of the 1611 King James Bible which was produced for its three hundredth anniversary. He was a longtime friend of the poet A. E. Housman, and a close colleague of the prominent Shakespeare scholars Edmund Kerchever Chambers and R. B. McKerrow.
- Last words on the history of the title-page, with notes on some colophons and twenty-seven fac-similes of title-pages, 1891.
- English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes; Specimens of the Pre-Elizabethan Drama, Oxford, the Clarendon Press, 1898 (third revised edition).
- An Essay on Colophons, 1905.
- Shakespeare Folios and Quartos: A Study in the Bibliography of Shakespeare's Plays, 1909.
- Records of the English Bible: The Documents Relating to the Translation and Publication of the Bible in English, 1525–1611, London, Oxford University Press, 1911.
- Fine Books, 1912.
- A New Shakespeare Quarto: Richard II, 1916.
- Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, abridged from Le Morte d'Arthur, 1917.
- Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates and the Problems of the Transmission of His Text, 1917.
- The Foundations of Shakespeare's Text, 1923. Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British Academy.
- Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More (with W. W. Greg, Edward Maunde Thompson, John Dover Wilson and R. W. Chambers), 1923.
- Early Illustrated Books: A History of the Decoration and Illustration of Books in the 15th and 16th Centuries, 1927.
- The Trained Printer and the Amateur, and the Pleasure of Small Books, 1929.
- A Census of Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto (with Henrietta C. Bartlett), 1939.
- Woudhuysen, Henry R. A.E.H., A.W.P.: A Classical Friendship. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Foundling Press and Bernard Quaritch, 2006.
- Murphy, Gwendoen, and Henry Thomas. A Select Bibliography of the Writings of Alfred W. Pollard. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1938.
- New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors
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Alfred William Pollard
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- Woudhuysen, H. R. "Pollard, Alfred William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35557. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)