on exhibit November 13, 2002 through March 1, 2003

Bindings as Evidence

While bindings and their decoration provide obvious clues to provenance, we have learned to be cautious in using this evidence. "The fact that a particular volume has stamped on its covers the arms of an historical figure does not necessarily mean that the book ever belonged to or was in the library of such a person. This is especially true of books bearing arms of French and English monarchs…Persons desiring to present a copy of any book to their sovereign would normally, as a matter of course, have the monarch's coat of arms stamped on the binding. But whether the book was ever given, or if given received, or if received kept, is entirely another matter and not determinable from the stamping on the binding."

Robert Nikirk, "Looking into provenance" in A Miscellany for Bibliophiles, ed. H. George Fletcher (New York: Grastorf & Lang, Ltd., 1979), 19-20.

Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532?-1588)

Engraving. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. 1820.From a drawing by William Hilton (d. 1822)

This 19th-century copper engraving of Robert Dudley is from a drawing by William Hilton, RA (1786-1839), whose source was a portrait attributed to Sir William Segar (fl. 1580-1585). The engraver was Robert Cooper (fl. 1820-1836), who also engraved portraits for Scott's novels. Leicester is shown with the Order of the Garter collar and staff.

Urbanus Rhegius. The sermon, which Christ made on the way to Emaus to those two sorrowful disciples, set down in a dialogue by D. Vrbanus Regius…. London, John Day, 1578.

This lovely brown calfskin binding was made for the Earl of Leicester by the successor of Jean de Planche (perhaps Peter Borfoyne), about 1578. It shows Leicester's badge (a tethered bear with ragged staff) and motto (et Loyal Droit) at the center of the cover, with gilt and blind tooled decoration

Portrait of Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Frontis Portrait in ART File L 526.1 no. 5 ©

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598)

William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Engraving from the original by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1635) [Mark Gerard]

Lord Burghley is shown in his Garter robes, with the emblem of the order on his collar, holding the white wand of office. The print shown is a steel engraving by William Henry Mote (fl. 1830-1858), executed ca. 1850.

James VI, King of Scotland. The essayes of a prentise, in the diuine art of poesie. Edinburgh, Thomas Vautroullier, 1584.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), was one of the most respected, trusted, and powerful members of Queen Elizabeth's privy council. He was also a collector of books and manuscripts. This quarto volume, bound in vellum and painted orange with black pigment blocking and tooling, has "W. Lord Burghley" stamped prominently on both covers. It may be one of a handful of presentation copies from the author, James, the future King of England. H. Bradley Martin had a copy of the same title in an identical binding, except the name lettered on the covers was "H. Lord Hunsdon" instead of "W. Lord Burghley." The Folger acquired this volume at Sotheby's in 1990.

Diodorus Siculus. Bibliothecae historicae libri quindecim de quadraginta. Geneva, Henricvs Stephanvs, 1559.

A Greek work by Diodorus Siculus, Bibliothecae Historica, shows one of Lord Burghley's bindings with his coat of arms and his motto, Cor unum, via una (One heart, one way), stamped in gold on the cover. Burghley's papers and manuscripts are still preserved at Hatfield House, but his books were sold at auction in 1687.

Thomas Wotton (1521-1587)

Robert Estienne. Hebraea, Chaldaea, Graeca et Latina Nomina Virorum, Mulierum...Quae in Bibliis Leguntur. Paris, Robert Estienne, 1537.

Thomas Wotton had his books bound with his name, Thome Wottoni, stamped in gold at the top of the front cover, and et amicorum ("and of his friends") at the bottom, announcing his willingness to share his library with his friends. The Latin phrase Johannis Grolierii et amicorum was tooled or painted on the books of the famous French collector, Jean Grolier, and for this reason Wotton is sometimes called "the English Grolier."

King James I (1566-1625)

Caius Suetonius Tranquillus. De XII. Caesaribus Libri VIII. [Geneva?] Stephanus Gamonetus, 1605.

King James was a great admirer of beautiful bindings. Those created for him are usually decorated with heraldic thistles, fleurs-de-lis, and ornamental corners. They always bear the royal arms in the center of the covers. The center block of James's arms on this binding is very rare, perhaps unique. While the binding is not signed, it is probably the work of John Bateman and his son Abraham, who became Royal Bookbinders to James in 1604, and office they held for life.

Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount of St. Albans 1561-1626)

Francis Bacon. Instauratio Magna. London, John Bill, 1620.

A wild boar, the crest of Sir Francis Bacon, appears on both covers of this limp vellum binding. While books with Bacon's crest are not common, five large paper copies of Instauratio Magna decorated with the crest have survived, suggesting they may have been intended as gifts. Limp vellum was popular in the first half of the 17th-century, and a number of presentation copies in the Royal Library bound before the civil wars have similar case bindings.

A Royal Binding?

King Henry VIII, King of England. A copy of the letters, wherin the most redouted [and] mighty pri[n]ce, our souerayne lorde kyng Henry the eight…made answere vnto a certayne letter of Martyn Luther…. London, Richard Pynson, [1527?].

When is a royal binding not an association copy?

This copy of Henry VIII's correspondence with Martin Luther shows Henry's Royal Arms in the upper right panel, with a large Tudor rose beneath it. Yet we have no evidence that Henry actually owned this book. While the text is printed "cum priuilegio" by Richard Pynson, printer to the King, the book was bound by John Reynes, a London binder who owned five pairs of panels and this one, with Henry's arms, was the one he used most often.

Exhibition Highlights

| Writers' Books | Collectors | Markings | Signatures | Henry VIII | Actors' Books | Ordinary Books Made Famous | Bindings | Manuscript Book Lists | Women Collectors | Inscriptions | 18th Century | Alexander Pope | Quiet Lives | Myne? |

Curator's Notes | Visiting the Folger

This page updated March 10, 2003