"THYS BOKE IS MYNE"
on exhibit November 13, 2002 through March 1, 2003
Signs of Ownership and Association
The history of a book and its
travels is recorded in numerous ways - in signatures and inscriptions,
mottoes and markings, blemishes and improvements that leave a trail of
evidence for us to ponder. The value of a book may depend entirely on
who has owned it, and understanding and evaluating evidence of provenance
is fascinating. Autographs, dedications, manuscript notes, bookplates,
and bindings can tell us where a book has been and in whose hands it has
rested. These markings and examples of bibliographical evidence are full
of anecdote and human interest, connecting us to people and their books.
Fallowes and Richard Fallowes
he that stealth this book he shall be hanged on a nail
T.M., Gent [Thomas Middleton] The Ghost of Lucrece. London, Valentine
In 1920, Mr. Richard Francis Burton discovered a small octavo volume of
five works bound together. Three were unique editions by Shakespeare - The
Passionate Pilgram (1599), Lucrece (1600), and Venus and Adonis
(1599) - and the fourth was Thomas Middleton's, The Ghost of Lucrece
(1600). The volume had formerly belonged to the Fallowes family - otherwise
unknown - whose male heirs, George and Richard, claimed ownership in unusual
Mr. Folger acquired this delightful association copy on March 23, 1920,
a few hours before it was to be auctioned at Sotheby's.
"He that stealth
this book" inscription in STC 22341.8©
fflallowes is the true owner
of this book and he that stealeth
this book he shall be hanged on
a hook and If the hook do fail
he shall be hanged on a nail
Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton/Sir
Agostino Torrnielli. Annales
Sacri ab Orbe Condito ad Ipsum Christi Passione Reparatum. Milan,
Heirs of Pacifico da Ponte and Giacomo Piccaglia, 1610.
Perhaps the most beautiful binding in the exhibition, this well-preserved
volume was a New Year's gift to Henry Howard, earl of Northampton (1540-1614)
from one of his scholarly advisors, Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631).
The centerpiece on the cover
tells the tragic story of Pyramus, who "kills himself most gallant
for love" and the grief-stricken Thisbe, who falls on a sword at
the sight of her slain lover.
A devoute treatyse in Englysshe called the Pilgrymage of perfeccyon.
London, Wynkyn de Worde, 1531.
Printers mark their books too. The leaf on display has William Caxton's
bold and unusually large woodcut device with the initials "W.C.".
The book was printed by Caxton's protégé and successor,
Wynkyn de Worde, and this is the last time Caxton's large woodcut device
was used in a printed book.
The earliest use of a printer's device in England was 1485 (St. Albans
Press) and Caxton's is second, in 1487 or 1488. Up to the end of the 15th
century only eleven separate devices are known. McKerrow cites only five
recorded uses of Caxton's device, three of which are by de Worde (1495,
1516 and 1531).*
B. McKerrow, Printers' and Publishers' Devices in England and Scotland
1485-1640 (London, 1913), 1.
The earliest printed ownership
to be found in an English book
Erasmus (Desiderius). Institutio Principis Christiani saluberrimis
. Basle, Johannes Froben, 1518.
Courtesy of Professor Toshiyuki
Takamiya, Keio University, Tokyo.
At the head of the title of Erasmus's Institute of the Christian Prince
is pasted a small typeset black-letter book label, John Bickner oweth
this Booke. Alan N.L. Munby (1913-1974), bibliographer and Librarian
of King's College, Cambridge, said this appears to be "the earliest
printed ownership label to be found in an English book."* The use
of book labels was not uncommon in the early modern period, but Bickner's
label is a rarity for being such an early example.**
* The Book Collector 3.3 (1954): 227.
** Brian North Lee, Early printed book labels: a catalogue of dated personal
labels and gift labels printed in Britain to the year 1760 (Pinner, Eng.:
Private Libraries Association, 1976), xv.
What can association copies
teach us? Studying the evidence of provenance allows us to assess the
size and contents of particular libraries, and compare them with others
of the same period. It builds upon our understanding of the patterns of
literacy and book ownership, and permits us to speculate on the importance
of books in a given society. Insight into the scope and nature of private
collections yields information on the history of the book trade and the
degree to which men and women participated. Provenance also tells us something
about reading habits, tastes, and secular interests as well as connecting
us to the lives of historical figures.
Books | Collectors |
Signatures | Henry VIII | Actors'
Books | Ordinary Books Made Famous
| Bindings | Manuscript
Book Lists | Women Collectors | Inscriptions
| 18th Century | Alexander
Pope | Quiet Lives |
This page updated March 10, 2003