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.

George 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 Simmes, 1600.

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 terms.

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©

George 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 Robert Cotton

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.

William Caxton/Wynkyn de Worde

William Bonde. 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).*

* Ronald B. McKerrow, Printers' and Publishers' Devices in England and Scotland 1485-1640 (London, 1913), 1.

The earliest printed ownership label
to be found in an English book

Erasmus (Desiderius). Institutio Principis Christiani saluberrimis referta praeceptis…. 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.

Markings: Studying the Evidence

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.

Exhibition Highlights

| Writers' Books | Collectors | 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