on exhibit November 13, 2002 through March 1, 2003

Thys Boke is Myne?

Determining provenance can be difficult. Evidence of ownership is often inconclusive, forged, or wishful thinking. People's habits and handwriting are not easy to read for the early modern period, so proof of ownership can be elusive. In many instances we are left to wonder.

Velvet Binding with the Royal Arms of James I

James I, King of England. …Meditatio in orationem Dominicam…. London, Bonham Norton & John Bill, [1619].

Folger catalogers have determined this beautiful book was owned by William Henry Miller at Britwell Court, and was once in Sir Leicester Harmsworth's library. But was it ever owned by James I? Possibly. James presented a similar binding to the Bodleian Library in the 1620's, and though there is no internal evidence of ownership, the choice of rich crimson velvet for the cover, the style of gold tooling, the superb Royal Arms, and the fact that James is the author, suggest it was a presentation copy from the King.

Binding Catalogue Item 8:7, STC14385 ©

Cover of binding and spine with Eveyln's initials - STC23082 c.1 ©

Evelyn Binding

Edmund Spenser. The Faerie Queene. London, [Richard Field], 1596.

From a young age, Evelyn was fairly manic about his books. He carefully wrote his name, date, price and place of purchase in each volume. He nearly always wrote his motto in his books, Omnia Explorate, Meliora Retinete (Prove all things; retain the best), logged an entry in his manuscript book list and, finally, added a case number and shelfmark, leaving a rich trail of markings. And if that wasn't enough to signal ownership, Evelyn put his initials artfully on his bindings, as seen here on the cover and spine of The Faerie Queene.

Henry VIII's Coat of Arms

Corpus Juris Civilis. Institutionum imperialium…. Paris, Claude Chevallon, 1527.

This London calf binding, contemporary with the book, has two versions of Henry VIII's arms in a blind ruled panel. But did Henry own this book? Did he ever see it? There is nothing to suggest he did. There is no evidence (signature, bookplate, annotations, or other documentation) to prove this "royal binding" was ever in royal hands.

Raleigh's Signature

Sir Walter Raleigh. Autograph letter signed. [1590?]

This leaf shows a beautiful signature we know to be Sir Walter Raleigh's. The problem is that Raleigh, like a good many others in this time, wrote in a variety of hands, some formal, elegant with flourishes, others little better than a scrawl. Sometimes Raleigh just used his initials. So even signatures can be deceiving. Side by side, examples of a person's handwriting, or styles of signature, can look like those of two different people.

Sir Walter Raleigh?

Sir Walter Raleigh. The History of the World. London, William Stansby, 1614

We know that Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) emphasized the initials WR in his signature and alone as a monogram. But is this fanciful version of WR in Raleigh's hand? One scholar is certain it is (which would make this a very valuable book). Study the oversized initials in the signatures to the left and right, known to be in Raleigh's hand. Are you convinced all three versions are by the same person?

Raleigh Letter

Sir Walter Raleigh. Autograph letter signed to Sir William More. ca. 1585.

This is a good example of Raleigh's habit of emphasizing the initials in his signature. How does the WR compare to the initials in History of the World?

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 |

Curator's Notes | Visiting the Folger

This page updated March 10, 2003