Provenance research in rare book cataloguing by Derrick Moors

One of my tasks as Rare Books Cataloguer is to barcode and upgrade the bibliographic records of fragile and vulnerable items that the State Library’s Preservation and Processing team has identified as requiring protective boxing. This gives me the opportunity to upgrade records, often from the card catalogue era, to current standards.

One item which was passed to me recently to work on was a bound pamphlet volume of 17th century English works with the spine title, provided by the contemporary binder, of “Waldenses”. The Waldenses were a Christian movement which, because of their ideas of following Christ in poverty and simplicity, were often viewed as a fore-runner to the Reformation. Indeed one of the pamphlets in the volume has the title ‘Luthers fore-runners’ (London, 1624). However the interest in this volume is in its provenance (the history of ownership). On the verso of the blank first leaf is the note “Lord Lansdowne’s sale 1806, no. 3620, 0:18:0”. That is, the anonymous buyer paid 18 shillings for this item from the sale of the now deceased William Petty, Marquis of Lansdowne’s (1737-1805) book collection.

A check on lot number 3620 in an annotated copy of Lansdowne’s sale catalogue Bibliotheca Lansdowniana. A Catalogue of the Entire Library of the Late Most Noble William..., reveals the purchaser to be an “H. Taylor”.[1]

We do not know who H. Taylor is, but we can be sure into whose library the volume eventually came. Philip Bliss was a well-known Oxford antiquarian, book-collector and member of the Roxburghe Club, as well as Sub-librarian, Bodleian Library, University Registrar, and Keeper of the University Archives. Bliss had a unique and discrete way of indicating ownership of his books. Seymour de Ricci (English collectors of books & manuscripts, 1530-1930, and their marks of ownership) [2] notes Bliss’s method of marking his books:


All of the titles in our volume have Bliss’s characteristic mark. The first pamphlet in the volume (George Abbot. A treatise of the perpetuall visibilitie and succession of the true church in all ages. London, 1624) also has further abbreviated markings, their meaning unclear.

Pictured above is leaf B1r of Patrick Simson’s A short compend of the historie of the first ten persecutions moued against Christians, divided into III. centuries. Edinburgh, 1613, with Bliss’s mark.

This is all part of provenance research, and considers the unique characteristics of a particular book (binding, reader’s annotations, inscriptions, labels, and other marks of ownership). The book itself, rather than its content, is increasingly becoming a major area of research in rare book cataloguing.

[1] The annotations showing the price and buyer can be found on the copy held in the Bodleian: Bodleian Library, Oxford, Mus. Bibl. III. 347.

[2] De Ricci, S. (1960). English Collectors of Books & Manuscripts (1530-1930): and their marks of ownership, The Holland Press.

This post was written by Derrick Moors, Senior Librarian from Collections Development & Description

This article has 2 comments

  1. Wonderful, thank you.

  2. Thank you, Derrick.
    It was a privilege to read your wonderful post.
    Regards,
    Robert Miller.

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