Provenance Online Project


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Storks and Snakes

The beautiful engraving shown on the right depicts one stork feeding a snake to its mate, who is sitting on their nest.  Around the border of the picture is the Latin motto “Virtus pietas homini tutissima,” (Piety is the most secure virtue for men).  The oval shaped image is pasted to the fly leaf of the Bibliotheca Thuana, the catalog of a 17th century library which has been described on this blog in a previous post.  It might make sense to assume that something like this pasted in the front of a book is some kind of bookplate, just one without an owner’s name on it.  However, this particular paste-in turns out to be a printer’s device, something usually seen printed on a title page or at the end of a book to show who was responsible for printing the book.  It is, however, very unusual to see a printer’s device cut out and pasted in a book as this one is, making its purpose a bit of a mystery. Continue reading


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Mystery Monday: A Sexy Bookplate in a Mirrored Miniature Book

This is the first in the Small Books of September series, highlighting miniature books in the Penn Libraries collection. 

The experience of reading a boIMG_1217ok may often be said to be a reflective one, but seldom is the term “reflective” applied as literally to a book as it can be to the little 18th century volume shown in the image to the left bearing the title, Toujours de l’amour:  Almanach nouveau sur les plus jolis airs (Penn Libraries PQ1989.J36 T68 1792).  This tiny book, produced in the 1790’s in France, and only 3.75 inches high by 2.25 inches wide, has a small mirror attached to the inside of the front cover, which is lined in pink silk and trimmed with gold braid.  The book is just the size of a make-up compact, and it is easy to imagine it serving the purpose of allowing an 18th century owner to discretely powder her nose, or perhaps to catch a reflected view of someone interesting in another part of the room without being too obvious.   And, as you can see, this mirror reflects a sexy little image of a nude lady sitting on a stack of books while an elaborately dressed suitor bows before her, plumed hat in hand. Continue reading


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William Penn and Friends

To the left is an image of William Penn’s (1644-1718) bookplate, which is pasted into the inside front cover of S631 .D57 1634a copy of a 1652 edition of the typically verbose 17th century title:  Samuel Hartlib his Legacie: or an Englargement of the Discourse of HUSBANDRY used in Brabant & Flaunders: Wehrein are bequeathed to the Common-wealth of England, more Outlandish and Domestick Experiments and Secrets, in reference to Universal Husbandry (Penn Libraries, EC65 H2554 651s 1652).  It is easy to imagine the interest Penn might have had in this book as the man who had founded what was then known as the Province of Pennsylvania (land encompassing areas of both modern Pennsylvania and Delaware) in 1681 as a haven for the Quakers, and who had then spent many decades as the proprietor of Pennsylvania overseeing the development of the land.  Hartlib’s book provides an overview of countless aspects of husbandry as practiced in different parts of Europe, offering a comparative approach to provide English readers with new ideas about how to get the most out of different kinds of land, with an appended treatise on the Husbandry and Natural History of Ireland.  Perusing the subject headings of the main text reveal an assortment of topics including:  “Digging, Setting and Howing,” “Smut and Mildew,” “Fruits,” “Vines,” “Dunging and Manuring Lands,” “Silke-Wormes”, “Waste Lands,” and “The Not Improvement of Our Meadows.”  (That last category discusses the great importance of leaving meadows free for the purpose of grazing livestock on good “clover grasse” and other such herbage, thereby being able to make tastier cheeses). Continue reading


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Robert Browning’s Book and a Moment of Friendship

IMG_1132 copyIn 1860 the English poet, Robert Browning (1812-1889) received a book as a gift from his friend and fellow author, Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), who was also friends with the novelist Charles Dickens, the poet Robert Southey, and others.  The image to the left appears to show the spine of this book’s binding, indicating that the book in question is a copy of a 1640 edition of works by the Roman poet, Catullus (c.84-54 B.C.E.) Penn Libraries LatC C2994 640c.  It also indicates that this book was a gift with the words “PRESENTATION COPY FROM W.S. LANDOR TO ROBERT BROWNING” stamped on the leather. Continue reading


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A 17th Century Handheld Library

IMG_0431All of us have become accustomed in the 21st century to holding libraries in our hands on a regular basis.  People walk around routinely with music libraries on their ipods, photo libraries on their phones, and e-book libraries on their tablets and e-readers.  Anyone who owns such digital libraries is also familiar with the sometimes frustrating experience of trying to transfer these digital libraries from one device to another when an old phone dies or it’s time to replace a dated laptop.  Sometimes the attempt to re-create the original library works well, but often there are glitches.  Even if all the music or e-books or photos successfully get transferred to another device (and sometimes things get lost, or aren’t compatible with your new device or software), getting all the digital items arranged as they were on the previous device can be a challenge.  Re-creating a library is not simply a matter of transferring that library’s contents–all the mp3s in a music library–but the structure of those contents–your “Favorite Love Songs from the Decade When I Was 20″ or “Best of Duke Ellington” playlists.

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Mystery Monday: Bodybuilder Bookplate

Mysterious squirrel and strong man in an unidentified bookplate.  Penn Libraries:   IC55 T1856 En802s

Mysterious squirrel and strong man in an unidentified bookplate. Penn Libraries: IC55 T1856 En802s

What do a giant squirrel and a he-man wearing a leafy loin cloth and a laurel wreath have in common?  Emblematic bookplates like the one shown to the left (Penn Libraries: IC55 T1856 En802s) present the provenance researcher with such peculiar questions.  Continue reading


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Mystery Monday: Cut Off…

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Cut off inscription in Penn Libraries GC5 L9828 555a 1573

 

Sometimes solving a provenance mystery is simply a matter of digging a little deeper, doing the right research, or having the luck to come across a resource that helps shed some light on an unusual bookplate or connects a signature with the right biography.  At other times the challenge begins with simply trying to understand what you are seeing.  Such is the case with the interrupted inscription in the image above, which has been chopped off at the edge of the page.  Continue reading

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