Shakespeare’s Signature?

Today, April 23rd, is celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday.  We don’t actually know the exact date of the bard of Stratford on Avon’s birth, but we do know that he was baptised on April 26th so, since baptism often occurred within about three days of birth, we can think of sometime between today and this Saturday as the day when one of the world’s most famous poets began life. It seems only appropriate, then, that today’s blog be dedicated to the “William Shakespeare” signature shown in the image above on the title page from an early quarto edition of  Hamlet at the Kislak Center (PR2750 .A07 1619).  This isn’t, in fact, an autograph by the original William Shakespeare.  A note on one of the front flyleaves of the Hamlet quarto verifies that it is, in fact, the work of one of literary history’s most famous forgers, William Henry Ireland (1775-1835).  Continue reading

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Mystery Monday: A question from Newfoundland

Update:  Shortly after posting this blog post some POP contributors found some resources that indicate an 18th century Prior Scipio, who may be the owner associated with this stamp.  View the links in the comments on Flickr here: and contribute your own comments if you can contribute more information. 

A recent reference request came my way from a librarian at the Mullock Library in Newfoundland.  He had found a stamp in several 18th century books that are a part of Jean Bolland’s Acta Sanctorum.  The stamp he had found had the words “Scipio Prior de Guglielmis” on it, and there was a note of a stamp with the same words for a copy of another ecclesiastical book, the Decisiones Patavinae ( S-33.4.7).


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An image of the Penn copy of the stamp (shown above) is now up on the POP Flickr feed, but there isn’t much known about the stamp itself, or who the Prior de Gugliemis might have been.  Like many examples of stamps, the Penn copy has parts missing where the stamp didn’t make full contact with the page, so being able to verify the exact words that are meant to appear by comparing it with the same stamp found in other libraries is very useful.  The imagery in the middle is unfamiliar to me.  It seems to be composed of a crown, a pair of fleur de lis, and some kind of triangular shape (drapery?) and a cross bar.

If anyone out there knows more about this stamp and can help identify this mystery provenance mark, respond to this blog or make a comment on the POP Flickr feed!

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Mystery Monday: Marriage and Mythology

Today, a Mystery Monday guest post from Rayna Andrews, who works for the Gotham Book Mart Project at Penn Libraries. The Gotham Book Mart was a famous New York City bookstore from 1920-2007, and when it closed the thousands of books in its inventory came to Penn, where catalogers have been finding treasures great and small among the books.  Visit the Gotham Book Mart Project Tumbler to see more fascinating images of books that are being uncovered daily.  In today’s POP guest post, Rayna writes about a romantic provenance inscription she found in one of these books. 

Continue reading

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A Book Fit for Two Kings

It is not at all uncommon to find the marks of children in very old books (or, for that matter, as any parent can attest, very new ones). Books from the Renaissance period that were used for young students learning to read their Latin classics (which were part of grammar school age training for a highly educated young person of the age) are often filled with the kinds of scribbles of penmanship practice, random doodles, and ownership inscriptions shown in the picture above.

However, the inscription “Edwardus me possidet” (Edward owns me) written twice on the inside front cover of a Latin translation of Homer’s Illiad is an especially notable mark of schoolboy ownership. In this case the Edward in question was Edward VI of England (1537-53), who, since he was crowned at the age of nine, may well have been a boy king at the time he was making this inscription and the accompanying doodles on this book. Continue reading

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Twelfth Night Title Pages

The celebration of Twelfth Night traditionally takes place on either January 5th (yesterday) or January 6th (today) depending on whether you choose to count from Christmas Day or the day after.  The holiday celebrates the Epiphany, or the coming of the Magi to visit the Christ Child 12 days after His birth, and has been celebrated for centuries in Christian countries with feasting, drinking, and general merriment.   Twelfth Night is also the title of one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, a play about love and folly.  While the main plot of the play is about the main characters finding the person they love (with lots of cross-dressing, mistaken identity and confusion along the way), the major sub-plot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is about the tensions between the puritanical character, Malvolio, who frowns on feasting and frivolity, and the fool, Feste, who is all for mirth in the moment, declaring that “present mirth hath present laughter.” Continue reading

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Transcribathon!: Noon to Midnight Reading Old Handwriting and Making Digital Texts

photoLast Thursday staff from Penn’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Folger Shakespeare Library were joined by students and scholars from the Penn community for a world premiere event. This was (as far as we know) the world’s first ever Transcribathon: twelve hours from noon to midnight of intently examining Renaissance manuscripts and transcribing them using the beta version of an exciting new transcription software called Dromio that the Folger is developing as a part of its Early Modern Manuscript Online (EMMO) project to help make it easier for experts and newbies alike to help make digital transcriptions of centuries old manuscripts.  Transcribathon participants were fortified with both pizza and slices of the manuscript cake (created by hand by yours truly) shown above. Continue reading

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Illegible?: when handwriting gets hard to read


In recent weeks my colleagues and I at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts here at Penn Libraries have been thinking even more than usual about the art of reading old handwriting as we prepare for a Transcribathon event this Thursday, Dec. 4th in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library. The event will be an opportunity for everyone from those who have no prior experience reading scripts from centuries ago to those with lots of practice playing handwriting detective to come try out the Folger’s new digital transcription tool, developed for their Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) project. People will be learning how to read a range of Renaissance manuscripts, from fairly easy writing, not too different from modern hands, to more difficult scripts for those who want a challenge, and dropping in to transcribe from noon to midnight sustained by food and prizes. (I encourage anyone near Penn next Thursday to join the fun!) As I’ve been thinking about this upcoming event, I’ve also been thinking about the reasons we need to learn about and make transcriptions of the writing of the past, the reasons that once common ways of writing become foreign to us, and the ways the challenges of handwriting create challenges for the Provenance Online Project when the handwriting of the past becomes the only remaining evidence that a particular person once held a particular book in his or her hands or, sometimes, the only remaining evidence that a particular person ever existed at all. When, and for what reasons, does a name simply become illegible? Continue reading

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Mystery Monday: Who Was Anastasia Löwin?

Inc H-135Like the old joke, the page shown above is black and white and red all over.  The main text, a series of prayers printed in black, has been adorned in scarlet.  There is red underlining to highlight important features like the chapter number, and red highlights have been added to certain important letters, such as the capital “C” in “Iesu Christi”, also underlined, on the second line of the page.  The large capital “O”s, which look a little like they are wearing earmuffs, have been added to the start of each of the prayers on the page, each of which invoke a particular body part of Jesus Christ for the reader to meditate on: O breast of Christ, O throat of Christ, etc.

Most notably two words in red have been added to the text.  There is no religious significance to the words, nor do they mark a significant header or division in the text as with the other red markings.  Instead, they spell out the name, Anastasia Löwin, presumably the former owner of the book.  Her name appears in red ink in at least four other places on the book:  on two other pages and, just barely visible, written across the pages on the tail edge of the book (see image below and to the right).  In other places it appears with the variant spelling Anastasia Laÿin.  Continue reading

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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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