Mystery Monday: Unicorn “Friend of the Sea”

Today’s Mystery Monday post is an intriguing bookplate with an image of a unicorn swimming through ocean waves.  The Greek lettering above reads philos pontou (friend of the sea).  The name Joe Andrada, presumably the name of the engraver, and the year 1917 appear in the lower left-hand corner.

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599  All images from this book  Penn Libraries catalog record

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

The image pre-dates Peter S. Beagle’s 1968 fantasy novel The Last Unicorn which memorably describes unicorns bound in the foam of the sea:

“…in the whiteness, of the whiteness, flowering in the tattered water, their bodies arching with the streaked marble hollows of the waves, their manes and tails and the fragile beards of the males burning in the sunlight, their eyes as dark and jeweled as the deep sea–and the shining of the horns, the seashell shining of the horns!  The horns came riding in like the rainbow masts of silver ships.”

Both Beagle’s novel and this unidentified bookplate from 51 years earlier present the image of a unicorn as part of the sea that may stem from the relationship between the mythical beings and the real one-horned creature of the sea, the Narwhal.  For centuries sightings of narwhal horns poking up from the ocean have led to speculation about mythical creatures below, and their long tusks were harvested and passed off as unicorn horns by sailors in earlier times when the boundaries of which animals were true and which fantasy were murkier to most people than they are today.

However, the precise inspiration for this bookplate and the name of the owner it was made for both remain a mystery.  Who was it who selected the somewhat unusual image of a unicorn in the waves with the Greek motto?  The book itself is a 1599 edition of a text on the priesthood by St. John Chrysostum, a 5th century church father (Penn Libraries BV4011 .J63 1599) with versions of the text in both Greek and Latin.  The book has several other notable provenance marks, including a binding with the arms of 18th century French collector Jacques Auguste de Thou, whom I’ve blogged about before:

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599  All images from this book  Penn Libraries catalog record

Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

The book also contains a heraldic bookplate on the inside back cover identified as that of François-Michel de Verthamon, marquis de Breau (d. 1738):

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Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

and a more recent label bearing the name Comte le Moyne de Martigny:

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Penn Libraries call number: BV4011.J63 1599
All images from this book
Penn Libraries catalog record

If you think you know more about our mystery unicorn bookplate that could shed light on who owned this book around 1917, post a comment here or comment under the image on the POP Flickr Feed.

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Custom-made Provenance

People have long taken pleasure in adding some element of individual expression to the media they use to read.  This is apparent nearly everywhere on the computers and websites we use daily to access news, scholarship, social updates and more.  We customize our cover photos and profile pictures on sites like Facebook, adorn our laptop screens with “wallpaper, and choose artistic, blingy, or ironic covers to enclose our phones.  These are all not only statements intended to convey something about who we are to the people around us, but also serve as reminders to ourselves that we have something unique to contribute to the world every time we turn to read an online article or a text from a friend.  This universal desire to combine individual expression with the experience of reading and viewing material was the basis for a recent catchy MacBook ad in which a rapid succession of images shows the iconic apple logo on the case of a laptop adorned by various customized stickers, from hipster hats to Homer Simpson:   https://youtu.be/5SIgYp3XTMk  The ad is selling a product intended to act as a person’s gateway to the world’s information, and plays upon the concurrent need for the object offering that experience to give people an experience in common together, suggested by the apple logo that unites all MacBook owners as a group, while at the same time providing a distinctly personal experience, expressed by the imaginative stickers.

The image at the top of today’s blog post is, in many ways, an 18th century equivalent of our Facebook cover images and digital wallpaper.  It shows the spine of an embroidered binding covering a Book of Common Prayer bound with a Bible.  The book is located at the Library Company of Philadelphia (Am 1719 Eng Al 99 no. 218), but owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  Their collection boasts a rich range of material from documents related to regional and family histories from the 18th century to the present, to nationally important historical documents such as the first draft of the United States Constitution.   Several images from books owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and located at the Library Company have recently been added to POP. The title page of the book is like many other devotional 18th century printed texts of the period:

18716961932_82a34973cc_zA reader turning to it would receive the sort of message appropriate to the work it contains, a book of common prayer intended to be a reading experience in common between the pious reader and her social group.  Seemingly numberless 18th century households would have contained a similar bible or prayer book. However, this particular copy of a universalizing text has not only been adorned with the inscription of a past owner named Martyn Jervis but has, more spectacularly, been wrapped in the brilliant colors of a distinctly personal creation.  From across a room the beautifully preserved colors, worked in worsted wool in a a bold, flame stitch pattern, make an immediate statement that this is a book that was owned by someone with something to show the world.

A closer examination of the spine reveals a hand stitched provenance mark showing the name, Elizabeth Sandwith, and the date, 1759.

View on

View on

The owner, Elizabeth Sandwith, is better known by her married name, Elizabeth Drinker, and was a notable member of the early American Quaker community.  Her diary, which is also a part of the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Collection 1760), is a well known document of the experience of a Quaker woman in the revolutionary era.  It also contains a specific reference to this book.  In an entry dated January 15, 1759, when she was 24 years old, she writes: “Stayed home all day.  Began to work a large worsted bible cover.”  This brief note of the moment in time when Drinker (then Sandwith) began stitching the colorful book cover reinforces the sense, already evoked by the stitching itself, of the human fingers that crafted the pattern to show the world some glimmer of the human mind that read the prayers and verses printed in the pages between the covers.  This embroidery work, taken up by a woman in a quiet moment at home 256 years ago, today serves as a reminder to us that all we put our names to, all we add of our own selves to the world, and all the ways what we read, view, and watch are wrapped in the colors of our own individual experience.

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Mystery Monday: OFF Stamp from the Folger

Today’s Mystery Monday post is a pair of images contributed by researcher Claire M. L. Bourne, who came across two very similar stamps in two 17th century plays she was looking at in the collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The first stamp appears in a play by Aphra Behn called Abdelazer, or The Moor’s revenge from 1677 (Folger, B1715): 

The nearly identical stamp appears a play called Sophonisba, or Hannibal’s overthrow by Natheniel Lee in 1676 (Folger, L870):

The two plays were both printed in London for J. Magnes and R. Bentley in Russell St., London within a year of each other and both have been marked with the same distinctive round stamp bearing the letters OFF in the top half and the number 4 in the bottom half.

Anyone with ideas about what this stamp is and what it can tell us about who owned these plays before should either comment on this blog or post a comment under one of the images of the stamp here on POP.

There will be more images from the Folger joining POP in the next few weeks, including provenance marks from some of the Folger’s Shakespeare First Folios, so look for more interesting provenance from these collections soon.

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Ben Franklin’s Books: The Library Company of Philadelphia Joins POP

Yesterday the Provenance Online Project (POP) added the first provenance images to the POP Flickr feed from The Library Company of Philadelphia, with many more to be released in the weeks ahead.  This is the first exciting step in adding images outside Penn, and just the beginning of partnerships with several fellow libraries that will begin contributing images to the project with the long term goal of making POP a provenance resource joining images from collections all over the world.  Bringing images from the Library Company collections together with the images already represented from Penn on POP has also already resulted in some exciting research finds, including the new identification of a Benjamin Franklin autograph in a book from the Kislak Center at Penn Libraries (more on this find in a minute).  Continue reading

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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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/58558794@N07/16990667511/ 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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View on POP

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

Note:  After this blog was posted additional research suggests that this book may not, in fact, have belonged to Henry VIII or Edward VI.  Henry VIII’s arms on the binding are made with the kind of stamp commonly used by many people during his reign and do not necessarily indicate royal ownership, and the name Edwardus appears to have been followed originally by a surname, which has been crossed out.  Even if this book were not touched by royalty, it remains a fascinating example of the way books of this period were marked up by young students learning their Latin and Greek.  Thanks to David Pearson for his helpful comment that led to more detailed research into this book’s history and some fact checking of the notes that had been kept with it in Penn Library’s records. 

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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