Provenance - The ownership history of books

Many of the volumes now held in the Special Collections Department have an interesting provenance and previously belonged to famous figures from the past. We are always interested in discovering the provenance of books in our care in order to establish their history prior to their entry into our collections. We can do this by studying the book for evidence of autographs, bookplates, manuscript notes and stamped bindings. This can help trace how copies of books have changed ownership over the years, and how different generations of readers may have used them. As well as the intrinsic interest in the previous ownership of the volumes, the works themselves sometimes throw a fascinating light on the character and enthusiasms of their owners. The items in this virtual exhibition are representative of the rich diversity held within the department’s collections.

Research, text, images and captions by Fiona Neale, Special Collections Department: April 2011.

View the exhibition by selecting items of interest from the thumbnails below, or read about the books in order: go to the first book.

Roger Ascham: Titlepage of Tritheim, Johann: Liber octo questionum
Roger Ascham
Ownership inscription in Plinius Secundus, Gaius (Pliny the Elder): Historia naturalis
Thomas Cranmer
Philip Melanchthon: Text pages from Hermiae, Ammonius: Commentaria
Philip Melanchthon
John Donne: Titlepage of Bordini, G. F.: De rebus praeclare gestis
John Donne
Jean-Baptiste Colbert: Title page from Hippocrates; Galen: Works
Jean-Baptiste Colbert
Louis XIV: Text page (p.40) from Perrault, Charles: Courses de testes...
King Louis XIV
John Flamsteed: Titlepage of Briggs, Henry: Arithmetica Logarithmica
John Flamsteed
Jonathan Swift: Dedication inscription in Swift, Jonathan: Works
Richard Mead
Samuel Johnson: Title page from Graham, George: Telemachus
Samuel Johnson
Madame de Pompadour: Binding of De Valois, Henri: Charmes et Characteres de Sorcellerie de Henri de Valoys...
Madame de Pompadour
Adam Smith: Title page of Malebranche, Nicolas: De la recherche de la verite
Adam Smith
Robert Burns: Flyleaf of Smith, Adam: The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Robert Burns
Thomas De Quincey: Title page of MacKenzie, George: An historical account
Thomas De Quincey
Sir Walter Scott: Title page of Walker, Patrick: Some remarkable passages...
Sir Walter Scott
Bookplate of W.E. Gladstone in Xenophon: Anabasis
William Ewart Gladstone
Bookplate of Charles Dickens in Douce, Francis: The Dance of Death
Charles Dickens
David Livingstone: Front flyleaf of Livingstone, David: Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa
David Livingstone
Oscar Wilde: Bookplate in Whistler, J.M. : The Owl and the Cabinet
Oscar Wilde
Alexander Graham Bell: Bell, A.G.: Lectures upon the mechanism of speech
Alexander Graham Bell
Marie Curie: Inscription in Curie, Marie: Theses...
Marie Curie