Reading a Book's Life Story Through
Readers' Marks in Books
Books have a life of their own. As material objects, they often outlive
their original owners. The manuscript additions that readers inscribe in
their books can provide a tantalizing biographical sketch. These traces
let us tell parts of the life story of an individual book.
Readers' marks can vary from the most basic ownership inscription, to
detailed illustrations, to poetry. Frequently, a book's owner will record
his or her particular book's genealogy on the endpapers. The "life
history" written in a book often includes its usage as a token of exchange
or gift-giving. Handwritten inscriptions may also direct a reader in how
he or she should approach a text, or indicate the various ways and times
at which a text had been used in the past. Readers' marks speak to the
diversity of readers and uses to which a single text could be put.
Pinneo, T. S. Pinneo's Analytical Grammar of the
English Language: Designed for Schools. Revised and Enlarged.
Cincinnati: W.B. Smith & Co., c1850.
Opposite the title page in this book, someone has penciled in a drawing of
a gravestone that reads: "In Memory of Helen Maynes." Written twice below
is: "Love can not reach us in our silent homes." The book's price is
recorded as part of the ownership inscription: "Price 25 cts P[ai]d. 25
cts. M[ar]ch 25th 1858 Joseph M. Maitland's Book March 25th 1858."
Although it is unclear how controversial a grammar book could be, this one
was "Read and approved by R. H. Walker Christmas Dec. 25th 1870."
Purchased June 2006 as part of Richard P. Morgan's Ohio
Russel, Robert. Seven Sermons, on Different Important
Philadelphia: Peter Stewart, .
Every blank leaf that proceeds or follows this text is covered with
handwritten inscriptions. Among them is "Johan Bolles his Booke this
wehn you see Rember me" dated Westminster 1799 and "Westminster March the
day 1807 Simpson Hammond and Mary Hammond thir book." These inscriptions
demonstrate dual ownership of a book (Simpson and Mary Hammond), as well
as its passage among members of a local community. Nathan and Lemuel
Bolles and Jedediah Hammond are also named. Both the Bolles family and
the Hammonds settled in Westminster, Vermont in the late eighteenth- and
early-nineteenth century. Perhaps because of this book's travel between
multiple members of at least two families, an additional cloth cover was
sewn on to protect the boards underneath.
Purchased April 2006 on the Woolsey Fund.
Earle, Jabez. Sacramental Exercises or, The Christian's Employment,
Before, at, and After the Lords Supper. Boston: Re-printed by T.
for Samuel Gerrish, 1715.
The front fly-leaf is inscribed: "Sally Manwarings Book -- Presented her
by Miss Mary Kettle -- who Died -- March 28th 1798 Aged 85 years." We
have identified a Sally L. Manwaring was born in Connecticut in 1797/8, so
this book may have been a gift to her as an infant by Mary Kettle. On the
next page, in a different hand, there is a powerful meditation addressed
to the "Reader" on how to read the text within so that it "shall also make
lasting impressions on thy mind." The book also contains the printed
bookplate of the "Library of Elizabeth Holt Goldthwaite. No. 284."
Goldthwaite was a nineteenth-century Unitarian leader. Three other
manuscript ownership inscriptions contribute to the tracking of the book's
history: Mary B. Bradley, Lucretia Manwaring, and "Charles M. Tayntor --
Decr 9, AD 1892 -- Manchester, Connecticut, U.S. America."
Purchased February 2006 on the Reese Fund and the NEH Challenge Fund.
A version of this exhibition was mounted in Antiquarian Hall on the
occasion of the 2006 AAS Summer Seminar, "Books and Their Readers to 1800
"One day I am visited by a collector of ordination sermons; the next, by
a collector of 4th of July orations; then comes a collector of geography;
another wants religious newspapers; another wants every book printed in
New York before 1700. I accommodate myself to all; for I want every thing
and collect every thing, and I have more zeal than the whole of them: and
in this way I am kept very busy."|
~Christopher Columbus Baldwin
3rd Librarian of AAS
For almost two hundred years the librarians at the Antiquarian Society
have worked to build collections by purchase and by donation. This page
displays a recent product of our zeal.
The Marcus A. McCorison Librarian of AAS
(and 13th in the line of AAS librarians)
Recent Acquisitions Index
Recent acquisitions in the Newspaper