American Antiquarian 


Search this site

Recent Acquisition

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.

Analytical Grammar
Enlarge image

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 Imprint Collection.


Enlarge image

Russel, Robert. Seven Sermons, on Different Important Subjects. Philadelphia: Peter Stewart, [1791].

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 31 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 Earle
Enlarge images

Earle, Jabez. Sacramental Exercises or, The Christian's Employment, Before, at, and After the Lords Supper. Boston: Re-printed by T. Fleet, 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 and Beyond."

Baldwin "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.
~Nancy Burkett
 The Marcus A. McCorison Librarian of AAS (and 13th in the line of AAS librarians)


Additional Information

Recent Acquisitions Index

Recent acquisitions in the Newspaper Department


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-1634
Tel.: 508-755-5221
Fax: 508-753-3311
e-mail the library

Contact Us
Staff Directory
Site Map
Site Index
Last updated July 10, 2006

American Antiquarian 
Society logo

This site and all contents © 2011 American Antiquarian Society

Valid HTML 4.01!