For strategies for tracing book ownership see David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook (London, 1994); with special reference to Oxford, pp. 226-37. R. C. Alston, Books with Manuscripts: A Short Title Catalogue of Books with Manuscript Notes in the British Library (London, 1994), is a useful resource but very incomplete.
There is a provenance index for some early books on the University of Berkeley site.
Oxford offers innumerable resources in this area. OLIS permits search for ms notes and book owners under its ‘General Copy Notes’ item, which is steadily growing in scope; though there is as yet no way of browsing this useful facility. Room 132 in the New Bodleian has a card index of book owners. Shelfmarks can provide evidence about provenance.
Selden End is named after one of the most important benefactors, John Selden (1584-1654), who combined scholarly greatness with political activity. The Greek motto ‘liberty above all things’ was inscribed on his books. Selden presented a remarkable collection ranging from early English literature to Mexican manuscripts. His collection included books from the library of his friend John Donne.
This collection was given the Seld. shelfmark (though the shelfmark may not always guarantee that a particular volume was Selden’s): see D. M. Barratt, ‘The Library of John Selden and Its Later History’, Bodleian Library Record, 3 (1951), 128-42 and 256-74.
Another very important seventeenth-century holding is the collection of Anthony Wood (1632-95), whose researches on the history of Oxford and its university remain, in manuscript and print, crucial resources. He was also a leading source for John Aubrey’s inimitable Brief Lives, whose manuscripts are also in the Bodleian. Wood’s annotations often provide otherwise unavailable information about authorship and dates of the books he owned; he took great care that bound volumes should contain thematically coherent groupings of publications. His books are catalogued by N. K. Kiessling, The Library of Anthony Wood, Oxford Bibliographical Society Publications, 3rd series 5 (2002). On his biographical sources see W. R. Parker, `Wood's Life of Milton: its Sources and Significance', Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 52 (1958), 1-22, Allan Pritchard, ‘According to Wood: Sources of Anthony Wood's lives of poets and dramatists’, Review of English Studies, new series, 28 (1977), 268-289) and Nicholas von Maltzahn, `Wood, Allam, and the Oxford Milton', Milton Studies, 31 (1994), 155-77.
Wood’s house in Merton Street (his library was on the top floor); at the far left on the pink house is a blue placue commemorating Henry Marten, ‘republican and wit’ – a contemporary of Wood’s on the opposing side in the Civil War. Wood wrote: ‘A piece of roguerie’ on one of his pamphlets (Wood 609(3)).
For books presented by Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, which greatly enriched the literary collections (including another unique edition of Venus and Adonis), see N. K. Kiessling, The Library of Robert Burton (1988).
The quartos and octavos of Thomas Barlow (1608/9-91), Bodley’s Librarian and a significant intellectual figure, have the Linc. shelfmark and sometimes his own annotations, though again the Linc. may have been used for later accessions. Barlow was custodian of the Thomason Tracts for many years and tried in vain to raise money for the Bodleian to buy them.
The Bodleian features a special room devoted to John Locke; its holdings include over 800 of his books and many manuscripts including some literary items.
Ingenious detective work can also reconstruct books from individual collections which are now in the Bodleian: see for example William Poole, ‘Francis Lodwick, Hans Sloane, and the Bodleian Library’, The Library, 7th series, 7 (2006), 379-418.
There are innumerable annotated copies, sometimes by traceable owners. Milton’s presentation copies of his poems and prose are still in the Bodleian, as is his annotated copy of Euripides.
Edmund Malone’s collection of books and manuscripts, crammed with his own annotations, immeasurably enriched the Bodleian’s early modern holdings and remain a fascinating resource for studying the history of Shakespeare scholarship. Amongst them was the unique copy of the first edition of Venus and Adonis. See Catalogue of Early English Poetry and other miscellaneous works…collected by E Malone (Oxford, 1836; copy in Duke Humfrey’s Library, R.6.100, is annotated with shelfmarks in ms].
A more recent early modern accession is the Juel-Jensen collection of Michael Drayton, with many multiple copies.
Merton has the near-complete collection of Griffin Higgs, chaplain to Elizabeth of Bohemia: P. S. Morrish, Bibliotheca Higgsiana, Oxford Bibliographical Society Occasional Publications, new series, vol.22 (1990).
An important and underused resource is the bookplate or label: the revised STC lists surviving ones, under 3368.5 and in vol iii pp 267-9. There are also bookplate collections, though mostly later (Johnson and Harding collections) which can be consulted in Room 132.
From 1676 book auctions become an important source of information; occasional copies give prices. A. N. L. Munby and L. Coral, British Book Sale Catalogues, 1676-1800 (London, 1977), lists the catalogues; Room 132 also has a facsimile of Munby’s annotated copy of the British Library’s list of catalogues with Bodleian shelfmarks. Wood’s own copies of his auction catalogues, the basis of the huge Wood collection in the Bodleian, are catalogued as MS Wood R.13-23. Michael Mendle discusses the Wood collection in Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (eds.), Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies (Philadelphia, 2002). The Bodleian’s Broxbourne Collection features a large number of catalogues which are the basis for Graham Pollard and Albert Ehrman, The Distribution of Books by Catalogue to 1800 (Cambridge, 1965). More recent book auctions may include detailed information on provenance. A card index in Room 132 lists consignors of books in Sotheby’s catalogues from c 1900; the catalogues are also on microfilm, Films 866 (to 1945), 866 (1946-70).
Fuller information about important paratextual matters is provided by F. B. Williams, Index of Dedications and Commendatory Verses in English Books before 1641 (London, 1962), who provides useful indexes of eg cancelled and altered dedications. There is no comparable resource for later periods though online text searches can help here.↑ Back to Top
The work of Hailey and others indicates the insights that can be gained from larger-scale studies in this area, though the study of watermarks can be much harder in practice than might be expected from bibliographical manuals. A cold light machine is available in Duke Humfrey’s Library for heightening visibility of watermarks.
Useful online resources are
The standard reference works are:
Important later studies include
The British Library has a good selection of representative bindings online – colour images make a great difference in understanding the different varieties,
For other images see
Duke Humfrey’s Library has one of Randall McLeod’s collating machines, with a system of mirrors which for the skilled user can make differences between adjacent print pages leap to the eye.
For an example of the kinds of reading against the grain which Professor McLeod has tried to encourage (with some severe blasts at Oxford editors) see
Random Cloud, ‘from Tranceformations in the Text of Orlando Furioso’, The Library Chronicle of the University of Texas at Austin, 20 (1990), 60-85; also issued in New Directions in Textual Studies, ed. Dave Oliphant and Robin Bradford (Austin, 1990).
Random Cloud, “FIAT fLUX”, in Randall M Leod (ed.), Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance (New York, 1994).
Random Cloud [i.e. R. McLeod], ‘Where Angels fear to read’, in Ma(r)king the Text: The Presentation of Meaning on the Literary Page, ed. Joe Bray, Miriam Handley, and Anne C. Henry (Aldershot, 2000), pp. 144-192).
The visual culture of the early modern printed book is in many ways much less rich than that of the more expensive manuscripts, but title-pages and illustrations did develop distinctive codes whose understanding is important. Individual copies of books may contain illustrative matter added by particular owners. In Oxford a remarkable example is the Sutherland Collection in the Ashmolean, with illustrations which had been added to Clarendon’s and Burnet’s histories: for examples see: http://sutherland.ashmolean.museum/illustrations.shtml
Remember also the remarkable material to be found in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera.
Reference works for visual material include: