“The easiest and most common way to indicate ownership of a book is to write one’s name in it.”
David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History
Book owners have been inscribing their names on endpapers, flyleaves, and title pages ever since the invention of the book. Not every signature necessarily indicates ownership, of course – authors have been signing copies of their work for other people nearly as long as people have been signing their own books, and students are often encouraged to write their names in the front of textbooks, books which may get reused year after year. Take the following inscription found in the front of MSU’s copy of English Orthographie, a primer on reading and writing from 1670:
If you do look to the rite (right), you’ll see a series of squiggles that apparently is supposed to be Richards’ signature. Turning to the inside of the back cover (the rear pastedown endpaper), we can see that this particular scribe has been quite busy, again practicing his elaborate signature:
This loose approach to spelling is compounded by the style of early handwriting, making many manuscript inscriptions in books very difficult for the untrained modern eye to read. Combine these issues with the characteristic quirks of an individual’s penmanship (as we saw last week in the John Greenleaf Whittier letter), and making heads or tails of some provenance evidence can be quite the challenge indeed. I’m going to leave you this week with another inscription that time has made difficult to interpret. Can you make out what it says? Post your best transcription in the comments below!