This Boke is Myne exhibition material

This article offers a descriptive list of items included in Thys Boke is Myne, an exhibition hosted at the Folger in 2002/2003.


Writers' books

Reconstructing the contents of a writer's library often reveals source material behind famous works. Authorial inscriptions in books may tell us about personal relationships and document variations in handwriting or signatures. Annotations may also record reactions to the competition, reflect prejudices, or show an author being difficult or vulnerable—in short, human. Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James, attached enormous importance to presentation and inscribed copies, and looked to them for clues about relationships, meetings and dates. At the Folger scholars have recently discovered books owned and annotated by Edmund Spenser and George Eliot, thrilling finds for the Folger Shakespeare Library.

John Dryden (1631–1700)

Dryden's copy of Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning, signed and dated 1677, came to the Folger in 1939 as part of the Percy J. Dobell collection, perhaps the finest Dryden collections ever assembled. Dobell's manuscript catalog, "Books from Dryden's Library" (1939) shows the entry for Advancement of Learning and documents Dobell as a former owner of this famous work.

A miniature portrait of Dryden also came from Dobell. The drawing, by Jonathan Richardson (1665–1745) after a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1697), depicts the former poet laureate without wig or finery, towards the end of his life.

John Donne (1572–1640)

Donne's books are easy to recognize because he made a practice of writing his name with a terminal flourish on the lower right corner of the title page and often added a motto at the top, Per Rachel ho seruito, & non per Lea, from Petrarch (Canz. Xix, 7.1). Such distinctive markings help to establish authorship of unsigned works and offer the evidence needed to confirm provenance.

Ben Jonson (1573?–1637) and John Selden (1584–1654)

John Selden and Ben Jonson developed an early and lasting, if unlikely, friendship. Learned and industrious, Selden spent a lifetime combining legal and oriental studies. Along the way, he amassed an incomparable library of 8,000 volumes. The first of Selden's oriental studies, De diis Syris Syntagmata—a treatise that won him fame throughout Europe—is inscribed to the poet and playwright, Ben Jonson, presumably sometime after 1623, the year a fire destroyed Jonson's library. Jonson wrote his name, Sui Ben: Jonson Liber, and motto, Tanquam Explorator (from Seneca), on the title page. It was a common practice in the early modern period to add one's Latin motto to a favorite volume. Jonson, Donne, Robert Dudley, John Evelyn, Thomas Knyvett, and Sir Walter Raleigh were among those to display their learning in this way, leaving us evidence of ownership.

Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)

The Folger collection includes a number of volumes from the library of Anthony Trollope, all carefully book plated and annotated. Trollope read widely in early modern drama and his collection included the complete works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, Robert Greene, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, among others. His habit was to tick off plays he'd read in the table of contents, then follow his readings with a cranky assessment. Trollope didn't comment; he passed judgment, and did so in the finality of ink. Of Marston's comedy, What You Will, he wrote:

Read Oct. 1867
"What you will" is a good comedy – with some few fun lines – & much
humour, but terribly confused, loaded with unnecessary characters, and almost unintelligible in its language… A.T.

Langston Hughes (1902–1967)

2002 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Langston Hughes, whose poetry stretched from the Harlem Renaissance to the civil rights movement. He's been called "a master of black American modernism," and Hughes was the first African-American to make a living as a creative writer through his plays, novels, short stories, essays, translations, journalism, children's books and opera librettos.

This signed first edition of Shakespeare in Harlem is inscribed by Hughes across the cover.

The wishbone is broken.
The dice have thrown a deuce.
The song's an old familiar tune:
What's the use?

Items included


The vellum binding for A collection of speeches made by Sir Edward Dering Knight and Baronet, in matter of religion, ca. 1642. Folger Binding Image Collection.

Sir Edward Dering (1598–1644): a most compleate gentleman…

Sir Edward Dering was "a most compleate gentleman in all respects, and an excellent Antiquarye" according to Sir William Dugdale. He was certainly one of the most important collectors of the 17th century. His library included English and Continental books in many languages and disciplines from both Protestant and Catholic presses. Dering obtained a warrant from the Privy Council in 1627 that permitted him access to public records without the customary fee. Country history and genealogy were among his special interests, going to great lengths to reconstruct a family lineage that, he argued, preceded the battle of Hastings. Dering wasn't above "improving" documents he found in public repositories to make a point regarding his ancestry and coat of arms, or helping himself to manuscripts in Dover Castle, where he was an unhappy Lieutenant for six years. In the cause of advancing Dering's scholarship, it seems more than one public records office unknowingly became a lending institution. John Pym, a pamphleteer, classified Dering's accomplishments as "both innate and acquired."[1]

A Collection of Speeches (1642) may be more important for its binding and association value than its contents. Though the M.P. from Kent in the early years of the Long Parliament, Dering was not a particularly gifted statesman. But Dering preserved his speeches in a handsome vellum binding with a galloping Kentish horse on the cover surrounded by fleurs-de-lis and gilt decoration.

What we know of Dering's 2,000+ volume library comes from an incomplete manuscript catalogue of 18 leaves, his Booke of Expences for the years 1617, 1619–1628, and a pocket-book of brief entries covering the years 1637–1639. The opening from Dering's manuscript catalogue points to the entry at the bottom of the page for Rodolphus Hospinianus…1587, with the call number (11. 9) and price (5s.) carefully recorded. The Folger acquired the catalogue in the sale of Sir Thomas Phillipps' (1792–1872) manuscripts at Sotheby's in 1965.

Archbishop William King

William King (1650–1729) amassed one of the finest private libraries in the history of Ireland. "The folly of books," as he called his passion, resulted in a library of over 7,100 volumes.

The Project of Peace bears King's signature on the title page, a rare example since King did not normally sign his books. He usually identified his books with an elaborate system of shelf marks. Z:285, an early call number, was replaced by his more familiar box and item number notation: Bx 16 No 263. The Cashel Cathedral Library call number follows, Q.2 28, giving us the complete history of the book's shelf marks before it became N113 at the Folger, proving a book is where you find it.

John Dee and his Bibliotheca Mortlacensis

John Dee (1527–1608), renowned scientist, astrologer, and mathematician, had the largest library in Elizabethan England, with nearly 4,000 titles. He was an inspired interpreter of human knowledge and argued that the power of numbers lay behind our understanding of a range of subjects, including architecture, optics, music, astronomy and navigation. His interests were encyclopedic, and included a taste for alchemy, the occult, and magic. Queen Elizabeth I's coronation day in January 1559 was chosen by Dee on astrological grounds, and at his height he was "the reincarnation of Merlin at the Tudor court."[2]

Items included

  • Edward Dering. A collection of speeches made by Sir Edward Dering Knight and Baronet, in matter of religion. London: Printed by E[dward]. G[riffin], 1642. Call number: D1104 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Edward Dering. Catalog of Sir Edward Dering’s books. Manuscript, 1640–42. Call number: V.b.297.
  • John Nalson. The Project of Peace, or Unity of Faith and Government. London, 1678. Call number: N113.
  • John Dee. A true & faithful relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee (a mathematician of great fame in Q. Eliz. and King James their reignes) and some spirits. London: Printed by D. Maxwell, 1659. Call number: D811.

Markings: Signs of Ownership and Association

The front cover of Annales sacri ab orbe condito, ca. 1610. Folger Bindings Image Collection.

The history of a book and its travels is recorded in numerous ways – in signatures and inscriptions, mottoes and markings, blemishes and improvements that leave a trail of evidence for us to ponder. The value of a book may depend entirely on who has owned it, and understanding and evaluating evidence of provenance is fascinating. Autographs, dedications, manuscript notes, bookplates, and bindings can tell us where a book has been and in whose hands it has rested. These markings and examples of bibliographical evidence are full of anecdote and human interest, connecting us to people and their books.

George Fallowes and Richard Fallowes

…he that stealth this book he shall be hanged on a nail…

In 1920, Mr. Richard Francis Burton discovered a small octavo volume of five works bound together. Three were unique editions by Shakespeare – The Passionate Pilgram (1599), Lucrece (1600), and Venus and Adonis (1599) – and the fourth was Thomas Middleton's, The Ghost of Lucrece (1600). The volume had formerly belonged to the Fallowes family – otherwise unknown – whose male heirs, George and Richard, claimed ownership in unusual terms:

George fflallowes is the true owner
of this book and he that stealeth
this book he shall be hanged on
a hook and If the hook do fail
he shall be hanged on a nail…

Mr. Folger acquired this delightful association copy on March 23, 1920, a few hours before it was to be auctioned at Sotheby's.

Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton and Sir Robert Cotton

Perhaps the most beautiful binding in the exhibition, this well-preserved volume was a New Year's gift to Henry Howard, earl of Northampton (1540–1614) from one of his scholarly advisors, Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631).

The centerpiece on the cover tells the tragic story of Pyramus, who "kills himself most gallant for love" and the grief-stricken Thisbe, who falls on a sword at the sight of her slain lover.

William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde

Printers mark their books too. The leaf on display has William Caxton's bold and unusually large woodcut device with the initials "W.C.". The book was printed by Caxton's protégé and successor, Wynkyn de Worde, and this is the last time Caxton's large woodcut device was used in a printed book.

The earliest use of a printer's device in England was 1485 (St. Albans Press) and Caxton's is second, in 1487 or 1488. Up to the end of the 15th century only eleven separate devices are known. McKerrow cites only five recorded uses of Caxton's device, three of which are by de Worde (1495, 1516 and 1531).[3]

Earliest printed ownership label found in an English book

At the head of the title of Erasmus's Institute of the Christian Prince is pasted a small typeset black-letter book label, John Bickner oweth this Booke. Alan N.L. Munby (1913–1974), bibliographer and Librarian of King's College, Cambridge, said this appears to be "the earliest printed ownership label to be found in an English book."[4] The use of book labels was not uncommon in the early modern period, but Bickner's label is a rarity for being such an early example.[5]

Markings: Studying the Evidence

What can association copies teach us? Studying the evidence of provenance allows us to assess the size and contents of particular libraries, and compare them with others of the same period. It builds upon our understanding of the patterns of literacy and book ownership, and permits us to speculate on the importance of books in a given society. Insight into the scope and nature of private collections yields information on the history of the book trade and the degree to which men and women participated. Provenance also tells us something about reading habits, tastes, and secular interests as well as connecting us to the lives of historical figures.

Items included

  • T.M., Gent [Thomas Middleton]. The Ghost of Lucrece. London: Printed by Valentine Simmes, 1600. Call number: STC 22341.8 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Agostino Torrnielli. Annales Sacri ab Orbe Condito ad Ipsum Christi Passione Reparatum. Milan, [1610]. Call number: Folio BS635.A2 T8 1610 Cage and Bindings image collection on LUNA.
  • William Bonde. A devoute treatyse in Englysshe called the Pilgrymage of perfeccyon. London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1531. Call number: STC 3278.
  • LOAN from Professor Toshiyuki, Keio University, Tokyo. Erasmus (Desiderius). Institutio Principis Christiani saluberrimis referta praeceptis. Basle, 1518.

Signatures: Traces of Other Lives

Research on provenance considers many different types of evidence, but there is nothing like seeing a signature to re-enforce the personal connection between people and their books.

Dorothy Wilde her book 1645 identifies one of many women who owned Sidney's Arcadia.
Mary Joyner her book appears in another copy, and there are others, suggesting the popularity of Sidney's tale with women readers.
Henry Fletcher but not his Book is not the only reader who felt compelled to write his name in a book he borrowed.
Samuel Saunders his Book wch I gave to my son James Saunders 1699 tells its own story. Research for the exhibition turned up hundreds of examples of the way people signed their books in the early modern period.

Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Nearly 90 books are known to have survived from Leicester's library and each is important for giving us a glimpse of this famous Elizabethan. A Defence of the Apologie is immaculate, totally unmarked except for Dudley's prominent signature, R. Leycester., on the verso of the title page.

Items included

  • Philip Sidney. The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. London: Printed [by John Windet], 1593. Call number: STC 22540 copy 1 (folio) and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Philip Sidney. The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia. London: Printed [by Robert Young], 1633. Call number: STC 22549 Copy 2.
  • William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespear’s comedies, histories, and tragedies : published according to the true original copies. London, 1664. Call number: S2914 Fo.3 no.08.
  • John Spencer. Kaina kai palaia. Things new and old. London: Printed by W. Wilson and J. Streater, 1658. Call number: S4960.
  • John Jewel. A Defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande. London: Henry Wykes, 1567. Call number: STC 14600 Copy 3.

Henry VIII, King of England (1491–1547)

Henry VIII's inscription in his childhood copy of Cicero's De officia, 1502. Folger Digital Image 3309.

Thys Boke Is Myne Prynce Henry

One of the most celebrated association copies in the Folger collection is Henry VIII's schoolboy text of Cicero, which bears the inscription, Thys Boke is Myne Prynce Henry.

Further annotations in the book are partly in the prince's hand but the interlinear glosses, notes, and short poem on the title page appear to be in the hand of Henry's tutor, the poet John Skelton (1460–1529). Young Henry would have been expected to learn Latin at an early age, progressing from basic grammar to reading classical authors such as Cicero.

The Folger acquired the volume in 1961 for only £825.

Thomas Trevelyon's Commonplace Book

Thomas Trevelyon's richly illustrated miscellany was completed in 1608 and presents a benign gallery of English kings from William the Conqueror to James I.

For more on this unique book, visit the page on the Folger exhibition Word & Image: The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608.

A Royal Binding?

When is a royal binding not an association copy?

This copy of Henry VIII's correspondence with Martin Luther shows Henry's Royal Arms in the upper right panel, with a large Tudor rose beneath it. Yet we have no evidence that Henry actually owned this book. While the text is printed "cum priuilegio" by Richard Pynson, printer to the King, the book was bound by John Reynes, a London binder who owned five pairs of panels and this one, with Henry's arms, was the one he used most often.

Items included

  • Marcus Tullius Cicero. Commentú familiare in Ciceronis officia. Lyon: Etienne Gueynard, 1502. Call number: PA 6295 .A3 1502 Cage and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Thomas Trevelyon. Trevelyon Miscellany [formerly called Commonplace book]. Manuscript, 1608. Call number: V.b.232; displayed Leaf 217, image of Henry VIII.
  • King Henry VIII, King of England. A copy of the letters, wherin the most redouted [and] mighty pri[n]ce, our souerayne lorde kyng Henry the eight…made answere vnto a certayne letter of Martyn Luther…. London: Richard Pynson, [1527?]. Call number: STC 13087; displayed binding.

Actors' Books

Many actors have been collectors of literature and memorabilia related to the stage. While some actors' collections are full of tributes and press reviews, others, such as David Garrick's and John Kemble's were those of serious book collectors. Garrick's library of dramatic literature was said to be unrivaled. Kemble took a scholarly interest in his books, collating them to verify their completeness. Both were students of their art as well as performers. Sarah Siddons, Kemble's sister, was also a reader and collector.

John Philip Kemble (1757–1823)

A remarkably clean copy of Pericles was owned by the famous actor and book collector, John Philip Kemble, who notes Collated & Perfect. J.P.K. 1798 with First Edition at the bottom of the page.

It's a brilliant copy in fine condition—a specimen Shakespeare quarto. We do not know what Kemble thought of the play, though presumably not much, since there is no record of the play among the 25 Shakespearean works he staged at Drury Lane or Covent Garden over nearly three decades.

Kemble salvages Kemble

I did, indeed, put that nonsense to the press.—John Philip Kemble

Though the poetry in Fugitive Pieces was regretted from the day of publication by its author, it is now a volume of exceptional rarity. John Philip Kemble (1757–1823) published the volume of 16 poems in 1780 in an edition of only 200 copies, but "ran, the very morning I saw it in print, to suppress it," destroying every copy he could lay his hands on. The pallid love lyrics, possibly written with Mrs. Inchbald in mind, have been called "among the slightest productions in an age notorious for slight poetry." As late as 1817 Kemble was burning any copies he found, so Fanny Kemble's copy, signed on the title page and probably hidden from her father, is among the rarest books in the exhibition and a superb association copy.

David Garrick (1717–1779) and Eva Maria Garrick (1724–1822)

One copy of Shakespeare's Second Folio is rich in associations. The bookplate of David Garrick appears over a printed note telling us the book was part of the Library of David Garrick...bequeathed by Mrs. Eva Maria George Frederick Beltz [1777–1841], ... one of the Executors of her Will.

Items included

  • William Shakespeare. The Late, and much admired Play, called Pericles. London, Henry Gosson, 1609. Call number: STC 22335 copy 2; displayed title page.
  • John Philip Kemble. Fugitive Pieces. York: W, Blanchard and Co., 1780. Call number: PR4839.K23 F71 1830 Cage.
  • John Philip Kemble as Coriolanus. Oil on cardboard, Early 1800s. Call number: FPb25 (endcap 185).
  • William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespeare's comedies, histories, and tragedies. London: Tho. Cotes, for Iohn Smethwick, 1632. Call number: STC 22274 Fo.2 no.52.

Ordinary Books Made Famous

Walt Whitman carried an inexpensive pocket edition of the sonnets on his walks. "Boneta" took her trade edition of Shakespeare to the California Gold Rush. George Eliot and Henry Lewes wrote on nearly every page of their one-volume Shakespeare, she in pencil, he in pen. Henry Clay Folger copied choice bits of bardolotry onto the blank pages of a Christmas present from his brother. Totally undistinguished nineteenth-century editions of Shakespeare become collectors' items because of their association value and the things they tell us about their owners.

George Eliot (1819–1880) and George Henry Lewes (1817–1878)

An opening from Othello shows marginal notes of George Eliot and her partner, George Henry Lewes, on facing pages. Eliot's notes are in pencil throughout the volume, Lewes's generally in ink. Eliot's most interesting notes question grammar, details that affect interpretation, and even staging possibilities. Throughout their copy of Shakespeare's plays, there are numerous references to other editions and editors of Shakespeare, and myriad references to other plays and authors, suggesting the breadth of the couple's reading. (This working copy was first identified by a Folger reader, Dr. Bernise Kliman, in 1997.)

While the marginalia is extremely difficult to read, it is fascinating to follow the thoughts and observations of two very attentive and knowledgeable readers. The opening to Othello III.3 shows, under maginifcation, Eliot's note, "Compare the latter part of Act 3 of Massinger's Fatal Dowry with this scene." Lewes often shows his familiarity with the history of editorial practice, as in his note:

Printed Text
But pardon me; I do not in position
Distinctly speak of her…
Lewes's Notes
C[ollier MS.].
retained by St[eevens].

Emerson (and Henry Clay Folger) on Shakespeare

One item displayed is thought to be Henry Clay Folger's first copy of Shakespeare, a Christmas present from his brother in 1875, the year before he became a student at Amherst College. Although the text is unmarked, Mr. Folger filled the preliminary pages with quotations from Carlyle, Mrs. Browning, and especially Emerson, in praise of Shakespeare. While it is not clear exactly when Folger copied these lines, he selected passages that reflected his own views.

No nation has produced anything his equal. There is no quality in the human mind, there is no class of topics, there is no region of thought, in which he has not soared or descended, and none in which he has not had the commanding word...His are bright and terrible eyes, which meet the modern student in every sacred chapel of thought, in every public enclosure. He is the King of all scholars.

Emerson: Address, Howard University

Items included

  • William Shakespeare. The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare. London: Jones and Co., 1832. Call number: PR2752 1832g Sh.Col., displayed page 954 and page 955.
  • William Shakespeare. The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1875. Call number: PR2752 1875k Sh.Col. displayed flyleaf.
  • Shakespeare. The poems of William Shakespeare. Philadelphia: John Locken, 1847. Walt Whitman copy. Call number: PR2841 1847a Copy1 Sh.Col..

Bindings as Evidence

A 1578 calfskin binding featuring the Earl of Leicester's badge, a tethered bear with a ragged staff. Folger Bindings Image Collection.

While bindings and their decoration provide obvious clues to provenance, we have learned to be cautious in using this evidence. "The fact that a particular volume has stamped on its covers the arms of an historical figure does not necessarily mean that the book ever belonged to or was in the library of such a person. This is especially true of books bearing arms of French and English monarchs…Persons desiring to present a copy of any book to their sovereign would normally, as a matter of course, have the monarch's coat of arms stamped on the binding. But whether the book was ever given, or if given received, or if received kept, is entirely another matter and not determinable from the stamping on the binding."[6]

Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532?–1588)

The exhibition included a 19th-century copper engraving of Robert Dudley from a drawing by William Hilton, RA (1786–1839), whose source was a portrait attributed to Sir William Segar (fl. 1580–1585). The engraver was Robert Cooper (fl. 1820–1836), who also engraved portraits for Scott's novels. Leicester is shown with the Order of the Garter collar and staff.

In addition, a lovely brown calfskin binding, made for the Earl of Leicester by the successor of Jean de Planche (perhaps Peter Borfoyne) in about 1578, was also displayed. It shows Leicester's badge (a tethered bear with ragged staff) and motto (et Loyal Droit) at the center of the cover, with gilt and blind tooled decoration.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520–1598)

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520–1598), was one of the most respected, trusted, and powerful members of Queen Elizabeth's privy council. He was also a collector of books and manuscripts. This quarto volume, bound in vellum and painted orange with black pigment blocking and tooling, has "W. Lord Burghley" stamped prominently on both covers. It may be one of a handful of presentation copies from the author, James, the future King of England. H. Bradley Martin had a copy of the same title in an identical binding, except the name lettered on the covers was "H. Lord Hunsdon" instead of "W. Lord Burghley." The Folger acquired this volume at Sotheby's in 1990.

In a displayed engraving by Marcus Gheerearts the Younger, Lord Burghley is shown in his Garter robes, with the emblem of the order on his collar, holding the white wand of office. The print shown is a steel engraving by William Henry Mote (fl. 1830–1858), executed ca. 1850.

A Greek work by Diodorus Siculus, Bibliothecae Historica, shows one of Lord Burghley's bindings with his coat of arms and his motto, Cor unum, via una (One heart, one way), stamped in gold on the cover. Burghley's papers and manuscripts are still preserved at Hatfield House, but his books were sold at auction in 1687.

Thomas Wotton (1521–1587)

Thomas Wotton had his books bound with his name, Thome Wottoni, stamped in gold at the top of the front cover, and et amicorum ("and of his friends") at the bottom, announcing his willingness to share his library with his friends. The Latin phrase Johannis Grolierii et amicorum was tooled or painted on the books of the famous French collector, Jean Grolier, and for this reason Wotton is sometimes called "the English Grolier."

King James I (1566–1625)

King James was a great admirer of beautiful bindings. Those created for him are usually decorated with heraldic thistles, fleurs-de-lis, and ornamental corners. They always bear the royal arms in the center of the covers. The center block of James's arms on this binding is very rare, perhaps unique. While the binding is not signed, it is probably the work of John Bateman and his son Abraham, who became Royal Bookbinders to James in 1604, an office they held for life.

Sir Francis Bacon, Viscount of St. Albans 1561–1626)

A wild boar, the crest of Sir Francis Bacon, appears on both covers of this limp vellum binding. While books with Bacon's crest are not common, five large paper copies of Instauratio Magna decorated with the crest have survived, suggesting they may have been intended as gifts. Limp vellum was popular in the first half of the 17th-century, and a number of presentation copies in the Royal Library bound before the civil wars have similar case bindings.

Items included

  • Robert Cooper. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Engraving, from a drawing by William Hilton. London: Published by Lackington, Hughes, Harding [etc.], 1820. Call number: ART File L526.1 no.5 (size M)
  • Urbanus Rhegius. The sermon, which Christ made on the way to Emaus to those two sorowfull disciples, set downe in a dialogue by D. Vrbane Regius, wherein he hath gathered and expounded the chiefe prophecies of the old Testament concerning Christ. London: John Day, 1578. Call number: STC 20850 Copy 1 and Binding image on LUNA.
  • William Henry Mote, printmaker. William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Engraving from the original by Marcus Gheeraerts [Mark Gerard]. Call number: ART File B956 no.7 (size S).
  • James VI, King of Scotland. The essayes of a prentise, in the diuine art of poesie. Edinburgh: Thomas Vautroullier, 1584. Call number: STC 14373 and Binding image on LUNA.
  • Diodorus Siculus. Bibliothecae historicae libri quindecim de quadraginta. Geneva: Henricvs Stephanvs, 1559.
  • Robert Estienne. Hebraea, Chaldaea, Graeca et Latina nomina virorum, mulierum, populorum, idolorum, vrbium, fluuiorum, montium, caeterorúmque locorum quae in Bibliis leguntur. Paris: Robert Estienne, 1537. Call number: 222- 355q.
  • Caius Suetonius Tranquillus. De XII. Caesaribus Libri VIII. [Geneva?]: Estienne Gamonet, 1605. Binding image on LUNA.
  • Francis Bacon. Francisci de Verulamio, Summi Angliæ Cancellarii, Instauratio magna. London: John Bill, 1620. Call number: STC 1163 copy 1 and Binding image on LUNA.

Manuscript book lists

Other evidence linking owners and their books can be found in estate inventories, bequests, booksellers' catalogues, auction records, and private library catalogues carefully written by proud or compulsive owners.

Sir William More (1643–1684)

An oval stamp in the left-hand margin of the first page indicates that his catalogue of books is part of the Losely manuscript collection, now at the Folger Library. 512 books in this list belonged to Sir William More, baronet, of Losely Park, Guildford, England. The cover of the book list is in the hand of More's nephew, Robert More (d. 1689), the last male heir.

Percy J. Dobell

After taking his degree from Oxford, Percy Dobell joined his father in the book trade, operating three large antiquarian shops in London, Guilford, and Tunbridge Wells. Using business connections, his scouts, and his own frequent presence in the auction rooms gave Dobell an inside track on almost every unique or rare Dryden item that came to market. What today might strike us as a conflict of interest resulted in the finest Dryden collection in the world.

Items included

Women Collectors

A woman passionate about her books: Frances Wolfreston (1607–1677)

Frances Wolfreston (1607–1677) grew up in the English Midlands the eldest of twenty-two children, became the wife of a country squire, and in the course of her lifetime quietly acquired some of the greatest rarities of early English drama and literature. She had a library of over 400 volumes and almost all have her signature, frances wolfreston, for bouk carefully written with a thick quill pen.

Wolfreston's interest in drama and contemporary English literature may have been unusual for her time. She had no less than ten Shakespeare quartos, a copy of The Rape of Lucrece (1616), and history is indebted to her for the first edition of Venus and Adonis (1593), a unique copy later owned by Edmund Malone and now in the Bodleian Library.

Items included

  • Sir William Lower. The Phaenix in her flames: a tragedy. London: Thomas Harper, 1639. Call number: STC 16873 copy 2.


Elizabeth of York's inscription in a 1498 Book of Hours. Folger Digital Image 17970.

Anne of Cleves

Inscriptions take many forms—expressions of thanks or love, appeals for favor, explanations, or present an opportunity to demonstrate elegant handwriting. Volumes pass between people as gifts, remembrances, or in token exchange, with notes of affection connecting people. Inscribed copies give us glimpses of relationships, as we see in Anne of Cleves' endearing inscription to Henry VIII, I besiche your grace humbly, when ye loke on this remember me, which makes this volume one of the great association copies in the Folger collection.

Roger Ascham (1515–1568)

The learned Roger Ascham (1515–1568) was a master of the italic script and tutor to the future Queen Elizabeth. He excelled in English prose and his letters in English and Latin rank him among the most eminent literary men of his age. His inscribed copy of Toxophilus, his famous treatise on archery, was presented to Henry VIII's brother-in-law, William Parr, earl of Essex—an oblique tactic to get Henry's attention and perhaps secure royal favor. The book so pleased Henry that it earned Ascham a pension. (The volume was a gift to the Folger from A.S.W. Rosenbach and Lessing J. Rosenwald in 1947.)

An engraving of Ascham reading a letter to Elizabeth, by Michael Burgher, is the frontispiece of William Elstob's edition of Ascham's correspondence. Upon hearing of Ascham's death, Elizabeth exclaimed she would rather have cast £10,000 into the sea than lose her Ascham.

Elizabeth of York (1465–1503)

Elizabeth of York was queen consort of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. Her inscription in a Catholic book of prayers and devotions is the earliest mark of ownership in the exhibition.

F.D.R. to the Folger Library

Presentation copies are not necessarily rare or unique books unless, of course, they are inscribed by a head of state. President Roosevelt's presentation note to the Folger makes this one of the Library's important inscribed copies.

For the Folger Shakespeare Library
from Franklin D. Roosevelt
This set was given by me to my mother —
Sarah Delano Roosevelt about 1900 and was in the room at Hyde Park
until her death in 1941, when it came back to me.

Items included

  • Catholic Church. [Book of Hours (Salisbury)]. Enchirdio preclare ecclie sarisburiesis. Paris [1533?]. Call number: STC 15982 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • Roger Ascham. Toxophilus, the Schole of Shootinge conteyned in tvvo bookes. London, Edward Whytchurch, 1545. Call number: STC 837 copy 2.
  • William Elstob, ed. Rogeri Aschami Epistolarum, libri quatuor. Oxoniae: apud Henricum Clements, 1703. Call number: PR2201 E7 1703 Cage.
  • Catholic Church. [Book of Hours (Salisbury)]. Incipiunt Hore Beate Marie Virginis secu[n]dum vsum Sarum.... Paris: Simon Le Vostre, [1498]. Call number: STC 15889 and LUNA Digital Image.
  • William Shakespeare. The Temple Shakespeare: Hamlet. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1895. Call number: PR2752 1894–1896 copy 2 Sh.Col.

Eighteenth Century

The editorial tradition that has so influenced Shakespeare studies began in the eighteenth century. It was also a time when men of letters had dual passions, an age of the scholar-collector (Steevens, Malone), writer-editor (Pope, Dr. Johnson), and a period when great literary collections were amassed (Rawlinson,Garrick, Steevens, Malone) that have been preserved in institutions like the Folger. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century auction records (especially for named sales like those for Steevens, Malone and Dr. Johnson) have helped us trace unmarked volumes to their famous owners.

Edmund Malone (1741–1812)

"You are the best book-jockey that ever existed."—Lord Charlemont to Malone after the Narcissus Lutrell auction, 1786.

W.W. Greg called Edmund Malone "the greatest of Shakespeare's editors." Malone's collection of dramatic literature was superb, second only to David Garrick's, and enlarged by 1,000 early printed plays given him by George Steevens, another editor of Shakespeare, one of the more remarkable gestures in the history of collecting.

Thomas Rawlinson (1681–1725)

This leviathan of book-collectors

Thomas Rawlinson (1681–1725) was a bibliophile—bibliomaniac said some—whose accumulation of books at his residence in Gray's Inn compelled him to sleep in a passageway. Addison parodied Rawlinson's compulsions in the character of 'Tom Folio' in the The Tatler. When Rawlinson's collection was sold at auction, it required sixteen sales over twelve years, each sale taking from two to four weeks. Rawlinson was also a former owner of Henry VIII's schoolboy copy of Cicero, from which the exhibition takes its title.

Boswells's Tour to the Hebrides: Reynolds' Copy

Boswell presented this first state of the first edition of Tour to the Hebrides to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who marked passages and added brief marginal notes. "From the Author" is written in Reynolds' hand, as Boswell appears not to have himself inscribed any presentation copies of the first edition, only later editions. Reynolds is known to have advised Boswell during composition of Tour and Boswell later dedicated his Life of Johnson to Reynolds.

Dr. Johnson's Copy of Hobbes' Leviathan?

Books from Dr. Johnson's library are rare, and signed copies are extraordinary as Johnson was famous for not marking his books. David Fleeman estimates as few as 38 books carry Johnson's signature. The exhibition displayed Hobbes' most famous work which includes a Johnson signature. This is an exceptional item, if it is indeed signed by Johnson. At issue is the degree to which the signature varies from known examples of Dr. Johnson's handwriting. Did this book belong to the famous Dr. Johnson, or another Samuel Johnson?

Items included

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds. E. Malone Esqr. Engraving, after a portrait by Joshua Reynolds, 1787.
  • John Fisher. De ueritate corporis et sanguinis Christi in Eucharistia…. Cologne: Peter Quentel, 1527. Call number: BV824 .F5 1527 Cage.
  • LOAN from Paul T. Ruxin. James Boswell. Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson…. London: H. Baldwin, 1785.
  • LOAN from Paul T. Ruxin. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan…. London [Amsterdam]: Andrew Crooke, 1651 [1680].

Thys boke was Alexander Pope's?

This exhibit displayed a copy of the Third Folio open to pages in The Tempest where the manuscript notes mirror changes that appear in Pope's printed edition of the same play, published in 1725. Note the handwritten designation of locale, Prospero's Cave, also appears in Pope's printed text. There are hundreds of examples that link the two texts and suggest this copy of the Third Folio may have been annotated by Pope in preparation for his edition. One collector assures us this is Pope's handwriting. A paleographer isn't convinced.

Pope's edition of The Tempest was also displayed and open to the scene headed "Prospero's Cave." Is the heading a coincidence, or do the annotations in the soiled Folio text to the left show Pope making editorial changes that would appear in his edition? This is one of eight instances of handwritten scene headings in this copy of the Third Folio appear in Pope's printed edition of The Tempest.

Items included

  • William Shakespeare. Mr. William Shakespear’s comedies, histories, and tragedies. London: Printed for P. C., 1664. Call number: S2914 Fo.3 no.20.
  • William Shakespeare. Works. Dublin, 1725/26.

Quiet Lives

Compared to the illustrious collectors in this exhibition, Edward Gwynn and Myles Blomefylde are "nobodies." We know very little about their personal lives and nothing about what motivated them to build their private libraries. Gwynn is imagined to be "one of those mildly eccentric bachelors who have done so much for English book collecting." Until 1973 Blomefylde was confused with William Blomfild, an alchemist and perhaps a relative. But here we celebrate Gwynne and Blomefylde as Bookmen, rather than Everyman.

Myles Blomefylde (1525–1603)

Myles Blomefylde left a trail of endearing markings to help us identify his books. He was fond of using red ink, usually wrote his name or initials on title pages, added marginal notes, and frequently marked passages with a cross in the shape of a flower. Blomefylde preserved a number of important texts, mostely late medieval plays and popular religious drama. The epistles speak to us boldly, announcing I am Myles Blomefyldes Booke.

Edward Gwynn (d. ca. 1645)

Gwynn's copy of the Pavier quartos was a landmark acquisition for Mr. Folger and remains a volume of enormous importance to Shakespeareans. A.S.W. Rosenbach called it "the finest Shakespeare volume in existence," and reasoned it belonged in the finest Shakespeare collection in the making, so offered it to Mr. Folger, who purchased it in 1919 for $100,000. It is the only complete copy known of the first attempt at a collection of Shakespeare's plays. It is in its original 17th-century binding, with Gwynn's hand-stamped name on the cover.

Items included

  • The Epistles and Gospelles with a brief postyl vpon the same from Aduent tyll Lowe sonday whiche is the wynter parte drawen forth by diuerse learned men for the singuler co[m]moditie of al good christen persons and namely of prestes and curates newly recognized. [London: Richard Banks], [1542?]. Call number: STC 2970.
  • William Shakespeare. [Nine quartos]. London: Printed by William Jaggard for Thomas] Pavier, 1600 [i.e. 1619]. Call number: STC 26101 Copy 3 (Bound with seven other 1619 Shakespeare quartos: STC 22303 Copy 5, 18796 Copy 4, 22297 Copy 3, 22291 Copy 4, 22293 Copy 5, 22300 Copy 4, and 22341 Copy 4) and LUNA Digital Image.

This Boke is Myne?

Determining provenance can be difficult. Evidence of ownership is often inconclusive, forged, or wishful thinking. People's habits and handwriting are not easy to read for the early modern period, so proof of ownership can be elusive. In many instances we are left to wonder.

Velvet Binding with the Royal Arms of James I

Folger catalogers have determined this beautiful book was owned by William Henry Miller at Britwell Court, and was once in Sir Leicester Harmsworth's library. But was it ever owned by James I? Possibly. James presented a similar binding to the Bodleian Library in the 1620's, and though there is no internal evidence of ownership, the choice of rich crimson velvet for the cover, the style of gold tooling, the superb Royal Arms, and the fact that James is the author, suggest it was a presentation copy from the King.

Evelyn Binding

From a young age, Evelyn was fairly manic about his books. He carefully wrote his name, date, price and place of purchase in each volume. He nearly always wrote his motto in his books, Omnia Explorate, Meliora Retinete (Prove all things; retain the best), logged an entry in his manuscript book list and, finally, added a case number and call number, leaving a rich trail of markings. And if that wasn't enough to signal ownership, Evelyn put his initials artfully on his bindings, as seen on the cover and spine of The Faerie Queene.

Henry VIII's Coat of Arms

One London calf binding, contemporary with the book, that was displayed has two versions of Henry VIII's arms in a blind ruled panel. But did Henry own this book? Did he ever see it? There is nothing to suggest he did. There is no evidence (signature, bookplate, annotations, or other documentation) to prove this "royal binding" was ever in royal hands.

Raleigh's Signature

The exhibition displayed several items in Raleigh's hand for comparison. Included was a leaf with a beautiful signature we know to be Sir Walter Raleigh's. The problem is that Raleigh, like a good many others in this time, wrote in a variety of hands, some formal, elegant with flourishes, others little better than a scrawl. Sometimes Raleigh just used his initials. So even signatures can be deceiving. Side by side, examples of a person's handwriting, or styles of signature, can look like those of two different people.

We know that Sir Walter Raleigh emphasized the initials WR in his signature and alone as a monogram. But is the fanciful version of WR on his History of the World in Raleigh's hand? One scholar is certain it is (which would make this a very valuable book). Study the oversized initials in the signatures to the left and right, known to be in Raleigh's hand. Are you convinced all three versions are by the same person?

A good example of Raleigh's habit of emphasizing the initials in his signature was also displayed in the exhibition. This allowed the viewer to consider: How does the WR compare to the initials in History of the World?

Items included

  • James I, King of England. Serenissimi et potentissimi Principis Iacobi, Dei gratia, magnæ Britanniæ, Franciæ, & Hiberniæ Regis, fidei defensoris, &c. Meditatio in orationem Dominicam. London: Bonham Norton & John Bill, [1619]. Call number: STC 14385 and LUNA Digital Image; Binding Image on LUNA.
  • Edmund Spenser. The Faerie Queene. London: Printed by [Richard Field], 1596. Call number: STC 23082 copy 1.
  • Institutionum imperialium, siue (si malis) elementorum iurisprudentiae, libri quatuor. Paris: Claude Chevallon, 1527. Call number: 203- 729.1q.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh. Autograph letter signed. [1590?].
  • Sir Walter Raleigh. The History of the World. London: William Stansby, 1614. Call number: STC 20637 Copy 2.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh. Autograph letter signed to Sir William More. ca. 1585.


  1. Nati H. Krivatsy and Laetitia Yeandle, "Sir Edward Dering" in Private Libraries in Renaissance England…. Vol. 1. Robert J. Fehrenbach, gen ed., E.S. Leedham-Green, U.K. ed. (Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies; Marlborough, England: Adam Matthew Publications, 1992), 138,139.
  2. William H. Sherman, John Dee: the politics of reading and writing in the English Renaissance (Amherst: U. of Massachusetts P, 1995), xii.
  3. Ronald B. McKerrow, Printers' and Publishers' Devices in England and Scotland 1485–1640 (London, 1913), 1.
  4. The Book Collector 3.3 (1954): 227.
  5. Brian North Lee, Early printed book labels: a catalogue of dated personal labels and gift labels printed in Britain to the year 1760 (Pinner, Eng.: Private Libraries Association, 1976), xv.
  6. Robert Nikirk, "Looking into provenance" in A Miscellany for Bibliophiles, ed. H. George Fletcher (New York: Grastorf & Lang, Ltd., 1979), 19–20.