In this post, I’ll give you all a look into the Humanities Without Walls project I’m piloting this summer, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries.” (With a little luck, this’ll be the first of several installments.) Thanks to the instrumental help of my research assistants Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko, as well as the constant aid of librarians and faculty at Northwestern and elsewhere, I’m proud to say that thus far the project has almost tripled number of Northwestern’s early print holdings (from 1473 to 1700) represented in the ESTC. When we began there were only 188 items registered, and now there are 555. With a couple months of the summer ahead of us, as well as a good portion of Fall term allotted to the project, we aim to raise this number even higher, bringing Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings digitally to the view of scholars searching today’s most extensive bibliographic catalog for early printed books. Ideally, a second round of funding will allow the project to expand into our eighteenth-century holdings and out to other institutions as well.
A particularly interesting item that I had to page at Special Collections (meaning it was a “hard case,” unmatchable to an ESTC record by online catalog consultation alone) is this raggy old Geneva Bible, published by Christopher Barker in 1595. I photographed the Bible like this because its front matter and final few leaves have been lost, as have many leaves and portions of leaves throughout its entirety. (Northwestern’s catalog reads: “NUL copy incomplete: t.p. and numerous pages missing at beginning and end, many pages mutilated.”) Looking at the ESTC records in the hopes of a match, I could not identify an edition of Barker’s Geneva Bible of 1595 that fit perfectly with this item. That could mean one of a few things. First, it could be me: I might just need to devote more time to the volume in the hopes of matching it with the variant details listed in the ESTC. Second, though, it could be that this is an extant state of a particular edition that has yet to be recorded. This can sometimes be the case. That the date on the “NEWE TESTAMENT” title page is not dated 1594 made this seem a possibility; the title page is dated 1595 here. (STC 2161 has”Newe” and is dated 1594.) Third, there may not yet be enough criteria available in the ESTC that survives in this very fragmentary Bible to verify it as belonging to any particular record.
But let’s take a look at the really interesting part of this book: its messy survival condition. I defer to Aaron Pratt when it comes to early printed Bibles, but this particular one interested me enough for me to write a few things here about its history and provenance. As you can see in the photos I’ve included, certain early owners of the book inscribed their names in it and crossed out the names of previous owners; this is a common practice among Renaissance readers. I held the leaves this way to show how the manuscript annotations, pen-trials, and markings in this book add to an already-rich typographical texture (see the cartographic woodcut on the mangled verso, as well as the woodblock initial beginning Matthew).
Especially interesting about this book is the provenance it preserves through a nineteenth-century owner’s note slipped into the first few leaves. According to the note, inscribed sometime between 1865 and 1873, the book was probably purchased by Samuel Winsor and Rhoda Delano Winsor of Duxbury, MA shortly after their marriage in 1746. Here, we get not only an account of the former owners of the book, but the means by which the pages were made yellow and damaged (as you can see in another photo I’ve included here, the vellum binding covering the book has also suffered a gaping hole). It’s not too often that we get this level of detail about a book’s use, neglect, and “injury”:
It is not age that caused
the leaves to turn so yellow
but during the Winter of 1857
it was packed in a trunk with
clothing, the trunks stored in
a basement in Washington. St Boston;
the water pipes burst, were not
attended to, when every thing became
filled with dampness & injured this book.
Having once lived not very far from Washington Street in Boston, and having stored my clothing and books in the basement there, I can definitely sympathize with the Winsors! Strangely though, as you can see in the photo above, this portion of the inscription is crossed out. We find out at the bottom of the inserted leaf that the person responsible for the inscription is “the daughter of Job & Betsy Winsor Sampson, who was the daughter of Sam & Rhoda Winsor.” This was either Betsy or Judith, and knowing this helps us to date the inscription. (Ancestry.com provided a substantial amount of help here in clarifying identities and relationships mentioned in this account.)
So, altogether, what I report here is a small portion of this HWW project that concerns a particular book’s provenance and water-damage history. But stories like these, as Andrew Stauffer repeatedly has said, constitute the hidden histories of books both in Special Collections libraries and in the library stacks. They show how Renaissance books accumulate eighteenth- and nineteenth-century histories as well. Maybe one day I’ll dig into the history of this Bible’s passage from Massachusetts to Evanston — unless someone out there wants to do it first, that is. Until then, there will be numerous other stories, family-related and otherwise, to uncover about men and women and their lives with Renaissance books.
Photos here are published courtesy of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University; this item is shelfmark 220.52 1595. Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries is supported directly by the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, The Graduate School, and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. This program is also supported by the Humanities Without Walls consortium, based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Humanities Without Walls consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
*** Update 2:24 PM CT on 7-9-14: On Twitter, Aaron Pratt explained that this artifact is in fact STC 2166.