Isolating the elements of provenance feels like making a form of art. On the one hand, the process of discovering provenance is documentary, albeit selective and editorial. But beyond the experience of recording fact, the process induces a sense of search and wonder — who were all these different owners and, particularly, why did they succeed each other as they did?
Inscriptions, embossments, stampings, applications of arms, crests, badges, labels, and plates — all these bespeak a past conversation between owner and book. We’ll never know precisely what was the piece-by-piece context of their original conversation. But by looking closely, recording, reassembling, and presenting our findings we get something new and old at the same time. The ideal of provenance research is more than just utterance of facts. The ideal is to create a kind of emblem crystallizing a book’s career of ownership.
And isn’t that art? Transportive, on the one hand; transformative, on the other.