Virgil. Opera Vergiliana docte et familiariter exposita. Jodocus Badius, ed. Paris: François Regnault, 1515.
While reviewing Princeton University’s extensive collection of early editions of Virgil’s poetry, I noticed that the Paris edition of 1515, presented to Princeton by Junius S. Morgan toward the beginning of the last century, was preserved in a worn but handsome early 16th-century blind-tooled calfskin binding that was unmistakably English. Upon closer inspection, the letters “GG”, embossed repeatedly into the elaborate cover decoration, caused a flash of recognition: this is the monogram of Garrett Godfrey, a bookseller and binder active in Cambridge from 1502 until his death in 1539, now recognized as one of the most notable figures of the early modern English book trade. As Princeton did not otherwise own a binding by Godfrey, this was a significant discovery.
Like many of England’s binders of the period, Godfrey came from the Netherlands. According to Roger Ascham’s Toxophilus (1545), “Garret our bookebynder” recalled that when his famous countryman Erasmus of Rotterdam made several long visits to Cambridge (between August 1511 and January 1514), the great humanist scholar would ride his horse around the market hill as a respite from his studies before returning to his quarters. Many of Godfrey’s surviving bindings enclose works by Erasmus, and it has been suggested that Erasmus lived in the home of the bookbinder during his visits to Cambridge.
The fact that a 1515 Parisian edition of Virgil’s works had been imported to Cambridge is not surprising. Although Virgil’s poetry was studied, and enjoyed, throughout Europe, it was not until 1570 that England would print its own Latin edition of this Classic work. The present book, with extensive scholarly commentary and notes, was owned early on by an Englishman whose name is inscribed on the title page: “…Magistri Thome Lane quondam vicarii de Reydon et Southwold in Suff.” This individual seems to be Thomas Lane (d. 1541), vicar in Reydon and Southwold in Suffolk, about 75 miles east of Cambridge.
Godfrey’s binding of the 1515 Virgil also includes two vellum pastedowns recycled from the vellum leaves of a discarded manuscript of Averroës (Ibn Rushd), In Aristotelis Metaphysicorum libros commentarii, Book 5, that apparently was produced in Cambridge in the 13th century (the initial E for “Ens” begins chapter 7; the P for “Potentia” begins chapter 10). A survey of other Godfrey bindings likely will reveal related fragments, likewise used as pastedowns.
Godfrey’s activities as a bookseller and binder in Cambridge are particularly well documented thanks to the chance survival of several leaves from his account books, which were found in one of his bookbindings now at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The surviving accounts, datable from 1527 to 1533, include lists of book titles, often with their prices, as well as the names of their buyers. These records refer to four copies of Virgil’s Opera bound for various patrons, but it seems impossible to match up such transactions with Princeton’s book.
[Johannes Justus Landsperger]. Candela Evangelica. [Cologne]: Eucharius Cervicornus, 1527.
[Bound with:] Johannes Fabri, Bishop of Vienna. Causse rationabiles. Cologne: Petrus Quentell, 1527.
Princeton University Library recently purchased two theological works printed in Cologne in 1527, recognizing that the items offered far more significance for the history of books than the bookseller had realized. The two octavos were bound together in what the dealer described online as a period blind-tooled calfskin binding. More precisely, it is a rare signed panel-stamped binding by Garrett Godfrey.
The calfskin binding is one of two dozen (or so) that survive with Godfrey’s panel stamp bearing his monogram, “GG.” These initials normally appear on the upper cover within a shield at the foot of a large Tudor rose surrounded by scrolls bearing the couplet “Hec rosa virtutis de celo missa sereno Eternu[m] florens regia sceptra feret.” On Princeton’s acquisition, the leather is worn and the shape of the shield is difficult to see. At either side of the rose are two angels in a field of flowers with the arms of St. George on the left and those of the City of London on the right.
The panel stamp on the lower cover bears the royal arms of Henry VIII beneath a crown, all supported by two angels amid flowers.
Godfrey’s accounts mention both of the titles contained in Princeton’s recently acquired volume. In fact, they appear in consecutive order in two distinct entries. Unfortunately, both entries are among those that do not supply the prices or the names of their buyers. The earlier entries read:
1 candela evangelica
1 cause febri
The second entries, written amid several other bindings datable to 1527, read:
1 candela evangelica
1 cause fabri
One of these pairs of books, or one just like it, bound together and sold by Godfrey, must be the pair now at Princeton University Library.
An inscription on the rear endleaf provides the identity of a 16th-century owner: “Iste liber pertinet [ad me] Edmundo Poulter.” Our earliest post-16th-century knowledge of the book is its appearance for sale in the catalogue of E. P. Goldschmidt & Co., Ltd., Early Printed Books: Medicine, Mathematics and Early Science, XVIth Century Books and Many Specimens of Early Bindings, Bibliography, Etc. (London, ), no. 249. It came to light again and was auctioned as an anonymous property at Sotheby’s, Catalogue of Atlases, Maps, and Printed Books (London, 29 June 1981), lot 407. At some point thereafter, a change in ownership resulted in a loss of knowledge, and so the initials “G.G” tooled in gold lettering on its old cloth box no longer held any discernible meaning. It was only when the book was offered online in 2019 that I recognized the binding as the work of Garrett Godfrey and snapped it up for Princeton.
In the summer of 2019 Lara Katz, a high school junior at Pierrepont School (Westport, CT), volunteered for a one-month directed research project on medieval manuscript fragments found in bookbindings of Princeton University Library’s early printed books. Surveying dozens of fragments, Lara was able to identify numerous medieval Latin texts that were highly abbreviated and difficult to read. Among these were two recycled pastedowns in the octavo Garrett Godfrey binding (above), which preserve portions of Johannes Duns Scotus (ca. 1266–1308), Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis, Book 5; a rubricated headline across each leaf, which reads “Metha[physi]ce V,” confirms Lara’s discovery.