Part 2 – Books in the collection known to have been owned by Americans before 1700

Detail from Martin Luther, Enarrationes (Strasbourg: Georg Ulricher, 1535), leaf 453 verso.

What has made the identifying the Shepard books possible? Nothing in the catalogue records identified them, so the process proceeded by other means.

At the beginning stages of the process, I soon noticed attributes common to all — the books had accession numbers falling into a close range of numbers, the date of accession stamped in each was also within a close range, and usually the books bore a Princeton bookplate noting that the books were formerly owned by the Reverend Samuel Miller and had been given by one of his descendents. Those commonalities suggested that by closely examining the full listing of the Miller gift in the Library’s accession books, I could come up with a set of possibilities from which Shepard books could be positively identified. The Miller gift came in 1900 and, the Library’s accession records for that era always listed author, title, place and date of publication, size, and a note about the binding. Given that the last Shepard died in 1685, it was self-evident that the Shepard books would be a sub-set of all books in the Miller gift printed before 1686. Together with my assistant, I set out to examine every pre-1686 book in the Miller gift. This examination is still in progress and, because individual books are routinely reclassed and relocated as library circumstances change, identifying the present shelf location of a pre-1686 Miller book has sometimes involved piecing clues together from various now superceded Princeton library catalogues.

One book, discovered Friday, January 8, reminded me that each and every pre-1686 Miller book needs to be examined, if all the Shepard books are to be found. Accession numbers 150673 to 150678 are for a set of the works of Martin Luther in Latin. My instinct was that ownership of the works of Luther by a Puritan was unlikely, and, given the press of all that needed to be done, perhaps this entry could be skipped. (There is no entry under Luther in the listing of the holdings of the library of Cotton Mather, see: J. H. Tuttle’s `The Libraries of the Mathers’ in the “Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society” 20 (1910): 269-356.) Nonetheless, my assistant and I looked at the set (reclassed sometime during the 1930s from theology to German literature – but that’s another story) and when the first large volume came down from the shelf, she said “It has the brand!” We quickly pulled down the other volumes. All marked. Remarkable: the Shepards owned a set of Luther.

The last volume to come down off the shelf, labeled ‘VIII’ on the fore-edge, was their copy of Luther’s Enarrationes (1535). It completely surprised us. There on the last leaf was the following:

“Thomas Shepard’s Books: 1649: August: 25: NE:” The date had a familiar ring to me – I knew I had read it somewhere before. The genealogy of the Shepard family provided the answer – this was the death date of the first Thomas Shepard, the family patriarch and pastor of the church attended by the first students of Harvard College.

And so, new questions arise: Is it likely that Thomas Shepard I signed this on his death day? If his son Thomas, chief inheritor of the books, signed it, then why did he date it on the day of his father’s death? Could it be that some of the Shepard books at Princeton indeed carry the reader’s notations in the hand of Shepard I? [To be continued]