Provenance evidence on Flickr

“Frances Wolfreston hor book bot of soldars” inscribed on the front free endpaper of Bartas His Deuine Weekes & Workes Translated: & Dedicated To the Kings most excellent Maiestie by Iosvah Sylvester. London, Printed by Humfrey Lownes, 1605. Princeton call number:RHT-17th-223. •

Frances Wolfreston, the English woman book collector of the seventeenth century, has been the subject of a number of studies, the most notable of which is Paul Morgan’s article characterizing her library and published in The Library, 6th series, vol. XI, no. 3 (September 1989), pp. 197-219. In a recent essay Arnold Hunt expands Morgan’s study by drawing attention to Wolfreston books in the British Library overlooked by Morgan. Cf. Arnold Hunt “Libraries in the Archives: Researching Provenance in the British Library” in Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections. Ed. by Giles Mandelbrote, and Barry Taylor. London: The British Library. 2009, pp. 363-384. •

Re: “Bot of soldars.” Some military veterans, able or disabled, after service earned a living as pedlars. A report published in 1886 records the Royal Library of Denmark having a copy of The lyf of saint katherin of senis inscribed “Frances Wolfreston bot of a soldar.”

The web and social media are providing means for controlling book ownership data. Already in the ESTC many thousands of copy-specific notes fill out the holdings records. Records for STC books in the Folger Library are quite full — all useful results from a cataloging grant project. Incunabulists now turn to Paul Needham’s IPI for an listing of more than 12,000 recorded owners, both institutional and personal, of fifteenth century books]. Nota bene: owners of incunabula were also likely to own worthy books printed post 1500, so provenance researchers for books of any period may profit from consulting IPI.

These verbal tools are being supplemented by the visual. A number of these visual data were noted by binding historian Mirjam Foot in 2005: “The most common ownership marks found on books, either on their first bindings, on later re-bindings, or added to or subtracted from existing bindings, are coats of arms, armorial charges, inscriptions, mottoes, monograms, initials, full names, symbolic tools, badges, or structural features.” (See One could add to these markings bookplates, bookstamps, owner’s codes, and a host of other features.

To access the visual, websites such as those at the British Library [ and] or St. John’s College, Cambridge [] offer remarkable help, to name just a few such.

Recently emerging visual tools are a number of provenance-related sites on Flickr. They offer striking, colorful evidence of the range, complexity, and vitality of marks of ownership in early printed books. They also offer sites at which collaborative identifications can be recorded, comparable to CERL’s Can you help? website.

Here’s a short list of notable sites:

University of Pennsylvania Libraries project cataloging the Culture Class Collection

Smith College • Mortimer Rare Book Room

David Pearson • English book owners in the seventeenth century

University of Glasgow Library

Heraldic Bookplates (Group pool)

Pratt Libraries Ex Libris Collection