book dealers’ descriptions and catalog records

Mike Widener (Rare Book Librarian at Yale Law Library) wrote a great post about his practice of adding dealers’ descriptions to catalog records of rare books; Jeremy Dibbell included it in his link roundup; John Overholt tweeted about it; and then the conversation began. I’ve storyfied it and embedded it below (you can also go straight to Storify to see it). I wanted to capture the conversation, but we all also wanted to hear a wider range of responses and have a longer conversation about the value and potential pitfalls of this practice. It’ll end up on the EXLIBRIS-L listserv as well, so I’ll include a link to all that when it happens (thanks, John!) but in the meantime, read and comment:

updates and welcomes


I’ve been swamped recently, so just a quick post with some updates and links:

First, thanks to Lorem Ipsum’s suggestion on my last post about the catalogue entry for James’s Essayes of a prentise, the Folger’s record has now been updated! The author is, of course, James I, as that is the standard form of his name, but the note has been clarified to read “By James VI of Scotland and (later) James I of England, whose name (Jacobus Sextus) is given in an acrostic on A1r.” So thanks to Lorem Ipsum and to Deborah Leslie!

As for the binding, which I suggested might be a presentation copy from James to Burghley, my friend Adam points out that Burghley’s library was rebound in the early 18th century, so surviving presentation copies to either Burghley or his son Robert Cecil, are quite rare. My student had conjectured that this book was not part of Burghley’s library past the mid 1600s since it doesn’t appear in the 1687 Bibliotheca Illustris, which record the contents of the Burghley library put up for sale. (I have to say that I haven’t actually looked myself to verify whether this book is included or not, so if this is a mistake, feel free to let me know!)

That’s it for the updates. The image accompanying this post is a timely one: it’s a 1331 mahzor, or High Holiday prayer book, that has just been placed on exhibit at the Israel Museum. It’s from the Jewish community in Nuremberg, and amazingly survived not only the 1499 expulsion of Jews from Nuremberg, but the Holocaust and the ravages of the twentieth century. You can read more about it at Tablet magazine. Shanah tovah to those of you celebrating the new year!

And a special shout-out to my fellow blogger, Mercurius Politicus, who has finished his dissertation and welcomed his new son!

Here’s to new starts of all sorts–and to–maybe!–more timely blogging in the future.

UPDATE: Ooops! I forgot to issue congrats to bookn3rd, who has also finished dissertating and has joined the ranks of working stiffs. Welcome!

essayes of a prentise


Another example of a student project today, this time at the intersection of politics and poetry as well as of England and Scotland: King James’s The Essayes of a prentise, in the divine art of poesie. This book is a collection of poems and translations by James, as well as “A treatise on the airt of Scottis Poesie.” Published in 1584 in Edinburgh, James was then King James VI of Scotland, and net yet King James I of England, a title he didn’t take until 1603, although the book is cataloged by the STC as authored by James I. (The STC record is the source of the Folger’s catalogue entry for the book; there are standardized rules for all cataloging, of course, but it seems to me misleading to think of this work as being by the King of England, rather than an aspirant to that title.)

There are some great things about this book, including the fact that it’s written in a Scots dialect. Are you surprised that James would write a treatise on poetry? He addresses that very surprise in his preface:

“ze may marvell paraventure, quhairfore I sould have writtin in that mater, sen sa mony learnit men, baith of auld and of late hes already written thairof in dyvers and sindry languages: I answer, That nochtwithstanding, I have lykewayis writtin of it, for twa caussis.”

If you want to know the two causes, you’ll have to read the essay yourself. (By the way, I’ve regularized the u/v usage, as I typically do in transcriptions for this blog, and I’ve reproduced the long “s” form as our modern “s”, but you’ll have to provide your own accent to make sense of the rest of it.)

As you might imagine, part of James’s aim is to argue for the particularity of Scottish learning: the rules for English versification are not and should not be the same as those for Scottish. Just as poesie is also politics in the treatise, so it is throughout the book, which proceeds wtihin a network of Protestant politics, from the Huguenot who printed it while in exile in Edinburgh to the substance of the works.

The book itself has a wonderful sense of presence, including lots of white space and even blank pages (a sure sign of luxuriousness, given the cost of paper). The layout of these poems is a lovely example of early shape poetry:


One of the most interesting aspects of the book isn’t what is in it, but what binds it:


That’s a beautiful, and unusual, orange vellum binding, with tooling, including the name of its owner, W. Lord Burghley. According to research done for a Folger exhibition, this binding is nearly exact that of another copy of this book, one which is tooled with the name “W. Lord Hunsden”. The existence of the two bindings, plus the face that this binding does not resemble the bindings of other books Burghley owned, suggests that it could be a presentation copy by James VI to Burghley–bringing us back to the intersection of poesie and politics.

It was the binding that brought my student to this book–Michael came across it by browsing through Hamnet for “tooling” and “ties”. But, as we’ve seen before, when you start looking at a book from one point of view, others open up, so that he moved from physical object, to text, to social and networks–none of which, of course, are separate from each other.