Sometimes books surprise us, and not always for the reasons we expect. Is there something unusual about the book below? Is is maybe a bit more narrowly oblong than usual? Two years ago, I took Rare Book School’s course on descriptive bibliography. It was a great experience—it immersed me, and a group of other similarly dedicated biblionerds (as one of my friends affectionately refers to those of us who ooh and ahh at the intricacies and oddities of rare books), into the details of producing descriptions of rare books according to the established principles of bibliographical description. (“What would Bowers do?” was our mantra.) ((The answer, of course, was to be found in Fredson Bowers’s Principles of Bibliographical Description, first published in 1949 and oft reprinted since.))
Co-written by Sarah Werner and Erin Blake Sarah: In my last post, I showed some examples of books that use symbols in signature marks. But how did I find these books and how might you find more examples? It’s one thing to search for books printed in the year 1542, since “publication year” is a standard search box and “1542” is written in standard typography. But you can’t really type “¶” into a search box and get useful results. (Okay, you might be able to type “¶” into your search box but you’ll get something like what Hamnet spits out: “The system could not interpret your search statement.”) I got started on this path I saw this tweet from the digitization folks at University of Oklahoma:
I’ve written before about what sort of information we can learn from studying signature marks, and Goran wrote recently about the use of Latin abbreviations to indicate the gathering. So I thought the time has come to look at some of the other types of marks we find in signature marks. What comes before A? This 1579 translation of Jean Calvin’s Quatre sermons avec exposition du Pseaume 87 (STC 4439) begins with a dedicatory epistle from the translator John Field and a letter to the reader from Calvin. The sermons themselves follow, beginning on A1r and continuing through H3v. But if the main text starts with A, how are the preliminaries signed? With symbols, obviously!
As became clear in the robust conversation around this month’s crocodile mystery, what we’re looking at is a leather bookplate—a circular, good-tooled leather bookplate stamped with the initials “E. H.” and a rose. While the object itself might have been easy to recognize, working out what the specifics of it were revealing was a bit harder. As Erin noted, the bookplate looked as if it had been cut down from a larger piece, leaving jagged edges rather than the smooth circle one might expect from a die-cut bookplate. On the other hand, the other books bearing this bookplate at the Folger show the same jaggedness. Whoever used this bookplate clearly had a number of them made, but also appears to have had them cut down to size. So, who is this EH? I came across this bookplate when a student was working on a book with it, and there was…