Old Library Donations Register

Recent work to transcribe and identify the entries of a seventeenth-century donations catalogue has shed fascinating new light on the provenance of Magdalene College’s historic library collections.

Across the centuries, the collections of the Old Library have been greatly enhanced by the benevolence of donors, many of them members of Magdalene College. Identifying the history and status of donations can be very useful. Research into the identities of donors, as well as the origin, or provenance, of items, contributes much to our understanding of the collection as a whole, but also shapes how we perceive historical patterns of reading and ownership within an academic context.

In recent months, Library staff have participated in a project to transcribe and identify catalogue entries in the Library’s historic Donations Register (classmark F.4.33). Information gathered from the register has also been added to the Old Library online shelf list. The register, which dates from the seventeenth century, records some of the earliest donations made to the College, mostly from Fellows and former Masters.

Through the process of creating a digital transcript and matching catalogue entries to holdings within the present Old Library collection, staff have gained valuable insight into the use of books during the seventeenth century and the personal reading tastes of individual donors.

The scope and scale of the donations are varied, ranging from one or two books to a much larger collection, and covering works of literature, science, philosophy and religion. The largest entry for donations is that of Barnabas Gooch (or Goche), Master of Magdalene (1604-1626). A lawyer and academic, Gooch donated an extensive number of specialist legalistic texts, reflecting his own interests. Other notable donors include Richard Cumberland, Bishop of Peterborough, the mechanical inventor, Sir Samuel Morland, and Abraham Wheelock, Professor of Arabic, 1632-53 and University Librarian, 1629-53.

Manuscript showing the list of book donations given to Magdalene College by Frances Wray, the Countess of Warwick
List of donations given by Frances Wray, Countess of Warwick (left), MS F.4.33, f.7v

As might be expected of the period, the overwhelming majority of donors in the Register are male. However, the names of two women also appear: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1624?-1674), who, it is recorded, gave “Nine Volumes of her own Workes, Playes, Orations, Epistles, Philosophy, Poetry” to the College, and Frances Wray (1568-1634), Countess of Warwick and daughter of Sir Christopher Wray.

Further work to add the data amassed through the project to the holdings records of the English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC) is now underway and it is hoped that this work will also help to increase knowledge of the collections and generate new research.

By Eleanor Swire, Libraries Assistant & Invigilator

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