Book Owners Online

Former owners of books held in the Old Library’s historic collections can now be searched via the Book Owners Online database – a new directory of British book owners of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Book Owners Online (BOO) is an important new resource for anyone with an interest in historical bibliography and the provenance of books. A directory comprising the names of British book owners known to have died between 1610 and 1715, BOO allows users to conduct simple and semantic searches in order to learn more about the lives of book owners and the dispersal of their collections. Each BOO entry contains a short biographical note, the details of books associated with that individual, and a record of any characteristic markings, such as inscriptions, annotations, bookplates and armorial bindings.

The value of the database lies partly in the connections that can be drawn between entries and collections – connections that enable us to better appreciate and understand the figures whom we know possessed particular copies of books during their own lifetimes and whose names occasionally grace the endpapers and title pages of those books. It is through the process of research undertaken in the creation of BOO entries at Magdalene that library staff have been able to obtain fascinating glimpses into the lives of those about which previously little was known.

Two such examples are Philip Cromwell (c.1608-1642) and John Glascocke (c.1621-1661). Philip Cromwell was a distant relative of Oliver Cromwell and son of Sir Philip Cromwell of Ramsey. He graduated M.A. from Magdalene College in 1632 and was Rector of Wistow, Huntingdonshire, 1632-1642. Four books by the Swiss physician and bibliographer, Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) were given by Cromwell to the library at Magdalene College and the title page of one of the volumes, Epitome Bibliothecæ Conradi Gesneri (H.3.16), bears the inscription of his name.

Title page of the book, Epitome Bibliothecæ Conradi Gesneri, featuring a woodcut of a child sitting on a giant toad, as well as a handwritten signature of Philip Cromwell
Signature of Philip Cromwell visible to the right-hand side of the woodcut [Old Library H.3.16: Epitome Bibliothecæ Conradi Gesneri, conscripta primum à Conrado Lycosthene Rubeaquensi]

Another alumnus and Fellow of Magdalene College, John Glascocke left three volumes of works by the English theologian, William Perkins (1558-1602) to the library following his death in 1661. He had already graduated M.A. in 1646 by the time Samuel Pepys came up to Magdalene in the early 1650s, but the two knew one another. Glascocke’s mother, Mary, was the sister of Pepys’ great-aunt, Judith Pepys, herself the wife of Sir Richard Pepys (Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, 1654-9). Glascocke is mentioned by Pepys in a diary entry for 29th July 1661, shortly before Glascocke’s death.

Title page of The workes of that famous and worthy minister of Christ in the Uniuersitie of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins. The page features a handwritten inscription by the former owner of the book, John Glascocke.
Inscription on title page: “Ex dono Mori Johannis Glascocke quondam huis Coll. Socij” [Old Library H.12.10 : Vvorkes of that famous and vvorthy minister of Christ in the Vniuersitie of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins. The first volume: newly corrected according to his owne copies.]

The use of cross-referencing reveals other links between associated BOO entries, such as those found in the instance of Thomas Travers (c.1619-1717), Fellow of Magdalene College and Rector of St. Columb Major, Cornwall (1652-1662). Travers donated a copy of Samuel Bochart’s Geographiæ sacræ pars prior Phaleg (1646) to the library at Magdalene, but it is through the database that we find an association with another book owner, John Robartes, 1st Earl of Radnor (1606-85) and an equally touching connection to Robartes’ chaplain and private tutor, Walter Snell (d.1677).

Title page of the book, Geographiæ sacræ pars prior Phaleg, published in 1646 and later donated to Magdalene College by Thomas Travers
Old Library B.22.16 : Geographiæ sacræ pars prior Phaleg, seu, De dispersione gentium et terrarum diuisione facta in ædificatione turris Babel / Samuel Bochart

Believed to have married Robartes’ niece, there is reason to think Travers spent at least some time at the seat of Robartes’ family, Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. Perhaps it is here that he established a friendship with Snell strong enough to merit a mention in Snell’s will which, in its instructions for how Snell’s collection of books ought to be distributed, specifies that Travers receive his copy of “Durandus on the Sentences”.

It is in such small but notable examples that BOO helps us to build a deeper, richer knowledge of patterns in book ownership during this period, the networks that existed, and the lives of the people who were implicated within them.

By Eleanor Swire, Libraries Assistant

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