David Pearson, ‘Patterns of book ownership in 17th-century England’

At the second History of the Book Seminar this term, David Pearson (Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries, City of London) considered research questions on private libraries and traffic in book ownership, and reviewed the state of research on ‘The English Private Library in the 17th century’, since his publication in The Library in December 2012. He compared the current state of knowledge of provenance with the situation of bibliography 100 years ago; libraries are gradually becoming better at recording the provenance of early printed books, but a comprehensive coverage is some way off.

The efforts libraries are making to record provenance information is driven by, and further supports, research which has shown the value of such enquiries: Owen Gingerich’s census of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus; Anthony West’s survey of copies of the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays; and research that focuses on annotations as a subject in their own right (the theme of the masterclasses convened by Will Poole this term at the Bodleian Library).

Among online projects on this theme are:

CERL – Material Evidence in Incunabula

The British Armorial Bindings database hosted at the University of Toronto

Legacy Libraries, on LibraryThing

Annotated Books Online, presenting digitized copies of annotated books and transcriptions of some of the annotations shows what might be done to make the annotations more useful to scholars.

Pearson’s own list of English Book Owners in the 17th century http://www.bibsoc.org.uk/content/english-book-owners-seventeenth-century, ‘a preliminary exercise towards creating something more like a proper directory of owners, the task in hand being to work through and convert each brief listing into a full entry that would summarise what we know about these libraries, where there are surviving books, and where to find more information.’

Pearson concluded with some speculation on some significant private libraries of the 17th century whose contents are not yet fully known;

William Chark, graduate and fellow of Peterhouse in the 1560s; has a short entry in DNB as a religious controversialist. We know of ca.140 printed books scattered in libraries around the world and he also owned some significant manuscripts, including a Greek codex of the NT and several manuscripts subsequently in the Cotton Library

Nearly all the books have a distinctive code in the back — perhaps a bookseller’s code, connected with the way the library was dispersed after his death in 1617. There is some extant correspondence of his with Abraham Ortelius in the Netherlands, with references to obtaining and swapping books. His was clearly a significant private library of its time but not one that has ever been documented or investigated

Augustine Lindsell, Bishop of Peterborough in 1633, and of Hereford in 1634, the year he died. His will includes a number of specific book bequests, one or two of which can be traced today, but a letter written just after his death, implying that his books are coming to London to be sold, says that Lindsell himself valued his library at £880 worth of printed books and £500 worth of manuscripts – which is a sizable collection.

Gilbert Wimberley, d.1654 – prebendary of Wells and Westminster; his goods were seized in 1643, when he is said (by Walker) to have lost a library valued at £1000 – lot of books.  Not in DNB; what do we know about him. He came from a gentry family in Lincolnshire, BA TCC 1616, fellow 1618, livings in Suffolk and London, sequestered 1643, imprisoned. His was one of a number of libraries which were destroyed or dispersed during the Civil War.

Finally, Pearson commented on the possible scale of big libraries in grand houses by the end of the 17th century: the library at Lauderdale’s Ham House, built in the 1670s, is one of the rare survivals of an actual library room from that time, but this is a relatively modest space, size-wise – there is only room for a few thousand books. And we have secondary evidence of some big collections in private houses during the decades after the Restoration – how were they housed?

— John Evelyn describes the library of the 1st Earl of Essex in his house at Cashiobury as “very nobly furnished, and all the books richly bound”

— Arthur Annesley, Earl of Anglesey, reputedly had 30,000 books and has been described as “perhaps the first peer who devoted time and money to the formation of a great library”

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