13,000 Books, Two Wives, and One Very Large Late Fee

Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617), a French historian and politician who lived during the tumultuous reigns of Henry III and Henry IV, assembled one of the greatest libraries of his time.  Open to all scholars who wished to use it, the library contained close to 13,000 volumes at the time of his death.  Thou’s library later became the property of Jean-Jacques Charron, marquis de Ménars (1643-1718) before being sold off in 1789.  Some of his books are now in Penn’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Armorial Binding of Jacques-Auguste de Thou

Thou’s books are distinctive.  The bindings, usually with his coat of arms and gadfly device, have a pleasing elegance and simplicity.  When the first of his books in our collection was identified by Alison Warner, I was interested to read that his armorial binding showed both his coat of arms and the arms of his wife, Marie Barbançon.  Although it isn’t uncommon for the arms of both spouses to be shown together, I do always like when the patriarch isn’t the only one getting all the heraldic recognition.  (However, I draw the line at some Spanish coats of arms where no branch of the family, no matter how distant or long-defunct, goes unacknowledged.) Thou’s armorial bindings also contain a monogram which combines the initials “I A” of his given names (Iacques-Auguste) with the M of his wife’s first name.

Arms of J.-A. de Thou and Gasparde de La Chastre

After Marie died in 1601, Thou married Gasparde de La Chastre—and changed the bindings on subsequent additions to his library.  Here, his arms are impaled on Gasparde’s. Marie’s M in the monogram has been replaced with a G. I wish I knew who or what the driving force was behind the change—or if, indeed, there were any driving force at all.  It was probably just a routine decision made by Thou or his librarians, but I do sometimes wonder whether Gasparde herself insisted on the change? Or, perhaps, did Thou feel something akin to modern end-of-relationship tattoo-regret?

“Is there a grace period?”

Jacques-Auguste de Thou made another appearance in our collection recently, this time not as the former owner of one of our books, but instead as an aside in a bibliographic inscription bound in an edition of Quintilian’s Declamationum Liber.  The writer of this inscription is debunking an account by the prolific, but unreliable historian Antoine Varillas about the supposed discovery in a fishmonger’s shop by Poggio Bracciolini of the only known copy of a Quintilian manuscriptmoments before its destruction! Rare manuscripts, our anonymous writer states, even those that are the sole surviving copies of otherwise lost texts, may be found and used in several European libraries. Their loss–or destruction by a fishmonger–would rival or perhaps exceed the loss of the Quintilian. For example, he writes, M. de Thou was able to borrow such a manuscript from the Imperial Library in Vienna—and he didn’t return it for twenty years despite numerous requests from librarians there.  In a fantastic analysis of this text on our Flickr site, BobSimon2011 concludes: “If librarians have a pantheon, perhaps M. de Thou would be the god of late fees.”

I encourage you to read the full identification of this text and to take a look at all of the images that we have associated with Jacques-Auguste de Thou.

A Maddening Stamp

[This stamp has been solved!  It is the stamp of 20th-century Paris bookseller Arthur Lauria. Many thanks to Jasmin and Mitch Fraas for solving the mystery!]

Stamps should be easy to identify. You don’t have to decipher bad handwriting. You are more likely to find information about people, libraries or businesses who stamp their books since, presumably, they have collections large enough to make designing and purchasing a stamp worthwhile. [I say “presumably” because, as far as I know, nobody has ever wanted to find out who owned all of the Dell Yearling paperbacks proudly stamped “From the library of R.R.K.”] Of course, you expect a hefty challenge when stamps have only an owner’s coat of arms or initials, but when there is both a name and a place on the stamp, the mystery should be solvable. Right?


This Red Circular Stamp first appeared in Rare Book Cataloging a little over a year ago. It was smudged and blurry so I took a picture and crossed my fingers that the stamp would show up elsewhere in the collection.

It did. Several times.

And we still can’t read it.

We can say with confidence that the word on the bottom is “Paris.” On shakier ground, we speculate that the initial is an “A” and that perhaps, just maybe, the last name begins “Lab…”

It’s frustrating, and a little surprising, that every instance of this stamp in our collection is unreadable. I’m starting to wonder if the owner specifically asked that the stamp be designed this way or if the stamp maker routinely sold his stock at significant discount.

If you recognize this stamp, please leave a comment here or on our Flickr provenance identification site.

Cataloging Conundrum: Unidentified Coat of Arms

We haven’t been able to identify the coat of arms in this bookplate.  It is found in our copy of Bernardino Campelli’s Delle historie di Spoleti : sopplimento di quelle del regno d’Italia nella parte, che tocca al ducato Spoletino, à principi di esso, & alla città, che ne fù capo (Spoleto: Giovanni Domenico Ricci, 1672). Since this is a history of Spoleto, I thought the arms might be associated with that city, but the Spoleto arms are quite different.  All I know for sure is that the arms belong to someone who is both a prelate (because of the ecclesiastical hat with tassels) and a member of the nobility.  The crown looks–to me–like that of a marquess, but this is heraldry and I could be very, very wrong.

(In fact, the only thing I’m ever certain about when it comes to heraldry is that, after hours of research, I will know less about the subject than I did before.  I will spare you the sad tale of when I thought the cap of maintenance was an old ducal hat–except to say that English monarchs would have been shocked by the suddenly very large number of dukes rattling about the country.)

If you can identify these arms please leave a comment here or on our Flickr provenance identification site (where the image is much sharper).

Incunable Week

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is cross-posted here and at the Unique at Penn blog.

One week a month is devoted to cataloging incunables, the first books printed after the invention of movable type in the second half of the 15th century.  Incunables are a joy to catalog. There is so much to describe: rubrication and other ornamentation, illustrations, binding, paper size, text measurements, etc.  Cataloging an incunable is also a great opportunity to do some serious provenance research.

This month, Incunable Week brought some of the best incunables in Penn’s collection to Liz Broadwell’s desk.  The standout was H-151 (we use Goff numbers to identify our incunables), a 1474 edition of Hierocles’s commentary on the Golden Verses attributed to Pythagoras.  This is a pretty common incunable—lots of institutions have one.

But nobody has our H-151.

Humanist Heaven

Colophon signed by Johannes Cuno (1463-1513)

Penn’s copy was owned by the humanist scholar Johannes Cuno (1463-1513). In a very pleasing hand, he has supplied several pages of missing text and written marginal notes throughout. Cuno has also signed the colophon and included the price he paid for this book.

But what really makes this copy special is Cuno’s transcription of the original Greek text and Latin translation of the Golden Verses inserted on four leaves at the end. Cuno’s Greek and Latin penmanship is beautiful … at first. By the end, his writing is nearly illegible. Why?

Happily, Cuno tells us:

“I write in haste …”

Finis aureo[rum] Carminu[m] Pythagore s[cri]pta veloci[ssi]me i[n] Stuttg[art] accom[o]da[n]te d[omi]no doctore Reuchlin Grece [overwritten: hebraice] lingue sui t[empo]ris ap[u]d G[er]manos [per]iti[ssi]mo 1496 Laur[en]cij.

Bookseller E.P. Goldschmidt translates:

End of the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, written in a great hurry at Stuttgart (from a copy) lent by Dr. Reuchlin, the most expert in his day in the Greek [overwritten: Hebrew] language among all Germans. 1496 on St. Laurence’s day.

Liz likes to imagine the great scholar Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) breathing down Cuno’s back and saying the 15th century equivalent of, “Dude, get a move on, I’m due to teach a class and I need my book … now!

A Lady’s Book

Another pleasure that came Liz’s way was H-135, Herzmahner, a 1495 anonymous German translation of the Orationes et meditationes de vita Christi by Thomas à Kempis. The book was owned by Anastasia Löwin (recorded elsewhere in volume as “Anastasia Laÿin”) and the rubricator has written her name in several locations.  One of these inscriptions is dated 1502, which makes this volume one of the earliest, if not the earliest, example of a printed book owned by a woman in our collection.

Unfortunately, Incunable Week also had a few horrors waiting in the wings.

Meet Horrible Horace

Horrible Horace

Horrible Horace was twice the victim. First, he fell into the clutches of a conservator who, perhaps, had good intentions. The conservator covered every single leaf with “Pflanzenpapier” (we don’t know the technical term for this in English, but Pflanzenpapier by any other name would be just as ugly). He then attached each leaf to a paper stub before rebinding the book with materials that had probably begun to disintegrate several decades earlier.  (The leaves are, of course, bound out of order.)

False advertising?

The second crime committed against this ca. 1471-72 edition of Horace’s Works was by the bookseller who wrote a description for a silk purse rather than for the sow’s ear this book had become. Whoever opened the package when Horace arrived at Penn must have been surprised, for rather than a fine old incunable repaired with what the bookseller described as “grosser Kunst,” there was, instead, Horrible Horace. Poor Horace. He deserved far better than he got.

Ms. Pinard’s Masterpiece

A bad beginning

Horrible Horace has a friend.  If you judge a book by its cover, this 1474 edition of Postilla super Epistolas et Evangelia by Guillermus Parisiensis seems perfectly ok.  If, however, you’d like to read—or catalog—it, you’re in for some long sleepless nights.  The book has no foliation, pagination or signature marks, so there is nothing on the printed pages to tell you what order they should be in.  This isn’t unusual for the 15th century, and it’s rarely a problem until you hit something like G-644.  Once you open the cover and look at the text, it becomes clear all too quickly that the binder, Louise Pinard, should have chosen another line of work. The first leaf in the volume is actually leaf 260. And while some of the first 259 leaves are missing, most of them can be found—with great patience and, now, with the help of a good catalog record—scattered here and there throughout the volume.

I’m looking forward to Incunable Week in September—but I’m going to wait a bit before asking Liz whether she has recovered from her encounter with the talents of Miss Pinard and the Pflanzenpapier Conservator (he was smart enough to remain anonymous).  With luck, the first incunable off the shelf will have been owned by another prominent humanist, but I’d bet that Liz would be happy with just about anything … as long as its pages are in order.