Most books I work, especially the ones that have been around for a while, have a name, bookplate, or other inscriptions in them. Sometimes I can read these, sometimes I can’t. They are preserved as evidence of how the book circulated, how readers responded to it, which institutions collected it, dispersed it, and so on. This evidence of use makes many printed books unique objects.
Even among private collectors and dealers, there is much more awareness of the importance of these marks, and a corresponding willingness to leave them in place. A couple of decades ago, many owners would want them to be removed, and I would have to persuade them to keep them.
I’m especially thankful that no previous binder or owner cleaned up the inscriptions in the book below.
When initially examining this book, the Concordantz, the curator of the Mennonite Historical Library dropped a bombshell on me. He informed me that the inscription on the left in the above image, is from my sixth great-grandmother, written in 1751. “Wow, this is pretty cool!” was the most coherent professional thought I could express at the time. I wouldn’t have been able to decipher this inscription.
The inscription reads, “This little book belongs to me Lisi Joder, written in the year Anno 1751.” It is also signed by my fifth great-grandmother in 1787. In 1811, the book went to an older sister of my fourth great-grandmother, thus breaking the direct connection to me. It entered into the Mennonite Historical Library in the 1940’s. I promised the curator not to repatriate it to my family!
I intend to write a longer account of my treatment, the importance of books, and my relationship to this treatment, after some more reflection.