book provenance and ownership marks

Unlike most librarians, I actually don’t mind when patrons write in books — as long as they do it correctly. Marginalia is the technical term, and this does NOT include underlining and gaudy pink highlighting. I find marginalia fascinating because it provides a reading companion who dialogues with me while I read. They tell me what they thought was important, though I often disagree. They speak of cross-references and similar or contradicting arguments by others. Marginalia often enhances the experience of reading in ways that would leave us poorer without them.

Ownership marks in books are also fascinating to me. They aid in establishing the work’s provenance, or chain of ownership. I am currently repairing the binding on a book now owned by a seminary student but which was formerly owned by New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger (I must here offer a public apology to said student – I’ve had the book for about a year, but it should be done soon. Really.)

Today I came across this book, the provenance of which is unusually easy to piece together. It was donated to our library by Mrs. A. T. Robertson, wife of Dr. A. T. Robertson, another New Testament scholar. The donation bookplate:


Prior Dr. Robertson’s ownership, the book apparently belonged to his father-in-law, Dr. John A. Broadus, the well-known preacher and president of the seminary. Dr. Broadus’ signature on the fly leaf indicates his ownership:


Prior to that, the book was owned by a slew of people:

  • J. H. Vincent (?), New Haven, CT
  • John Potts, Montreal, Que.
  • Franklin Fairbanks, St. Johnsbury, VT
  • W. G. E. ??nny?ham, Nashville, TN
  • B. M. Palmer, New Orleans, LA
  • B. F. Jacobs, Chicago, IL
  • James A. Worden, Princeton, NJ
  • D. H. ????ica, Montreal, Que.
  • H. Louis baugher, Gettysburg, PA
  • Warren Randolph, Newport, RI

Their signatures are nicely ordered adjacent to the title page (click for a larger image):


Books have stories — no pun intended — and they influence the lives of multiple generations in multiple places, and the stories of how they move from one to another are largely lost. It’s alot like that coin in Clive Cussler’s Sahara


  1. Steve Hayes says:

    Provenance is one of the things that appealed to me about BookCrossing, but it somehow never worked for me. I suppose because the number of books I’m prepared to “release into the wild” is very small, and they are the worst ones in my library. And I suspect the ones i have left lying around get dumped by zealous cleaners.

    But I also have some that belonged to people who died, and were auctioned off, and some that were donated to a college i was at when the previous owner died, and the current students distributed the “loot”.

    And thanks for the tip about Diigo — I’m enjoying it.

  2. Adam Winters says:

    Great post, I feel similarly (when the comments are good)!

    But this isn’t a warrant for students to mark up all the library books is it?

  3. Paul Roberts says:

    No, I have neither sufficient authority nor sufficient desire to seek other employment to issue such a warrant.

    Of course, if it’s done correctly….

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