Skip to main content
Grolier Club Exhibitions

Marks in Books

Leaders and others active in the lifecycle of a book leave their own traces on its binding and within its leaves. Such marks help us understand how individuals—readers, but also publishers, binders, and booksellers—and larger institutions intervene in the material text and the book as object. The more obvious and readily recognizable marks of ownership, sale, and use include bookplates, labels, tickets, and stamps. Within the leaves of a book, one can also discover readers’ and publishers’ manuscript interventions, such as inscriptions, annotations, and proofreading marks. Another, more ambivalent example of marks in books are those interventions made by individuals, by religious orders, or by the state that were intended to remove, destroy, or obscure portions of the text in acts of expurgation or censorship. Last, but not least, there are the more recent and creatively minded acts of readers and artists who repurpose and transform preexisting texts through the practices of altered bookmaking.

Korean edition Chung sŏl (Ch. Zhongshuo, 中說),

Korean edition Chung sŏl (Ch. Zhongshuo, 中說), ca. 1484.

On loan from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. Formerly in the Guanhailou Collection of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

This edition of Chung sŏl—just one of two known copies—is a Chinese philosophical work that was printed from the Korean kapchinja bronze type font of 1484. It contains no fewer than twelve seals impressed by nine collectors. On display are the seals of Manase Shōrin (1565–1611), Kojima Hōso (1797–1848), Mukōyama Kōson (1826–1905), Yang Shoujing (1839–1915), Nakayama Kyūshirō (1874–1961), and Obama Toshie (1889–1972), along with a portrait of Shoujing—an image tipped into some of his rarest books.

Laozi (老子).

Laozi (老子). Suzhou: Shidetang, 1533. (On display: Laozi, vol. 1 of two bound vols.)

On loan from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia. Formerly in the Guanhailou Collection of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

This volume comes from a larger set of works by Daoist philosophers printed in the Jiajing period. This copy contains the ownership seals of Li Jian (1747–1799), Li Xialing (1768–1823), and Li Gonglin (1898–1979). It was annotated in 1794 by Li Jian, who was considered the most outstanding Qing dynasty landscape painter from Guangdong. The book contains 35 lines of his manuscript commentary. Later in life, Li Jian was strongly drawn to Daoism, and so these marginal annotations, written just five years before his death, are of particular interest.

Il Petrarcha.

Francesco Petrarch. Il Petrarcha. Fiorenza: p[er] li heredi di Filippo di Giunta, L’anno M.D.XXII. del mese di luglio [July 1522].

This copy of Petrarch’s poems bears some remarkable marks of use: portions of Petrarch’s “Babylonian Sonnets” have been heavily censored in manuscript in iron-gall ink. In the margins, a censor has written “est p[ro]hibitu[m]” (“it is prohibited”), doing so in accord with the Index librorum prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) of 1559, which had deemed the poems heretical. The sonnets attacked the Avignon papacy, a period from 1309 to 1377 during which the papal court was based in southern France rather than in Rome.

P. Virgilii Maronis poetae Mantuani universum poema. . . .

P. Virgilii Maronis poetae Mantuani universum poema. . . . Venice: Ioannem Gryphium, 1584.

In this 16th-century Venetian folio edition of the works of Virgil, there are two sets of excisions. The first excision occurs in a section of Virgil’s Sixth Eclogue, in which the god Silenus sings a song about unhappy love and metamorphosis. The second excision is an obvious act of expurgation and censorship. In the signature CC (leaves 385–87), a lengthy section made up of Priapeia, or songs dedicated to the fertility god Priapus, has been cut out entirely, leaving only stubs as evidence. The final portion of the songs, printed on the same leaf (388r) as non-priapic text, has been crossed out in ink. The Priapeia were placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum of the Roman Catholic Church in 1583.

Seals and side/top views. Guanhailou Collection ex libris seals (觀海樓藏書印) Seals and side/top views. Guanhailou Collection ex libris seals (觀海樓藏書印) Seals and side/top views. Guanhailou Collection ex libris seals (觀海樓藏書印)

Guanhailou Collection ex libris seals (觀海樓藏書印).

On loan from the personal collection of Soren Edgren.

Seals began to be used in China in the 6th century, if not earlier, to designate ownership. Displayed here are four personal ex libris seals that were created for RBS faculty member Soren Edgren’s Guanhailou Library and that are also used for instruction at RBS. Each seal bears a different design made by a highly skilled artisan. As displayed left to right: Shoushan stone cut by Yu Weiguo (b. 1953); Shoushan stone cut by Zhou Jianguo (b. 1956); Qingtian stone cut by Chen Fengzi (1912–2008); and Qingtian stone cut by Qian Juntao (1906–1998).

Dispelling Mental Darkness: An Ornament for the Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition (Tib. tshad ma sde bdun gyi [rgyan yid kyi mun] sel, ཚད་མ་སྡེ་བདུན་གྱི་རྒྱན་ཡིད་ཀྱི་མུན་སེལ). Dispelling Mental Darkness: An Ornament for the Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition (Tib. tshad ma sde bdun gyi [rgyan yid kyi mun] sel, ཚད་མ་སྡེ་བདུན་གྱི་རྒྱན་ཡིད་ཀྱི་མུན་སེལ). Dispelling Mental Darkness: An Ornament for the Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition (Tib. tshad ma sde bdun gyi [rgyan yid kyi mun] sel, ཚད་མ་སྡེ་བདུན་གྱི་རྒྱན་ཡིད་ཀྱི་མུན་སེལ).

Dharmakīrti; commentary by Khedrup Gelek Pelzang. Dispelling Mental Darkness: An Ornament for the Seven Treatises on Valid Cognition (Tib. tshad ma sde bdun gyi [rgyan yid kyi mun] sel, ཚད་མ་སྡེ་བདུན་གྱི་རྒྱན་ཡིད་ཀྱི་མུན་སེལ). Amdo, Tibet: Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery, ca. 1850.

This Buddhist text features no less than seven ownership seals. Yet, owing to their age and wear, they are difficult to decipher. The black color of the seals suggests that they are not modern. The colophon informs readers that woodblocks were cut at Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery—a location not far from where His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama was later born. The seal is stamped three times on both the upper and lower coversa placement that  may constitute a kind of blessing: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.

Disbound boards: <br />
Edward Jesse. An Angler’s Rambles. London: John Van Voorst, 1836; George Parker. Humorous Sketches; Satyrical Strokes, and Attic Observations. London: Printed for the author and sold by S. Hooper [n.d.]; Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828.

Disbound boards: Edward Jesse. An Angler’s Rambles. London: John Van Voorst, 1836; George Parker. Humorous Sketches; Satyrical Strokes, and Attic Observations. London: Printed for the author and sold by S. Hooper [n.d.]; Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1828.

Gift of Robert Milevski.

With the permission of the academic libraries where he was working, preservation administrator Robert Milevski retrieved the boards of 19th-century books that had been guillotined before being scanned for digitization or microfilming. Milevski wanted to preserve examples of publishers’ bookcloth and binders’ and booksellers’ tickets as research aids for identifying where books were made and marketed, and how they were purchased and used. Designed to be inconspicuous, binders’ tickets are rarely more than a few square centimeters in size. They could be printed via intaglio, letterpress, or lithography.

Booksellers’ tickets.

Booksellers’ tickets: W. H. & O. H. Morrison of Washington, DC; John V. Thomas of Alexandria, VA; Paul and Isaac Vaillant, London; and J. Anderson, London.

Gift of James M. Goode.

Like binders’ tickets, booksellers’ tickets were predominantly an English-language practice in Britain and the United States from the 18th century onward. They were printed via copperplate engraving and letterpress—and later on, via lithography. They are most often found adhered to the pastedowns on the inside covers of books. Booksellers’ labels attest to the myriad activities carried out by these businesses, including stationery, engraving, and even binding.

The Art of Amusing.

Frank Bellew. The Art of Amusing. New York: Carleton, 1869; London: S. Low, Son & Co., 1869.

Gift of Scott Fennessey.

This book of domestic entertainments was marked up in blue pencil and purple ink by its publisher, G. W. Carleton (1832–1901), for a new edition of the book that was planned in 1877 and provisionally titled “That Pleasant Evening.” Revisions include the removal of 50 pages of text, as well as substantial modifications to the placement and size of illustrations, etc. The copy contains additional markings in pencil by its subsequent owner: “Louie Carleton”—that is Louise Carleton (1872–1925), daughter of G. W. Carleton.

Six 20th-century etched bookplates designed by Sara Eugenia Blake.

Six 20th-century etched bookplates designed by Sara Eugenia Blake.

Gift of James M. Goode.

Bookplates, also known as ex libris, can be an important part of placing a book’s ownership and use in time and location. Bookplates are labels, usually bearing the owner’s name or initials as well as a decorative or pictorial motif. Shown here are several examples designed by Sara Eugenia Blake (1886–1973), a Tufts University librarian who collected and designed bookplates. Many of Blake’s plates were produced via etching, and she created them for her friends and family, often borrowing pictorial and decorative elements from other artists.

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott.

Immanuel Kant. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911.

Helena Belle Carpenter of Enosburg Falls, Vermont, was a student at Middlebury College when she read and heavily annotated this copy of Kant. For example, on page 17, she argues with Kant in the margins, noting: “If one is inclined to do his duty, | does then doing his duty lose its moral | quality? Yes, it is then holy; but Kant | says man can’t do that.” In addition to containing underlining and notes in its margins, the book also bears Carpenter’s printed bookplate. Readers’ interventions in the text are now an important and growing part of the study of the history of the book.

Nothing Personal. Photographs by Richard Avedon and text by James Baldwin.

Nothing Personal. Photographs by Richard Avedon and text by James Baldwin. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1965.

In 1964, James Baldwin and Richard Avedon were both at the height of their fame when they collaborated on Nothing Personal, published in a large format by New York’s Atheneum Press with four short pieces by Baldwin and large, full-bleed photographs by Avedon. This copy of Nothing Personal is from the smaller, inexpensive reprint edition published by New York’s Dell Publishing in 1965. The third of Baldwin’s essays is copiously underlined and annotated in pen by James H. Funston, who inscribed his name on the front flyleaf and who is listed as a biology instructor at The College of the Holy Cross in 1971.

In the Mecca: Poems.

Gwendolyn Brooks. In the Mecca: Poems. New York; Evanston, IL; London: Harper & Row, Publishers, [1968].

Inscribed copies of books are those that have been signed or autographed by the author, usually with a sentiment or message, for another person. This copy of In the Mecca was inscribed by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks to the poet Sam Cornish (1925–2018). Brooks was the poet laureate of the state of Illinois from 1968 until her death in 2000; Cornish was the poet laureate of the city of Boston and an instructor at Emerson College. Brooks’s inscription is dated 1991. No doubt Brooks met Cornish and signed his book when she gave a talk at Emerson College in April of that same year.

Verbatim DataLife 3½ in. diskettes,

Verbatim DataLife in. diskettes, ca. 1990.

Gift of Sarah G. Kent.

At RBS, course participants examine legacy storage formats such as these 5¼ in. Verbatim diskettes that formerly belonged to UVA IT staffer Sarah G. Kent. The handwritten labels on these digital storage devices are an interesting remnant of manuscript culture, while at the same time, the term “palimpsest,” normally applied to manuscripts, has been adopted to describe overwritten digital storage media. Indeed, Kent reused these disks to create backups for her IBM 386 PC and her Macintosh Classic.

Neopostmodrinism, or, Dieser Rasen ist kein Hundeklo, or, Gub²rzub² Number 6 . . . . Neopostmodrinism, or, Dieser Rasen ist kein Hundeklo, or, Gub²rzub² Number 6 . . . .

Neopostmodrinism, or, Dieser Rasen ist kein Hundeklo, or, Gub²rzub² Number 6 . . . . [Mount Horeb, Wisconsin]: Perishable Press, 1988. No. 113 of 125 copies.

Gift of Terry Belanger.

In 1991, the artist and printer Walter Hamady (1940–2019) gave Terry Belanger four copies of Gabberjab 6—each elaborately inscribed to him. This copy contains numerous messages to his bibliophilic friend. Hamady inscribed the first leaf and the verso of the leaf facing the half-title; he added an inscribed piece of collage to the book’s inside upper cover; and he wrote a message to Belanger on the inside of the front pastedown (not pasted down in this case). He inscribed its end: “Signed Again For Terry Belanger this sunny | 21 X 91 at 12:15 exactly—a loud two | engine airplane flying NW—Walter | Samuel Semi-Hittite Haatoum Hamady.”

The Graveyard Book. With illustrations by Dave McKean.

Neil Gaiman. The Graveyard Book. With illustrations by Dave McKean. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

This copy of Neil Gaiman’s novel, The Graveyard Book, includes deliberate markings in colored crayons, as well as stickers, pasted-in cuttings from magazines and computer printouts, and pencil flip-book drawings. These alterations to Gaiman’s text may have been part of a class project: the reader has penciled in a numbered list of alterations under the heading “Altered Book” on the front flyleaf. The point of an altered book is not to reflect the content of a text, but rather to modify it to create new meanings. In recent years pedagogical practice has encouraged young readers to alter books as an exercise in creativity.