Friday, September 10, 2010

Commonplacing and Binding Practices in a Sixteenth-Century Estienne Dictionary

This post (as well as several more to come in the near future) corresponds to the Center's rare book exhibit for Fall 2010, "The Living Library: Books and their Owners in Early Modern Europe." The exhibit highlights evidence for different reading and ownership practices in our collection of early printed books, including the prize inscription, the sammelband, provenance, and printed paratexts. If you're in the Amherst, MA area, feel free to stop by and see the exhibit, and if you can't I hope these posts capture the essence of the physical display.

Front hinge
Rear hinge

Upper cover

Lower Cover
Robert Estienne, Dictionarium nominum propriorum uirorum, mulierum, populorum, idolorum, urbium, fluuiorum, montium, caeterorumq[ue] locorum, quae passim apud melioris notae auctores leguntur : liber longè auctior, quàm is qui elucidarius poëticus uulgò inscribitur, ad intelligendos poëtas, oratores, ac historiographos non solùm utilis, uerùm etiam necessarius à multis quibus antea scatebat, uicijs repurgatus. [Cologne: Printed by Walter Fabritius, 1558]. 8vo. Contemporary blind-stamped full calf binding.

The scholar and printer Robert Estienne (1503-1559; Latin surname "Stephanus") prepared a number of important books during his career, including the Dictionarium latinogallicum (1552) and Dictionarium seu linguae latinae thesaurus (1531), in addition to landmark editions of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament. This copy of his “Dictionary of Proper Names” (we also own a 1575 edition) survives fully intact in a remarkable contemporary binding; an early owner, almost certainly from England, bound the dictionary in modestly decorated calf leather, using two old manuscript scraps for the book’s endpapers.

Recto of front MS endpaper
Verse of front MS endpaper

Recto of rear MS endpaper
Verso of rear MS endpaper
Although the texts represented in the vellum scraps have yet to be identified, we can be relatively certain about their languages, scripts, and approximate dates (front endpaper: Latin, bastarda anglicana, c. xiii-xiv sec; rear endpaper: English and Latin, fifteenth-century English secretary hand). As is common with early books surviving in contemporary bindings, the dictionary’s endpapers bear ownership inscriptions, pen trials, and manuscript notes from several different owners.

Inscriptions on front endpaper
 The latest to leave a mark was “C. Aston 1847.” A “Francis Fisher” (writing in a late sixteenth or early seventeenth-century secretary hand) signs the book three different times, once with the Latin motto tu decus omne tuis (“you the sole glory of your kindred”). His relation Robert Fisher signed the book with a Latin inscription in the 1650s.

Title page inscriptions
Title page signatures record the names of “Ro: Gaton” and (in a sixteenth-century secretary hand) William Brabin (probably the earliest owner); according to the note, Brabin purchased the book for 2s 3d.

MS miscellany of commonplaces on endpaper, in the hand of William Brabin
He used the endpapers as a manuscript miscellany, recording Latin commonplaces from Plato, Erasmus (from Adagia III.ii.36), Ovid (Tristia IV.x.3-4), and Marc Antony, in addition to a recipe (containing urine and eggs) and the proverb tempura mutantur et nos mutamur ab illis (“times change and we change with them”). Here is a transcription (with some translations) of a few of the notes:


plato de xenocrate dixit venere dicendi carebat. idem de Iamblico dicatus. 


Kesos [in Greek] d[?]cn pictus cestus.2: cingulum veneris, efficax ad illectamentum gratiarum et Amorum, quo illa dicitur martem conciliare: Erasmus cestum habet veneris: [Adagia III.ii.36] /


Ovides de se Pelignae gentis gloria dicar ego / Sulmo [Sulmona] est metropolis pelignorum vnde ovidius Sulmo mihi patria est gelidis vberrimus vndis millia qui novies distat ab vrbe decens. [Ovid, Tristia IV.x.3-4: “Sulmo’s my native place, rich in icy streams, and ninety miles distant from the City.”]

Marcus Antony:

Marcus Antonius / Huius viri illud inprimis admirabile dicitur, quod in otio Luxuriosissimus in negotio Laboriosissimus fuit [listed as a commonplace in Calepinus Dictionarium, 1576]         

Last item:

tempura mutantur et nos mutamur ab illis [Times change and we change with them: possibly Lothair I of the Holy Roman Empire (795-855)]

another commonplace [duplication of Ovid passage], with pen trials
The owners used another rear endpaper chiefly for handwriting practice, as evinced by the scribbled red stars, numerous strokes for majuscule “E,” and the words “De Anima” in an amateurish italic hand. The Center also owns several books printed by the Estienne family, including Robert’s fourth edition of the vulgate Gospels (1545), Polydore Vergil’s De inuentoribus rerum (1529), and an edition of Erasmus’s Adagia (1558), in addition to his son Henry’s editions of Plato’s Opera omnia (1578) and Maximus of Tyre’s Dissertationes (1557).

Estienne printer's device, from Erasmus Adagia (1558)
Here is the "Scribd" digitized document of these images:

Estienne Dictionarium 1558                                                            

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