Sunday, February 8, 2015


Provenance, according to L. D. Mitchell of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, is a way "to confirm or gather evidence as to the time, place, and if appropriate, the person responsible, for the creation, production or discovery of an object." Now that is a more complicated and sophisticated way of saying it allows us to know who has previously owned the object. It is important to point out that the object we are looking at in this blog will be the book because this is a book blog, but I feel that it is also important to mention that provenance is not just limited to books. Provenance can be found in any piece of art or historical object. In books, provenance can take multiple forms: documentation of the original purchase, a note between two friends or lovers, even commentary in the margins of the pages.

So why does provenance matter when we are looking at art, in particular books? Well, let's think for a minute. Most rare books are older, but just because a book is old, does not mean that it is rare. At the time all these impressively bound and produced books were being made, many other copies were made, leading to an array of duplicate copies. These copies, however, were not the same as the original. They may not be bound the same or perhaps have different paper and typography, but this is difficult to identify for most people. Even if these duplicate books are made identical to the original book, it is still not the original. So again, what is important about provenance?

Once again, let's think. If we know who owned the book previously, then we are able to establish a timeline for the book. This ownership timeline will allow us to learn about the history of the book, the journey it has taken from the time it was produced and published to its first owners and libraries where it was stored. By knowing the history of the book, we are able to determine the authenticity of the book, as well as, the influential people who once owned them. To sum this all up, provenance is an identification method; it can authenticate a book and show its true value, both historically and literally. It historically shows its value by revealing the life of the book to its owner; it can show its owner a single place or multiple places the book as visited, the hands it has been touched by, and the shelves it has been placed in. Of course, once you can authenticate a book with its provenance, then its real price also shows. Provenance can increase a books value tremendously, the more well-known the person was who owned the book the more expensive it will become. So for those of you who find a book with some writing in it, do not think of it as someone's useless scribbles because you may never know what path that book as traveled.

Provenance Type: Documentation of ownership

Provenance Type: Note; Written "This book of Arcadia was given me by my Dearest Ant ^dam Ann Ker^ Lady Balmerino in Anno 1647 Jedbrugh

Provenance Type: Commentary; Located at the top and mid right margin.

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