Book of Common Prayer (1679)


The Book of Common Prayer has been featured multiple times on our website (see here and here). It is the type of religious work that was handled, read, and reread a great deal but also treated with care and preserved well. This copy has evidence of potential female ownership, while it provides us with additional information on the owner(s), as bibles, psalm books, and prayer books often do. Here, we see  a common use to which bibles and books of common prayer were put as repositories of family history. Trusting that these books were handed down from generation to generation, book owners used them as a safe place in which to keep their genealogies. Inscriptions such as these give evidence of what Femke Molekamp calls  “religious reading cultures” (9).

Marginalia in this copy have been slightly cropped but show a series of names beginning with “Elizabeth Walker” at the top and below three male names (Langcaster, James, and John), all of whom appear again at the end of the book. A page at the back of the book details the family history of William and Elizabeth Walker, giving names and birth dates for 9 children, among whom are three women, Elizabeth, Ann, and Elinor; Elinor died aged six. A tenth name, William Gravely, and Ann’s death date, at age 24, are recorded in a different hand. The following page lists Dinah Harrison, born in 1733, and shows an owner’s inscription: “Rob[e]rt Cook his book 1750.” The hand of Robert Cook is different from the hand listing the names on the previous pages, suggesting that we are seeing the marks of multiple owners. We cannot tell for sure who recorded the four names on the cropped page and the longer list of names, but given the spacing of the marginal names, it could be Elizabeth Walker (either the mother or the daughter).

Unfortunately, no place name is recorded, which would help us trace this family further.

The use of the book is also shown in a marginal note, which partly quotes from one of the prayers in the book, the “collect” spoken at communion: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord, amen” (sig. B5r). The inscription reads: “Self to cleanse my thoughts by the Inspiration of thy holy Spirit to open my Eyes and manifest thyself unto me, and assist me with such a measure of Grace in offering up these my Spiritual sacrifices that they be acceptable to the[e] by Jesus X my Lord amen.” It is impossible to tell who wrote the inscription, but the book as a whole shows the various uses to which religious books, including especially bibles, books of psalms, and the Book of Common Prayer, could be put.

This rare edition, the bookseller explains, includes some special prayers to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the death of Charles I, and the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by Schilbantiquarian on 4/26/19.

Further Reading

Femke Molekamp, Women and the Bible in Early Modern England: Religious Reading and Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

The Bible, That Is, the Holy Scriptures Conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament (1586)


This 16th-century Bible, bound with a 1584 Book of Psalms, is adorned with the florid 17th-century signature of Ann Kent. She appends her inscription: “Her Book April ye 27th. An: Dni: 1696.”


Though women’s signatures in Bibles are quite common, it is rare to see an inscription so intricate. Ann may have been inspired to show off her calligraphy as a result of the text’s sacred nature.

Source: Book offered for sale by Cobnar Books, 4/24/19. Images used with permission.

Richard Sibbes, The Soules Conflict (1636)

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The Folger Library houses a particularly interesting copy of Richard Sibbes’s The Soules Conflict (1636) with multiple signs of female ownership. (I have reproduced the EEBO version of the title page of the same book held in the Cambridge University Library, since the Folger website does not include a title page.) This book must have been special to its owner Anne Lake, who had it bound by the masterful binder William Nott, also known as the Queen’s binder. Not only did she have a book label (of full page size) pasted on the front of the book, which  includes her name and the date (1638), but the lovely leather binding also displays her initials. Book labels were frequently used by women, either to denote ownership or to include in a book presented as a gift.


Two other owners left their mark on the pastedown: Sir R. Leicester and Mary Griffiths, whose dating shows she owned the book 90 years after Anne Lake acquired it.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was a fairly moderate Puritan theologian and preacher, active in Cambridge and London. Nothing else is known (yet) of Anne Lake or Mary Griffiths.

Source: EEBO Cambridge University copy of STC (2nd ed.) / 22509. Folger Luna, STC 22510. Reproduced with permission by Creative Commons License.

Further Reading

Brian North Lee, Early Printed Boook Labels: A Catalogue of Dated Personal Labels and Gift Labels Printed in Britain to the Year 1760. Pinner: Private Libraries Association and the Bookplate Society, 1976.

John Speed, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain (1676)

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John Speed, An Epitome of Mr. John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain. London, 1676.  Folger 236- 024q

John Speed (1552?-1629) was one of the most important early English cartographers. His Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was first published in 1612 and many times thereafter, both as a folio-sized volume and eventually as a smaller book, called An Epitome of . . . [the] Theatre, easy to hold in the hand or carry in a pouch. It contains county maps as well as descriptive text to go with each.


The 1676 edition seen here importantly included for the first time maps of the New World, including New England, New Netherlands “now called New-York,” Carolina, Jamaica and Barbadoes. The map of New England and New York shows part of Maryland (on the lower left) but not yet Pennsylvania.

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A woman named Sarah Walker noted the omission in 1826 when she recorded the presence of this book in her library.

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She writes: “Sarah Walker has just now (May 15th 1826) re[?] that at the time of the publication of this Book, it could be little suspected it would be preserved in a Library to be collected in a country not yet known by name. Pennsylvania was not then granted to its great and good Founder.”

This “Founder” was, of course, William Penn ( 1644-1718), son of Admiral Penn to whom Charles II owed an old debt. In 1681 the King paid off this debt through a land-grant of about 40,000 square acres south of New York and west of Delaware to the Admiral’s son. By this time, William Penn had joined the new religious sect of Quakers, and he established his colony as a place of religious freedom for all.

Sarah Walker may have been Sarah Miller Walker (1799-1874), a single woman, who lived at Woodburne in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Her commonplace book is in the Lamb-Booth-Miller papers at Swarthmore College. During the 1820s and 30s, she appears to have corresponded with her friend Deborah Norris Logan from another Quaker family. (These papers are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Note the word “Logan” written on the title page of the Speed volume, as seen above. It is hoped that further research comparing the handwriting of the inscription with that in the commonplace book will confirm the attribution.

Source: Folger 236- 024q. All photos by Georgianna Ziegler.

Hugh Latimer, Fruitfull Sermons (1596)


This 1596 edition of Hugh Latimer’s sermons has four inscriptions from at least two female owners on the first front flyleaf.


The first set of inscriptions—”An Baley hir Book”; “Mary hor Book”; “mary An Baley har[?]”—may well have been made by the same individual, whose slightly clumsy script suggests a child not yet fully confident of her letters testing out variants of her name. The second owner, Elizabeth Owin, repeats a religious refrain common to many inscriptions: “god give hir grace thereen to Look and when her pasing bell doth tole the Lord in heaven reseve her soul.”


There are further expunged signatures reading “An Baley” and “Mary Baley” on the second front flyeaf, as well as a 1766 inscription from “Tho: Bayley.”


Source: Book offered for sale by Berwyn Books on 5/31/19. Images used with permission.

James Howell’s Lexicon Tetraglotton (1660)

By Melanie Bigold

In the Folger Library’s copy of James Howell’s Lexicon Tetraglotton (1660), an English-French-Italian-Spanish dictionary, there is a defaced name that can just be made out despite the heavy scoring: ‘Kath. Bridgeman’. There is also an armorial bookplate, identified by the Folger cataloguer as belonging to the Bridgeman family. The simple calf binding looks to be contemporary, though the spine has since been repaired.

When you work on provenance, names start to sound familiar, but a quick glance through my spreadsheet of female owners of libraries revealed why this one jumped out. ‘Kath’ or Katherine Bridgeman has the distinction of being one of the few women whose library is documented in the form of a sale catalogue. The late Robin Alston’s excellent work, Inventory of Sale Catalogues of Named and Attributed Owners of Books Sold By Retail or Auction, 1676-1800 (2010),lists a 1743 auction catalogue for her library: A Catalogue of the Entire Library of Mrs. Katherine Bridgeman, (Of Cavendish Square) Deceased. The catalogue itself lists 752 lots, including numerous manuscripts and prints. Is Howell’s Lexicon among the works listed? Why yes, it is.

A contemporary, annotated copy of the catalogue, marked with the prices realised at the auction, also survives in the Bodleian library collections. This informs us that Howell’s dictionary went for just 3 shillings and 9 pence in 1743 (it is item #52 above). More Bridgeman-associated books are listed on the University of Toronto’s British Armorial Bindings website. Almost all of them are also in the auction catalogue. One now at Cambridge contains an inscription: ‘Bought at Mrs Bridgeman’s Sale Feb 8th 1742’ (

The Toronto website indicates that the Bridgeman binding is associated with Richard Bridgeman. The sale catalogue identifies these books as Katherine’s and her defaced signature suggests that she attempted to mark her ownership. Were Richard and Katherine married? Is this an example of a joint or inherited family library that was finally dispersed at the death of Katherine? If you know of any other Bridgeman examples that might shed light on the library, please let us know.

Email:; Twitter: @womenslibraries


Photos by Melanie Bigold, reproduced with permission.

Folger’s copy of Howell’s Lexicon (shelfmark H3088 Folio):

Bodleian copy of Katherine Bridgeman’s catalogue (shelfmark Mus. Bibl. III 8° 55(1)):

Bridgeman bindings on the British Armorial Bindings website (University of Toronto):

The Book of Common Prayer (1706)

This is another Book of Common Prayer with multiple female inscriptions, but this book is particularly intriguing. This edition, which features an engraving of Queen Anne and a beautiful cover, shows an example of women marking books as theirs through ornamental metal decoration on the outside. Sarah Gwynn, who owned this book, gives her name and date of acquisition, May ye (the) 1st, 1707. In the back of the book, another woman, Susanna Webb, signed and added “her Book” in 1770.

But what makes this book even more interesting is the handwriting that appears on multiple pages.

Found on one of the last page and written upside down, this series of numbers may be pages the owner found especially important.

Although it looks like some secret code, my guess is that this is a form of shorthand, given the appearance of regular words like “prfect.” In the seventeenth century, shorthand was used to record sermons, for instance, as the Folgerpedia explains, which may well be the case here.

Source: Book seen on the bookmarket in Deventer on August 4, 2019, offered for sale by Peter Dullaert, Heilige Handel. Photos by Martine van Elk, taken with permission.

Further Reading

“Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print.” Folgerpedia, November 2016.