By Sophie Floate
In my work cataloguing the rare books of several Oxford College libraries, I come across many interesting clues as to the provenance of the books. Though some books were bought directly from the booksellers by the colleges, others came from alumni, who in turn acquired their books from a variety of sources. I was cataloguing a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac’s A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun, printed in London in 1687, in the library of Hertford College, Oxford, when I noticed a distinctive signature on one of the endpapers.
Feeling sure I had seen this signature before, I searched these pages and found Sarah Lindenbaum’s blog post of March 30, 2020. The inscription in our book matches the others found by Sarah, this time with the date 1706 and the price 3s 6d. We can’t be sure how this book ended up in Hertford College Library, though it has certainly been here since the 19th century, as it has an ownership note of “Magdalen Hall Library” on the title page.
Magdalen Hall later became the second iteration of Hertford College (the first Hertford College was founded in 1740 but dissolved in 1805) when it was refounded in 1874–you can read more about its history here: https://archive-cat.hertford.ox.ac.uk/researchGuides/briefGuide. However, there is an earlier, as yet unidentified, provenance inscription on the first free endpaper, which pre-dates Katherine’s.
This edition of Cyrano de Bergerac’s work, first published posthumously in France in 1657, also has a correction, possibly by Katherine, on a torn page (leaf ²B8).
It is an interesting work to add to the others found by Sarah, continuing to show the breadth of Katherine’s interests. This early work of science fiction inspired the work of later writers such as Jonathan Swift and Voltaire and touches on philosophy, religion, and politics.
Hertford Library collection is open to researchers (https://www.hertford.ox.ac.uk/and-more/rarebooks-archives/rare-books) and partly catalogued on the university catalogue SOLO. There is still much to be discovered within the collections at Hertford College, and the ongoing cataloguing project will hopefully provide more interesting examples of early female owners.
Images by Sophie Floate, © Principal, Fellows and Scholars of Hertford College, University of Oxford. Reproduced with permission.