Book of Common Prayer (1694), The Holy Bible Containing the Old Testament and the New (1695)

Women’s ownership inscriptions are plentiful in Bibles and Books of Common Prayer. This little 6″ leather-bound volume contains evidence of at least six generations of women owners.

We begin with Jane Neame, who signs the book four times using three different styles and dates her earliest inscription “1702.” On the front flyleaf verso, she has written “A Prayer to be used at our coming in to publick.” Beneath the prayer are the 1731 inscriptions of Jane Baker. The uppercase J is formed identically to the J in the inscription on the upper edge of the facing recto page and we can infer that Jane Baker was Jane Neame’s married name.

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Next we have Elizabeth Youngman. She writes, “This Book was given to me … by my Aunt Elizabeth Baker and Cousin Sarah Baker August the 22. 1776.” Elizabeth Baker was presumably a relative of Jane Neame Baker, perhaps a sister or a daughter.

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We then jump ahead forty years, when Ann Williams of Dover records that the book is given to her by her father on “November th 8[?] 1816.” Beneath the gift inscription, she adds a book curse, warning that when the thief dies, “the lord will say where is that book you stol a way.”

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Book-cursing Ann Williams appears to have passed the book to her daughter. The next dated inscription reads, “Mary Ann Keigwin this book was given to me by my dear Mother on the 1st May 1861.” The final inscription was made by Mary Ann’s daughter, Florence Keigwin MacCartney “after the death of her dear Mother Mary Ann Keigwin who died on this 28th day of January 1895.”

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Finally, the book contains undated inscriptions from John and Elizabeth Broadbent.

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Source: Book offered for sale by eBay seller atlantavintagebooks1, 4/10/19. Images used with permission.

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.

Anne Bogan: New Testament (1638) and Book of Psalms (1640)

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By Maureen E. Maryanski

This twenty-fourmo New Testament printed by Robert Barker in London in 1638 is bound together with The Whole Booke of Psalmes, collected into English meter by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, William Whittingham and others…. printed by J.L. in London in 1640. Bound in satin and embroidered with colored silks and silver thread, the binding features the figure of a woman in a yellow dress on both covers. Flower patterns surround the central oval panels and decorate the spine. While the identity of the embroidering binder is unknown, one owner left her mark throughout the little volume: Anne Bogan. In one inscription, her last name has been blotted out with ink, but her note “her book” is still legible. A later hand added Bogan in pencil beneath the ink blot. Bonus: gorgeous gilt gauffered edges!

Source: The Lilly Library, Indiana University Bloomington, call number: BS2085 1638 .L5. Photographs by Maureen E. Maryanski.

Swenska Psalm-Boken, Med the Stycker, som ther til höra and Evangelia och Epistlar På alla Söndagar, Högtider och Helgedagar (1778)




By Henning Hansen

Although separate titles in their own right, these two books, The Swedish Hymnbook and a collection of Biblical passages for all Sundays and Holy Days, are seen so often together that they can rightfully be called the yin and yang of the early modern Swedish book market. Bestsellers in their time, with new editions coming every other year, they were a must-have for both wealthy and poor. These editions of Swenska Psalm-Boken and Evangelia och Epistlar were printed in Stockholm by the aging printer and woodcutter Carl Stolpe (1721–83).

The set, which is in private hands, is neatly bound in vellum, with gold-tooled covers and marbled flyleaves. One of the flyleaves bears an inscription by a woman who most likely was the first owner of the book. The short inscription is composed of parts written in the archaic gothic handwriting (kurrent) as well as modern script (antiqua), which by the late eighteenth century was gaining ground in Sweden among all sections of society.

Anna. Erics. dotter
hörrer denna Boken
Till. d. 4: Sep=er
åhr.. 1779  

The passage translates to: “Anna Eric’s daughter does this book belong to. The 4th of September year 1779.” With a name as common as Anna Eric’s daughter and no geographical location or further provenance, it is very hard to find out more about the owner of the books. Anna, the daughter of Eric. That is all. It is not very surprising that these books belonged to a woman, since women were often gifted with a hymnbook when they were engaged or when they married. The hymnbook, or the combined hymnbook and Evangelia och Epistlar, was usually given to them by their husbands-to-be. Quite often, the covers were decorated in an archaic and characteristic style, with Biblical motives, but sometimes also with hearts and verses. They are so common that they have their own name in Swedish; fästmansband (‘Fiancé binding’ or ‘Peasant binding’).

Inscriptions made by the woman, often referring to her love for the future husband, is a common sight in these books. Since so many hymnbooks from the early modern period belonged to peasant women, they constitute a valuable resource when it comes to studying book culture and writing ability within this social group.

Source: book in a private collection. Images used with permission

The Holy Bible (1628)

Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5
Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5. (I’ve shown the back first because it’s in slightly better shape than the front.)

You’ll probably see a lot of bibles as this blog grows, and at least three women signed their names to this one. The earliest signature belongs to Judith Martin, who must have received and inscribed her copy shortly after it was printed in 1628:


Judeth Martin her
booke, by the gift
of her Brother,
Jos. Andrewe.
Jan: 15th. 1628

Elizabeth Sherod seems to have acquired the book later.

It’s not immediately apparent who created the beautiful embroidered binding, but it is tempting to think it is Judith’s own work.


Note the gilt and gauffered edges, too.

The nineteenth-century signature is a bit trickier, although “Her Book” is very clear. Any guesses?

Houghton STC 2283.5 flyleaf


Source: The Holy Bible (1628). STC STC 2283.5, sig. A1r, endleaf, and binding. Houghton Library, Cambridge, MA, USA. Photographed by Erin A. McCarthy.

The Holy Bible (1599)


When looking for early modern Chinese books in the Special Collections of the University of Colorado Library, Katherine Alexander came across this instance of English female book ownership (see her blog post about it): a 1599 bible in which a woman named Susanna Harding inscribed her signature no fewer than three times. Interestingly, she also noted the price and date of purchase: “Her Bible Cost 2 s [shillings], the first Day of December 1742.” This means she acquired a bible that was 143 years old, making it “Her Book.” This type of inscription is common in early modern books, and it is helpful in terms of dating the signature, the moment of acquisition, and book prices. Two other owners (presumably not related to Susanna Harding since she bought it) signed the book before her, Thomas Finch in 1686 and George Heath in 1714.

Source: University of Colorado, Boulder, Special Collections, shelf mark BS170 1599. Photo taken by Katherine Alexander and reproduced with permission.