The following post is by Haim Gottschalk, Hebraica-Judaica Cataloging Librarian for the Israel and Judaica Section of the Asian and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress.
When I started cataloging Hebrew incunabula (books printed between 1455 and 1501), I was introduced to the wonderful world of provenance: the idea that each book has a story to tell about its journey of belonging. At the same time, I discovered the Footprints Project, a database that, in the words of its creators, “collects and aggregates information about the movement of copies of Hebrew books and books of Judaica in other languages printed in the early modern period (roughly corresponding to the hand-press era) and follows evidence of their movement into the twenty-first century.” The project documents the physical evidence of a single copy of a book that was touched by a particular user, such as owner, dealer, scholar, or censor. Two of the books that I cataloged at the Library of Congress share a wonderful set of footprints—those of the Duke of Sussex.
Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, lived during the last quarter of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. He supported British parliamentary reform, the abolition of the slave trade, and argued for the removal of civil restrictions placed on dissenters. The Duke of Sussex was also a book collector.
The Library of Congress has a number of books from the Duke’s library, including Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, and Johannes Auerbach’s Summa de sacramentis. The Duke’s library consisted of more than 50,000 books and manuscripts, 12,000 of which were related to theology. The Duke’s Hebrew Bible collection consisted of forty-eight manuscripts and 101 printed books. Of the 101 imprints, ten were portions of the Hebrew Bible. The Library of Congress holds two of those volumes, the Former Prophets (Nevi’im rishonim) and Later Prophets (Neviʼim aḥaronim). Together, they form a set.
Both books were printed by the celebrated Hebrew printer, Joshua Solomon Soncino in Soncino, Italy. The Former Prophets was printed in 1485, and the Later Prophets was printed slightly thereafter in 1485 or 1486. The imprints are glossed, which means that the main biblical text is accompanied by a commentary. In the case of both imprints, the gloss was written by the famous medieval rabbi and biblical commentator, David Kimchi (12th-century, France), who is best known for his commentary on the books of Prophets. In the Library of Congress’ copy, portions of the text in the Later Prophets have been struck-through, which suggests that the volume was censored by an unidentified expurgator, whose signature is now washed out.
After the Duke of Sussex passed away on April 21, 1843, his library of 50,000 items went on the auction block. Starting on July 1, 1844, for nearly one month, Mess. Evens at 93 Pall Mall in London began the process of auctioning-off the Duke’s library. The Former Prophets and the Later Prophets were sold together as item number 360. The set was likely sold to William Crawford of Cork (d. 1840), who was a benefactor of the Cork School of Art and a book collector. William Crawford’s collection was later inherited by his son, William Horatio Crawford (1812/15-1888), who, like his father, was a philanthropist and book collector. Both volumes were in William Horatio Crawford’s library when he died in 1888, and both volumes still bear the collector’s ex Libris (bookplate).
William Horatio Crawford’s library was later auctioned by Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge in London, on March 12, 1891. The Former Prophets and the Later Prophets were sold, again, as a set under item number 3102. The volumes were purchased for £10, 10s by the book dealer and publisher, H. Grevel and Company of Covent Gardens in London. Just how long H. Grevel and Company kept the set is not clear, but, not too many years later, these same volumes become part of the collection of the Honorable John Boyd Thacher (1847 –1909).
For the first time since being a part of the Duke of Sussex’s Library, the set was entered as two distinct items in the John Boyd Thacher Collection catalogue: items 382 and 383.
The mayor of Albany, NY and a New York State Senator, John Boyd Thacher was also a historian and book collector of material related to Christopher Columbus, the French Revolution, incunabula, and manuscripts. Thacher passed away in February 1909, and his widow, Emma Treadwell Thacher, inherited the collection. She deposited parts of the collection in the Library of Congress beginning on April 27, 1910, and continued to until February of 1921, the year in which Former Prophets and Later Prophets arrived. In 1927, this collection was officially bequeathed to the Library of Congress in its entirety. Today, the volumes remain a part of the John Boyd Thacher Collection, and they contribute to the strength of the Library’s incunabula holdings.
Margolis, M., Lehman, M., Shear, A., & Teplitsky, J. (2023). Footprints: A Digital Approach to (Jewish) Book History. European Journal of Jewish Studies, 17(2), 297-326.
Medieval Academy of America. Medieval Digital Resources: A Curated Guide and Database (MDR). Footprints: Jewish Books through Time and Place.
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