Guest post – Investigating Provenance

My name is Lauren Kraut, a Postgraduate at the University of Edinburgh and am interning in the Rare Books Department working on a provenance project.  Imagine your own library; do you buy or sell books to a secondhand shop? Have you exchanged books with friends?  Each time a book changes hands, another person is added to that book’s provenance.  It is our duty to locate as many owners as possible by the clues left behind in the books themselves.

Armorial bookplate of Sir David StewartFor example, Essays in Philosophy (ABS.2.79.81) was written by Alexander Campbell Fraser, M.A., Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, New College, Edinburgh.  It was published in Edinburgh and in London in 1856.  On the paste-down is an armorial bookplate of Sir David Stewart of Banchory Devenick.  On the recto of the first fly leaf is the inscription “Reverend Dr Brown with the author’s affectionate regard. Edinburgh, 3 June 1856.”  On the verso of the page, opposite the title page, is a bookplate from the National Library of Scotland with Dr. Jonathan Miller’s name (the polymath?) typed in at the bottom of the bookplate in recognition of his donation to the library.

Here we have four owners: the original author, Professor Fraser; Sir David Stewart; Reverend Brown and Dr. Miller.

I want to include in my entry as much information I can find.  I began by turning to the invaluable Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to search for Sir David Stewart.  No luck.  His is a popular name but the bookplate gave me a location of Banchory Devenick, which would help narrow my search down.  By checking Armorial Families – a complete peerage, baronetage and knightage, I was able to find Sir David, born in 1835, whose father had been Justice of the Peace in Banchory Devenick.  In 1860, Sir David married Margaret Dyce, daughter of Reverend David Brown, Principal of Free Church College, Aberdeen.  I found the connection between two of the owners!Inscription from Professor Fraser to Reverend Brown

To continue!  Professor Fraser was found in the Oxford DNB and I learned that in 1846 he began teaching at Free Church’s theological college, New College in Edinburgh.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find a direct connection between Professor Fraser and Reverend Brown, but they may have known of each other as they were both very active in the Free Church of Scotland.

After making inquiries within the library about Dr. Jonathan Miller, the donor of this book, it was determined that it was indeed the same man.  He has donated several books to the library over the years, this being one of them!

It would seem that after Professor Fraser gave the book to Reverend Brown, Reverend Brown then may have passed it to his son-in-law, Sir David.  Its progression after that is more complex: how did it get to Dr. Miller?

Essays in Philsophy has certainly had a lucrative and busy history!

Further Reading

  • Armorial Families – a complete peerage, baronetage and knightage, and a directory of some gentlemen of coat-armour, and being the first attempt to show which arms in use at the moment are borne by legal authority, Complied and Edited by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (Edinburgh, 1893) NLS Shelfmark S.296.b, Pg. 931