Rare Books Signed by Notable Authors

My name is Annemarie Maimone and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh interning in the National Library of Scotland’s Rare Book Collections Department. While doing provenance research, I came across a few books in the collection of particular interest because they contain the signatures and inscriptions of notable authors.

The items I will be discussing for this blog post include books signed by H.G. Wells, Robert Bridges and Compton Mackenzie, as well as one owned by both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.

Signature of H.G. Wells

My earliest discovery was the signature of H.G. Wells in a first edition folio of his eccentric work of fiction, The Door in the Wall and Other Stories, published in 1915 (Hall.3.a). Wells’ signature appears on the verso of the flyleaf underneath the publisher’s handwritten note stating that “This edition is limited to sixty copies for the United Kingdom. January 1915. No.1”. This edition of The Door in the Wall includes photographic illustrations by Alvin Langdon Coburn, who also signed his name just below Wells’ signature.

Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn from “The Door in the Wall”

Illustrating another type of authorial signature, I came across a lovely, 1926 edition of New Verse by the poet Robert Bridges which contains the handwritten inscription “Robert Underwood Johnson with best Xmas wishes from Robert Bridges 1926” on the half-title page ( H1.77.462). Johnson was a distinguished American diplomat, conservationist and published poet (Read More). Bridges was a major literary figure of the early 20th century and was given the honorary post of Poet Laureate in 1913. He counted Gerard Manley Hopkins, Roger Fry, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Henry Newbolt, Mary Coleridge, Robert Graves, Virginia Woolf, and E. M. Forster among his friends and acquaintances (Read more). Bridges apparently gave this “presentation copy” of his poems to Johnson as a Christmas gift, greatly contributing to the book’s material and sentimental importance.

Signature and inscription of Robert Bridges

Another book in the collection signed by its author is a first edition of Compton Mackenzie’s novel, Carnival (H2.81.1325). Mackenzie, a popular 20th-century Scottish author, wrote the dedicatory note “To Ralph Straus this rare book from Compton Mackenzie” on the book’s front free endpaper. It might seem bold to describe your own work as a “rare book”, but Mackenzie’s publisher is careful to note on the same page that “This first edition was entirely sold out by the day of publication” (Watch an interview with Mackenzie here).

Signature and inscription of Compton Mackenzie

For enthusiasts of the Romantic era, I found the signatures of both Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth in a 1569 edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Hall.293.f.4). Their names appear side by side on the title page, the recognizable “S.T. Coleridge” and “W. Wordsworth” inscribed in each poet’s own handwriting. Unlike the other books mentioned, this is an example of a work that was personally owned, not simply written and signed, by popular authors.

Signatures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth

Identifying famous signatures is not always so straightforward,  however. A good example of this is a book I found containing what first appeared to be Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s signature on the title-page. The name looked right; an italicized “S. T. Coleridge” with the address of “Torrington Place”, a neighbourhood in Bloomsbury frequented by Coleridge. A past librarian had even left a note identifying the signature as that of the famous poet. While looking at web images of Coleridge’s known signature, however, I came across the name of his nephew, a certain John Taylor Coleridge who also lived at Torrington Place. Looking back at the signature in the book, I could definitely identify that the “S” was in fact a “J” and the rest of the name fell into place (See a description of John Taylor Coleridge’s signature).

Further reading:

Carter, John. “Presentation Copy.” ABC for Book Collectors. 7th edition. With Corrections, Additions and an Introduction by Nicolas Barker. Oak Knoll Press 1995. International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. http://www.ilab.org/eng/glossary/601-presentation_copy.html.