Author: Adam Shear

Footprints and the Duke of Sussex (Augustus, 1773-1843)


The First Duke of Sussex, Royal Society portrait, circa 1838  (via wikimedia commons

The April 20, 2020 New Yorker has a fascinating article by Rebecca Mead on everyone’s favorite ex-royals, Meghan and Harry, that compares their unconventional relationship with the rest of the royal family to that of the first Duke of Sussex (Harry is the second Duke), Prince Augustus, sixth son of King George III.  If you read the article, you were probably drawn, like me, to one of the really interesting facts about Augustus–that he “amassed a large library of valuable books and manuscripts at his apartments in Kensington Palace” and that “he owned a collection of sixteenth-century Hebrew Bibles, and studied them with a tutor.”  Mead leaves off here talking about Augustus’ library and his early Hebrew printed books to turn to his two marriages contracted without royal consent (and thus semi-scandalous by early nineteenth century standards).

Thomas Pettigrew (without the mummies) (Wellcome collection;

The New Yorker doesn’t have footnotes, or Mead might have referred you to the catalogues of Augustus’ book collection to see the extent of his collection yourself.  In 1827, the Duke’s personal librarian, Thomas Pettigrew (1791-1865) crafted a two-volume Bibliotheca Sussexiana , a partial catalogue with notes on the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Bibles, which he followed up with a second volume in 1839, covering the Bibles in other languages including not only English, German, French, and Italian but also Coptic, Arabic, Slavonic, and so forth.   In the preface to that volume, Pettigrew expresses his regret that he wasn’t able to complete a catalogue of the entire vast library or even just the biblical portions in a timely way:  “I could have wished to have been able to devote my time to the completion of this memorial of a portion of its entirety; but my first duty has been exercised upon objects of a different nature, and my professional avocations demand all the time it is in my power to command.”  Indeed, Pettigrew was a busy man:  he was also a surgeon, anatomy professor, freemason, antiquarian, and book collector in his own right.  The “objects of a different nature” were most likely understood by those in his social circles to mean mummies.  He was Victorian England’s best-known amateur Egyptologist and was famous for throwing parties where he would unroll and then dissect mummies for his guests.  A few years later, others got to work on another catalogue of a large part of the collection, published also under the Biblioteca Susexiana title (now a brand?) in 1844.

So what happened to the Duke’s 50,000 books and manuscripts?  They were actually locked away in the Kensington Palace attic in crates labeled “property of the Duke of Sussex” and presented to Harry and Meghan after their wedding. The books were supposed to be shipped last month to the new library that the former royals are building at their vacation home on Vancouver Island, but the pandemic is holding things up.

Had you going, right?  Actually, the books were sold at auction in 1844 (the occasion for that other catalogue) and are now scattered in library collections around the world.

The Duke and his collection had made two appearances in Footprints before Mead’s article caught my eye and led me to take a closer look. One footprint tells us that Augustus’ interest in Hebraica went beyond Bibles.  Indeed, the Prince-Duke was keeping up with relatively recently published rabbinic works:  his library included a copy of responsa and novellae on the Talmud tractate Rosh Hashanah by Judah Loeb Margolioth (1747-1811), rabbi in Frankfurt der Oder and author of halakhic and ethical treatises.  This copy of Sefer Korban Reshit printed in 1777 made its way from the Duke of Sussex to renowned Judaica bibliographer Shimon Brisman who eventually sold it to Washington University in St. Louis.  The Duke of Sussex’s book plate from this volume can be found here, from an on-line exhibit of the Brisman Collection at Washington University.

Bibliotheca Sussexiana: the Extensive And Valuable Library of His Royal Highness the Late Duke of Sussex, K.G. &c. &c. … Which Will Be Sold by Auction by Messrs. Evans, No. 93, Pall Mall. (London, 1844) University of California copy (via Hathitrust)

I wanted to see how the Duke’s auctioneers (Messrs Evans, no 93, Pall Mall) described this book so I turned to the published catalog of 1844.  I was surprised not to find it there. Although this first volume of Biblioteca Sussexiana purportedly includes all of his Bible and theological works, it also lists over 200 works by “rabbinical authors.”  Yet Margolioth’s Sefer Korban Reshit seems to be missing.  Although two later volumes were meant to be published (one covering manuscripts and the other covering “History, Antiquities, Topography, &c), these are not extant.  The upshot:  we can’t say for sure whether Augustus’ copy of Sefer Korban Reshit was sold in 1844.

Another thought comes to mind:  most of the “rabbinical” works listed in the 1844 catalog are by famous Jewish–and Christian–authors who were part of a standard Hebraist curriculum.  Sefer Korban Reshit was a fairly recent book and the author was not  one that would have been well-known among the gentleman bibliophiles of 1840s London.  Could this be the tip of an iceberg of recent seforim of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century acquired by the bibliomaniac and Hebrew superfan Duke and then sold off at some later point in large lots to Jewish bookdealers in less fashionable parts of London?   The two other pre-Brisman footprints indeed suggest that this book-copy spent some time away from the rarefied world of Kensington Palace in Jewish circles:  The first of these derives from a book stamp in Russian from 1837 with the name “V.A.M. Ravin.”  A censor?  A Jewish owner?  (For now, the closure of the Washington University Library in the pandemic prevents further examination.)   Did the Duke acquire this late in his life–after 1837?  or was it “deaccessioned” by Augustus and Pettigrew in 1837?  We also have a signature of an “Aharon Zitits” who  owned this book at some point.  Before 1837 or after 1844?  More work remains to be done here.

bookplates from the NYPL copy of the Bologna Pentatuech

NYPL **P (Bible. O.T. Pentateuch. Hebrew. 1482) photo:

The second footprint is more in line with the Duke’s interest in early printed Bibles:  here is a footprint where we can see his bookplate in a copy of the Bologna Pentateuch of 1482 at the New York Public Library, one of the earliest printings of the Hebrew Bible, the first with vocalization and the first  with Rashi’s commentary.  And it’s a  book that still has a wow factor:  Christie’s sold another copy of this in 2014 for $3.87 million. We know from  another bookplate in the NYPL copy of this book that this was also owned by William Stuart who had a library at Tempsford Hall, a country home in Bedfordshire, England.  Eventually the book was sold again to the Lenox Library, one of the predecessors of the current NYPL.

The Duke apparently obtained his copy of the Bologna Pentateuch from Luigi Celotti (c. 1765-1846), an abbot turned bookdealer originally from Venice. Celotti was famous (or infamous) for selling looted books and art in Venice, Florence, and London.  In 1825, Samuel Sotheby, the forerunner of the famous auction house, handled multiple sales for Celotti, including a sale of his Hebrew, Greek, and Latin manuscripts, his Italian and Spanish printed books, and manuscripts (including Hebrew) from the libraries of Matteo Luigi Canonici and the Saibante family.  None of these seem to be the source of this copy, so we need some more research to track down the earlier provenance of the Celotti-Sussex-Tempsford Hall-NYPL Bologna Pentateuch copy and the point at which Sussex obtained the book from Celotti.

We might also need some more research to figure out the post-Sussex provenance as well–and here is where things get even stranger:  once again, I could not find this book in either the 1827 Pettigrew work or the 1844 auction catalog. So we have evidence of two books that undoubtedly belonged to the Duke (the bookplates are pretty clear), but left the Kensington Palace library in some other way than the prominent auction held after the Duke’s death.  I think my scenario above for Sefer Korban Reshit is plausible.  But we need a different explanation here.  And right now I don’t have one.

So, more to come.  On one side, we can enter “historical copy” footprints from the Biblioteca Sussexiana volumes; on the other end, I expect we will find more from this collection now in various library collections as we look at extant books, current library catalogs and later auction catalogues.  We also have at least two data points to suggest that books were being sold off through other venues than the Evans auction house.

Even more mysteries:  I took a short break from writing this blog post to enter the 1844 sales footprint for the first pre-1800 Hebrew Bible listed in the Biblioteca Sussexiana catalog, lot #2.  This is a Pentateuch with Five Megillot and Haftarot, printed by Foa in Sabbioneta in 1557.  The 1844 auction catalog tells us it was printed on vellum and was previously owned by “Rev. T. Williams.”   Thanks to social media quick help from an expert on where Hebrew books were coming and going in the nineteenth century, Noam Sienna, I was able to find that the library of the Reverend Theodore Williams was auctioned in April 1827.  A copy of that auction catalogue now at the New York Public Library (and digitized here) even has  handwritten notations of buyers and prices paid!

detail from NYPL copy (via Hathitrust) of A Catalogue of the Library of the Rev. Theodore Williams:…[London, 1827.]

The buyer of this book is listed there as “Grenville”–almost certainly a reference to Thomas Grenville (1755-1846), a prominent politician and diplomat also famous for his enormous book collection. When the childless Grenville died in 1846, he left his collection to the British Museum.  (His collecting career and library are described by Barry Taylor in Libraries and Library Collections, published a few years ago by the British Library.)  Since we know the book was later in the library of the Duke of Sussex and Grenville was known for buying books, not for giving them away or selling them, perhaps this catalog inscription was in error or perhaps Grenville was acting as an agent for the Duke at the sale. Indeed, in the 1842 catalog of his collection, Biblioteca Grenvilliana, the work is not found, which makes the Grenville-as-agent or sales-catalog-annotator-was-careless theories even more plausible. (Or maybe Sussex, Pettigrew, Grenville, William Stuart of Thompson Hall, and other notable bibliophiles just gathered regularly and traded their rare Hebrew books after a fun evening of unwrapping mummies?)

What about the current whereabouts for this copy that went from Theodore Williams maybe to Thomas Grenville and definitely to the Duke of Sussex and not the British Library?  I have a very preliminary candidate:  Cambridge University Library’s catalog lists a copy of this “on vellum” but without provenance information.  So let the hunt begin!








Announcing… the Year of INCUNABULA [AT] FOOTPRINTS

Consider this blog post part of a soft roll-out of a new concept here at Footprints HQ:  we are dubbing calendar year 2018 as the “Year of Incunabula.”  (If you read the last blog post from my colleague Michelle Chesner, you already know about some of our efforts in this direction.) Although we will continue to take in data on post-1500 imprints, we  have begun to focus our efforts on adding as many footprints of pre-1500 Hebrew printed books as we can between now and December 31, 2018.  (Stay tuned for the announcement–around this time next year–of 2019’s theme.)

In designing and launching Footprints, we explored many approaches to gathering data..  Some of our colleagues suggested focusing on a particular set of literary works and their editions and dissemination. (A wonderful model of this kind of research is The Archaeology of Reading at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and University of London, with our advisory board member Anthony Grafton as one of the participants.)  Such a project–working from a limited corpus– allows great strides to be made in a limited amount of time.  Others suggested that we look at the output of a particular printer (we could have started by tracking down everything printed by Soncino) or the books printed in a particular city (Amsterdam in the 17th century).  Others suggested that we focus on the formation of particular collections.  

We heard these suggestions but resisted going this route as the project started.  Despite all of the potential in these options, we did not want to limit the scope of the project in the moments of its inception.   By looking at “Jewish” books (including books printed in Hebrew or other Jewish languages; books in non-Jewish languages on Jewish topics; and books owned by Jews regardless of content) printed in different places and times and their movement across time and place without limitations, we were able to explore the possibilities and limits of this new  kind of research project. In the iterative process of digital scholarship, we didn’t want to foreclose fruitful lines of discussion before we even got started.  And while this open approach has had some costs, the benefit can be seen in the architecture and flexibility of our database.  No doubt casting the net widely leads to some inefficiencies but other efficiencies are gained:  if we were focusing on production by Daniel Bomberg only, would it have made sense for me to sit in a rare book room and examine a Bomberg book carefully while ignoring the riches in a Soncino imprint bound with it?  If we were focusing on a set list of books and I found references to these in an estate inventory, should I put aside the books owned by a particular collector not on this list?

That open approach will continue  as we build the database, but we have decided for several reasons to make a special push on incunabula this year. Choosing to focus on incunabula benefits us the most right now for building Footprints in a more systematic way, and also enables researchers interested in who read, owned, bought and sold these books to acquire the most comprehensive view of this area of the history of the Hebrew book as possible. You could say, we want to begin again from the beginning.

Toward this end,  we are joining forces with the 15CBooktrade project led by Cristina Dondi of Oxford University, a long-time advisor to Footprints. Our colleagues at 15CBooktrade have started to see the finish line in collecting information about incunabula in an  ambitious and incredibly rich database, Material Evidence in Incunabula  (MEI). Thanks to a generous grant, 15CBooktrade/MEI will hire 3 dedicated researchers to work on Hebrew incunabula for six months in 2018.  One will be based in Oxford, focusing on collections in the UK and northern Europe; one in Jerusalem, focusing on Israeli collections; and one in Italy, focusing on the richness of Italian and some other European collections. These researchers will enter all of the copy-specific features of incunabula in their areas into MEI and also record the “footprints” into our database.  

Meanwhile, our goal is to cover the major collections of Hebrew incunabula in North America.  We’ll be focused on the rich collections in the New York area, Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Ottawa, as well as smaller collections or single copies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford, Providence,  Bloomington, IN, and Provo Utah. (I am heading to Chicago soon where I will see the three Hebrew incunabula at the Newberry Library.)  We are especially eager to hear from members of our trusted crowdsourcing community who would like to work on some of these collections.   We are also reaching out to private collectors and encouraging them to join the effort.

As we continue our work with book lists, estate inventories, auction catalogues, and scholarly articles looking for “historical copies” as well as working from extant books in rare book rooms, we will focus our efforts this year on the incunables. As we learn about early modern Jewish owners of non-Hebrew incunabula we will enter those as well. We have 3 first-year undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh eager to get to work in the spring term as part of the successful First Experiences in Research program run by Pitt’s Office of Undergraduate Research and we also intend to hire one research assistant who will input information from the rare book collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary.   We are also looking for interns in the cities mentioned above and faculty supervisors who are looking for hands-on research opportunities for their students.  

Does this mean we are abandoning the “big tent” approach to data collection?  Not at all: we remain committed to the idea that we want to ingest as many footprints as possible. We continue to work with partner libraries, downloading provenance data from catalogs and preparing them for upload to Footprints.  When we embed researchers to cover particular library collections (as we are doing now with the Marsh’s Library, Dublin)  we will ask them to look at the incunabula first but not to stop there! We continue to welcome contributions from crowd-sourcers and we are still happy to serve as a repository for datasets generated by independent research projects.  Surely we are always on the  lookout for other footprints as we hunt down the incunabula.   

We are not choosing  between a specific topic  and an open approach.  (But we are also not just saying “que sera sera” and leaving it at that.) Rather, we intend for the focused approach and the big tent model to co-exist; the focus on incunabula will enable us to concentrate on one area of Hebrew book history while maintaining our commitment to flexibility, which has  been the hallmark of our progress to date.  

As always, if you or your institution or your students want to join the fun, just let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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