Pet Book # 2: The Scrapbook of Ownership

One of the most interesting features of my pet book is the manner in which the long lineage of owners has shaped the value and history of this book. Once Ben Johnson supposedly owned this book, no longer was it valued for the words written by Janus Gruterus, but its owner imposed the value on the book itself. This book was still regarded as Iani Gruteri Pericula, but “Ben Johnson’s Copy” always preceded its title. This book became valuable because it provided an insight into Ben Johnson’s thoughts. It allowed for the reader to understand a possible inspiration for his work. Like a scrapbook, this copy of Iani Gruteri Pericula allowed readers an inside look into his thoughts and possible intentions. It gave readers a perspective on what Johnson found important. The tragic fire in his library in 1623 deprived readers and followers the privilege to such insight, so to find one of the puzzle pieces that possibly created Ben Johnson’s career instilled the value that this common book of Latin elegies would not have had in another life. Garvey explains, “ the scrapbook was understood as a metaphor for the knowledge, reading, and taste stored up over a lifetime,” and the privilege of owning one of Johnson’s books gave the reader an insight into his work (Garvey 11).


While Johnson’s ownership itself is a scrapbook of what may have influenced his works, this is a topic I look to further research and delve into in a later and larger blog post. What I would like to focus on is how the long list of owners, seen by the multiple ownership marks within the book itself, shapes a new history of travel and value for this book. The owners, rather than the contents of this book, presents us a snapshot of what was valued through time and gives us a clear picture of where this book has been. From a few names written on the inside covers and first few pages of this book, we essentially are seeing a scrapbook of places this book has traveled too. This book is not a scrapbook in the traditional sense. It is not cut and pasted into existence. This book as material object though does reveal its “ past and embodies a life of reading and saving” (Garvey 14). By exploring the many owners, we get an idea of why they revered and valued this work and it what arenas such items were valued. Like a scrapbook, this book allows us a “way in materializing an understanding that information… [is] not wedded to the context in which it had been published”(Garvey 24).


To begin this exploration into this long lineage of owners, I have chronologically ordered them. The first owner, and the owner that instilled its value, was Ben Johnson. This mark of ownership is clear with his signature and his famous motto “Tanqua[m] Explorator.” This book was published in Germany, but somehow did make it to England and most likely contributed to Johnson’s training in the classics. The next owner is a man named John Mitford and signed his name in 1804. The Boston Public library has dated this signature from a man who lived from 1781-1859. After further researching this man, I was led to an English Clergyman who was rector of Benhall, Weston St. Mary’s, and Stratford St. Andrew. He was known as collector of books and art and also contributed multiple articles on old English poetry to the Gentleman’s magazine. He also edited the works of poet Thomas Gray. It makes a lot of sense for such a book to not only end up in the hands of a clergyman, but one who collects books and art. It is also interesting to note how long it supposedly took for this copy to reach another owner and achieve its level of value.


The next owners are a bit more difficult to chronologically place because there are two owners within the late 19th century. The first being Myles Birket Foster and the second being a man named William Augustus White. While one might assume that the Myles Birket Foster we are speaking of is the famous English artist and illustrator, the book stamp used to place ownership of this book was dated later. This book actually belonged to Myles Birket Foster’s son who is also named Myles Birket Foster. His son was an organist who composed cantatas for children’s voices and wrote Anthems and Anthem Composer s that delved into the development of the Anthem from the time of Reformation to the end of the 19th century. The second owner, William Augustus White, was also a writer and he not only added the day he purchased this copy, April 23 1895, but also included how much he paid for it and where he purchased it. We had proof that this copy was bought in Pickering London. Along with the marks of ownerships of both these authors, there is also a relatively new handwritten note from the late 19th century or early 20th century. I believe that this note was written by one of these two owners, but it is impossible to tell which one it may have been for the owner did not sign the note. It continues to show the value of this book for being Ben Johnson’s copy and is described as “ a very interesting little book having been Ben Johnson’s copy possessing his autograph on the title page- with the well known motto of ‘Rare Ben; Tanquam Explorator.” It is amazing how a book within the hand of a famous playwright continues to end up in the hands of other writers and one begins to wonder if that influenced their work or was a mere trophy. It is possible that maybe this book inspired them in the same manner that it might have inspired Ben Johnson.

The last of the long list of owners jumps all the way to 1975. With the book came a card that one would post on an object for sale in a store or at an auction. This book was being sold by William & Victoria Dailey for $2500 and they were based out of Los Angeles. It begs the questions of how many owners and locations has this book seen before it reached all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and across the United States. William and Victoria Dailey opened there first bookshop in 1975 and continue to sell been sell rare books to this day. There is of course gaps within this list of owners, but it shows that value has been instilled into this copy the moment Ben Johnson signed it. It bring insight to the places this copy has been and begs the question on whether it has inspired other writers, considering it has been in the hands of so many. The marks of ownership provide an interesting history on a common copy of Latin elegies.

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