I collect books formerly owned by authors, actors, aviators and other famous people. I call this collection My Sentimental Library. Books with the ownership signatures of authors, actors, aviators, and other famous people usually increase the value of the book. But according to current book collecting philosophy, ownership signatures from other people like you and me usually decreases the value of a book. That may be true for modern first editions, but I don't believe it affects the value of books in many other categories. And to tell you the truth, I enjoy researching the former owners of my books. I could find out more about them if I subscribed to genealogy websites or newspapers websites, but I'm happy with the results of my google searches.
Books about the English Language, many of which were required for school, seem to have the most ownership signatures, so I will display some of them in this post, and with information about their former owners.
The American Spelling Book was the first part of Noah Webster's three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. It was known as the Blue-Backed Speller, and was first published in October 1783. Over a million copies of the speller were sold. My copy is an 1822 edition.
According to his inscription written on the front free endpaper, S Satterlee Strait of Stockholm, N. Y. may have acquired this book on Jan 7, 1824. On the other hand, he just may have been idly doodling in class on January 7, 1824. At any rate, I like his ownership claim to the book: "S. Satterlee Strait's Book."
He repeated his inscription on the verso of the rear free endpaper.
Samuel Satterlee Strait was born on Jan 7, 1808 and died on Jun 20 1884. He is buried in the West Stockholm Cemetery, and his wife, Elizabeth C. Strait is buried beside him.
His brother, John B Strait, acquired this book on Feb 14, 1827, and inscribed his John Hancock on the rear free endpaper.
Noah Webster's A Grammatical Institute of the English Language... Part Second Containing a Plain and Comprehensive Grammar... was first published in March 1784. My copy is the Sixth Edition, which was published in June 1800. Isaiah Thomas was one of the printers of this book.
A former owner, William Pease, unceremoniously pasted his family library label directly on top of the frontispiece of this book, literally defacing Noah Webster! Mr. Pease may not have been the original owner of the book. The frontispiece is pasted directly on the front board, and the front free endpaper is lacking. The original owner may have inscribed his or her name on the missing endpaper.
Lucy Lord was one of the former owners of this book. I believe she was an earlier owner than William Pease. She inscribed her name several times on the verso of the rear free endpaper, and pasted her own label on the rear pastedown. According to her inscription, her father gave her this book. She may even have inscribed her name on the front pastedown and front free endpapers.
This book was shared by other members of the Lord family as well. Lynda Lord inscribed her name on the rear free endpaper. Below her inscription is the inscription of another Lord family member, but I can't decipher the name.
An American Selection of Lessons in Reading and Speaking... Being the Third Part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language...was first published in January 1785. My copy is the third edition, which was published in 1793.
Alice Woods of Leominster, Massachusetts bought this book in 1794. I believe Alice may have bought the first and second parts of The Grammatical Institute of the English Language as well because her inscription reads "Her Books...." Leominster, btw, is the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed.
Alice Woods was born on Aug 6, 1778 in Leominster, Massachusetts. She married Simeon Tyler on Feb 15, 1816. Their only son, Joseph Woods Tyler, was born on Aug 26, 1819, but died on Sep 11, 1822, a few weeks after his third birthday :-( Alice Woods died on Dec 8, 1855.
A former owner, possibly Edwin Streeter, sewed a cloth cover over this copy of the 1833 edition of The Prompter: A Commentary of Common Sayings.... Noah Webster was the author of this book as well, which was first published in 1791 and went thru numerous editions.
Edwin Streeter of Marlboro, Vermont bought this book for ten cents on Friday, June 13th 1834 (my birthday is on June 13 and I was born on Friday the 13th).
I have an earlier edition of The Prompter as well, a 1799 edition.
I bought this copy on Ebay on April Fool's Day in 1999 for $21.95 The author's name is not on the title page, and the seller did not know that Noah Webster was the author.
Surprisingly, no former owner added an ownership signature in this book. But someone definitely doodled on the front pastedown and front free endpaper! It could be a drawing of Big Bird, or maybe a dinosaur?
The Prompter isn't the only book I'll be displaying today that is missing an ownership inscription. I've written about this book on my blog before.
John Dunlap, the printer of the Declaration of Independence, sold this copy to someone who signed his name on both the front free endpaper and on the Preface page. An Edward Stair – or is it Stain? – signed his Jahn Hancock on the front pastedown. But a nasty person unceremoniously removed the signatures of an earlier owner, leaving only a portion of the first letter, and the phrase, "his Dictionary."
I thought it might have been John Hancock's signature, but the ascender portion of the first letter is not similar to Hancock's "J." It looks more like his letter "G."
I myself have not signed my name in any dictionary. But I do admit to stamping my name in one dictionary that I brought back from England.
Anna Livingston was not the author of this book. Her father was one of the authors along with Josiah Wilbur. It was Mr. Wilbur who presented this pamphlet to Anna.
This William Livingston was not the famous politician from New Jersey with the same name. This Willliam Livingston was a teacher in New York, as was the co-author, Josiah Wilbur. As for identifying Anna Livingston, I thought I nailed it with this reference:
It turns out that this Anna Livingston and her father William Livingston are characters in Jeffry Hepple's 2009 novel, Gone for a Soldier!
The only sure thing I know from reading the information on the cover of The Only Sure Guide... is that Mrs. Albert E. Loomis "presented" it, but I don't know to whom she presented it. The frontispiece is pasted directly to the front board so if there was any provenance information on the front endpapers, it is lost. The information on the title page helps a little bit. The book was printed and sold in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1803. A person named C. Furnis wrote her name across the top of the page, and someone named Mary wrote her name on the bottom of the page.
The information on the rear endpaper was more helpful. C. Furnis's full name was Clarissa Furnis. She wrote "Clarissa Furnis Property" on the rear free endpaper, but I can't decipher what she wrote after the word, "that's."
Clarissa signed her name three more times on the verso of the rear endpaper. Then her brother claimed ownership with the phrase, "Timothy Furnis's Property." And to top it off, Google was no help in providing information on either Furnis.
I had better luck finding information about the owner of this book: Augustus Rathbone (1828-1909). He would have been ten years old when he signed his name on the front pastedown, on the title page, and on the Preface page of the 1832 edition of The American First Class Book.
Augustus Rathbone owned the Rathbone Saloon, which was located on the corner of Mission Road and Milpitas-Alviso Road (Hwy 237 today) in Milpitas, California (near San Jose). In my research I learned that a homicide was committed in Rathbone's Saloon. On Feb 21, 1865, Bernada Zunaga, a native of Chile, was stabbed and killed in a drunken brawl with an Indian.
Augustus Rathbone must have been well respected in Milpitas; they named a park after him.
S. Strong signed his name directly on the title page of both volumes of the First American Edition of John Horne Tooke's Diversions of Purley 1806, 1807). He could be Captain Stephen Strong (1775-1854), and a descendent of Elder John Strong, who sailed from England to Massachusetts on the "Mary and John" in 1630.
This catalogue of synonyms that was published in 1871 either served four generations of one family or two generations of two different families.
Joseph Mason Dill (1852-1915) was the first family owner of this book. He had an extensive career as an educator: from a high school teacher at Tuscaloosa, to a natural sciences professor at Howard College, to a high school principal, then a superintendent, to President of the South Alabama Female Institute at Greenville, then as Superintendent of the Bessemer public schools. Somewhere along the line he gave this book to his son, Jacob Smiser Dill (1856-1938) who was a teacher as well.
The next owner of this book was Thomas Dill Lide (1902-2001). He was a Baptist minister, first in Greenville, South Carolina, then in Texas, and finally in Florida, where he went from Tampa to Perry to Dunnellon. In March 1964, he gave this book to his daughter Ilda who married her husband Ted Hall on Dec 22, 1958 at the First Baptist Church in Perry, Florida. I could find no concrete family connection between the Dills and the Lides via Google other than the name of one of its owners, Thomas Dill Lide.
Alfred H. Sweet (1890-1950) of East Washington, Pa. was a former owner of this 1879 edition of Crabbe's English Synonyms Explained. He was a Professor of European History at Washington and Jefferson University, and the author of the History of England which was published by D. C. Heath in 1931. He gave his copy of Crabbe's English Synonyms to his son, Charles Greenleaf Sweet (1918-1999), who signed his name on the top of the title page. He was a Colonel in the U. S. Marines during WWII, and later served as the presiding judge of Washington County, Pa. for 20 years. He oversaw the murder trials of the thugs that UMVA President Tony Boyle hired to kill Jock Yablonski in 1969.
Charles G. Sweet was the former owner of the 1970 reprint of the Oxford English Dictionary as well, the volumes of which span across the front of my desk table.
His wife, Martha Sweet (1928-2013), was a member of the Florida Bibliophile Society. She gave her husband the OED set in 1972 "for the right suggestion."
There are other people's ownership signatures in even more of my books about the English Language. And even more in the books of other collections in my library. I enjoy researching the former owners of every one of them. But that's enough for one day!