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Mathematicall Recreations, 1633

The provenance of a book is the history of its ownership. From the inscriptions of famous scientists to the practiced autographs of young readers, books in the Vail Collection contain all manner of provenance marks.

J.F. Daniell. An Introduction to the Study of Chemical Philosophy, 1843


It’s true that George Dering didn’t even lay hands on many of the books that he acquired during several decades of his adult life, but a handful of books do bear Dering’s ownership inscriptions. In one of these books, J. Frederic Daniell’s An Introduction to the Study of Chemical Philosophy, we see a rare example of Dering’s interaction with a text. Penciled at the bottom of a page are different formulas dealing with the conversion of centigrade and Fahrenheit temperatures.

Bookseller card laid into A. Gillon. Cours de métallurgie générale, 1869

The provenance of these books isn’t limited to the individuals who collected them. Many books contain the markings of booksellers, the middlemen who cared for them as they passed from one collector to another. Laid into a treatise on metallurgy is a card bearing a brief description of the book, with the name “Nutt” penciled on it. David Nutt, a prominent London bookseller of the time, was one of Dering’s most active agents. Many of the books in the collection also have the name “Dering” penciled on them, as though a bookseller had marked them for eventual sale to Dering.

Handwritten at the end of an 1833 official report on the medical uses of animal magnetism is a startling inscription: “Avoid the breath of the infected in …” What’s even more disconcerting is that the name of this infected town – the place we are supposed to beware of – has been cropped out.

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J.P. Clark. A Practical and Familiar Treatise on the Teeth and Dentism, 1836

Rapports et discussions de l’Académie royale de médecine sur le magnétisme animal, 1833