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Provenance Information


Interest in provenance information goes in and out of fashion. Once it was a bibliophilic interest concerned with authors’ association copies and books belonging to great men. Following the rise of the history of the book in the 1980s and 1990s, provenance studies have become an important ingredient in the work of social and cultural historians dealing with questions of readership and literacy. The ownership of books by craftsmen and women is now as significant as that of kings and archbishops. At the same time, a separate development of concern about the security of library collections has widened interest in recording provenances of all sorts, ancient and modern.

CERL has seen its own interest in provenance grow over the years, reflecting the increase in interest on the part of its members and the wider scholarly public. Increasing numbers of records in the Heritage of the Printed Book Database now record provenance information, and the MEI database records provenances specifically for incunabula. CERL has added a Provenance Names section to the CERL Thesaurus and has created the Provenance Digital Archive.

CERL Provenance Digital Archive

A free service, the CERL Provenance Digital Archive was created. You can create an account, upload an image, create and edit a description of your provenance evidence and help other users to identify former owners' marks.

The images and the descriptions you create are published under a CC0 license and the images are available as IIIF.

Guidelines for uploading and describing images in the CERL Provenance Digital Archive are available here.

Can You Help?

Go to Can You Help?

The Can-You-Help? database that CERL used to offer to help to identify a book plate, a binding stamp, a library label or stamp, or to read and identify an owner's inscription, was suspended.

The Can-You-Help? forum has found a new home in the CERL PDA. Click on this link to Can-You-Help? in the CERL PDA to see all provenance evidences where we could use your help to identify the former owner. If you have the solution or perhaps a suggestion for further research, please click on the image. In the record that is then shown, you can leave your comments.

Queries posted on the Can-You-Help? database until 2009 are available. For further information, go here. CERL plans to migrate queries posted on the Can-You-Help? database between December 2009 - August 2018 to the CERL Provenance Digital Archive. Because of GDPR concerns, CERL can only migrate this information with the expres permission of those who originally posted the query. As you can imagine, this is a slow process.

Search CERL Resources

These pages aim to give you access to a variety of resources that record provenance information. CERL is responsible for a number of resources that you can search below. CERL also maintains a webpage which lists online resources for provenance information, hosted by institutions around the globe, here. It is likely that the materials on this page will reflect the interests of members of the Consortium, especially in the context of work on CERL’s Heritage of the Printed Book Database (HPB) and the CERL Thesaurus; that is to say that it will be largely European in focus and will deal especially with the period up to the mid-nineteenth century.

Former Owners

Starting with a former owner's name you may retrieve the books owned by that person or corporate entity from library catalogues linked to the CERL Thesaurus.

Former Owners of Incunabula

Lookup former owners in P. Needham's Index Possessorum Incunabulorum.

Early Book Owners in Britain

Lookup British Bookowners and their books until ca. 1550 from EBOB.

Provenance of Incunabula

You may retrieve former owners and extensive descriptions of the copy specific evidence of 15th-century editions in the Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) database.

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 resources/provenance/main.txt · Last modified: 2023/01/12 16:06 by lefferts



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