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Marking Books and Bookmarks: Evidence of Provenance and Use in the Fagel Collection

Detail of a printed title page with manuscript notes

By Jenny Coulton

Jenny Coulton worked with the Fagel Collection during a month-long placement at the Library of Trinity College Dublin, as part of an internship with Durham University’s Archives and Special Collections Department. She will be starting a DPhil in medieval history at The University of Oxford in 2023.  

When Trinity College Dublin purchased Hendrik Fagel the Younger’s (1765–1838) estimated 20,000 volumes in 1802, it was not a library of new, clean books. Some of the items had passed through numerous hands and institutions before finally arriving in the Old Library, and still today bear the marks of their previous lives on their leaves.

The names and signatures of previous owners in Fagel volumes were recorded in 1962 by the Dutch book historian Ernst Braches, in annexes IV and V of his report. As part of my placement with the Library of Trinity College Dublin, I supplemented Braches’ annexes with binding descriptions, images and transcriptions of inscriptions and associating named individuals with authority files wherever possible. Through this, I examined numerous forms of provenance evidence, and in this post, I detail the types of evidence I encountered, and reflect on how these marks might be used to explore the acquisition, use, and organisation of books by private readers.

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Used Books? Tracing the History of Ownership in the Fagel Collection

By Emily Monty

Dr Emily Monty was the Fagel Collection Visiting Research Fellow in autumn 2022 hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute. She will present her work at the symposium on Unlocking the Fagel Collection: The Library and its Context (June 21-23, 2023).

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Trinity College Dublin had the remarkable opportunity to purchase the entire library of Hendrik Fagel the Younger (1765-1838), Greffier, or Chief Minister, of the Dutch Republic. Drawing on funds provided by the Erasmus Smith Foundation, TCD acquired the Fagel Library in 1802. This purchase included over 20,000 volumes and increased the number of books in the Trinity College Library by about 40 per cent.

While these books came from the collection of Hendrik the Younger, many of the volumes have a longer provenance, or history of ownership, not only because they were passed down through generations of Fagel patriarchs, but also because they were purchased second-hand. In fact, the Dutch Republic was a centre of public book auctions in the early modern period, making it a place where one could readily find and acquire antiquarian and used books.

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Announcing a Second Series of Fagel Videos

Series of videos about the Fagel Collection at the Library of Trinity College Dublin

A series of nine videos is being launched today which will showcase some of the finest items from the Fagel collection. Trinity College Dublin academics and Library staff share their expertise and provide behind-the-scenes insight into the conservation, cataloguing and digitization of one of the jewels of the Library’s collections.

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An edition of Divina Commedia in the Fagel Collection

The Fagel collection was assembled as a working library by several generations of the Fagel family, of whom successive members held high offices in the Dutch Republic throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The collection comprises books on a great variety of subjects, including literature in numerous languages. In that respect, it is hardly a surprise to come across an edition of Dante’s Divina Commedia in the library.

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