Histories, bindings, knocks and markings

by Olivia Lardner, Bolton Cataloguer


Readers of this blog will be familiar with our Unique Items in the Bolton Library stories, a strand which deals with each unicum1 present in the collection, items such as Bolton Library M.6.27(16), the only known copy in existence.2



Title page of the only known copy of Bolton Library Bolton Library M.6.27(16)
Bolton Library M.6.27(16), the only known copy in existence


Might it get a little confusing then if we were to say that every item in the collection is unique? Please bear with us…


Individual histories

How can we use the term ‘unique’ when several copies exist? We librarians speak of copy-specific information, those bits and pieces in, on or around a volume which are unlikely to be found in, on or around another copy of the same work. It is the individual history of an item, the path it took from printing house to its eventual forever home, the binding(s) it acquired, and all the knocks and marks it picked up along the way, which makes for the unique object it is today.


Constitutions, and canons ecclesiastical (1669)

We can see this in Bolton Library I.16.12(5) and M.5.15(8), two copies of the same edition of Constitutions, and canons ecclesiastical (Dublin : Benjamin Tooke, 1669). 11 copies of this work exist today, amongst which figure these two Bolton Library copies.3 Yet, none of the other copies bear the gilt initials of the young collector Samuel Foley (1655-1695) on their spine, or his 1679 ex libris inside, markings which appear only on Bolton Library M.5.15(8).



Sermon preach’d before the honourable House of Commons, at St. Andrew’s Church, Dublin (1703)

We can also see this unique object result in Bolton Library M.5.16(1) and M.5.5(7), two copies of the same edition of A sermon preach’d before the honourable House of Commons, at St. Andrew’s Church, Dublin, October the 23d. 1703 (Dublin : At the sign of the printing-press, 1703). Just seven copies of this sermon exist today,4 two of which are present in the Bolton Library, and yet even in these two copies are markings and annotations not present in the other.



Sermon preach’d to the societies for reformation of manners (1706)

In Bolton Library M.10.18(18) we find one of just two known copies of an early 18th century sermon.5 In the digitised Bodleian Library copy, the page number 6 is in its correct position. Here, however, it has faceplanted 90 degrees to the right. The type probably slipped sideways due to a loose lock-up during the printing of the copy which now resides in the Bolton Library.



Itinerary of John Leland the antiquary (1710)

An advertisement in Bolton Library L.16.12 states: “There are only an hundred and twenty copies of this book printed.”


Advertisement appearing inside Bolton Library L.16.12 stating that one hundred and twenty of this book were printed
“There are only an hundred and twenty of this book printed.”


An impressive 36 copies are known to exist today.6 The Bolton Library copy, uniquely bearing the shelfmark of archbishop-collector William King7 (B. 158 N 2650), made its way to the collection quite soon after publication:

On 22 January 1713, King wrote to Samuel Molyneux, ‘I now thank you for securing me Lelands itinerary for so reasonable a price’.8



Essay on the nature, extent, and authority of private judgment in matters of religion (1711)

Bolton Library C.9.10, by the author of the dialogues between Timothy and Philatheus (i.e.: William Oldisworth (1680-1734)), was one of a run of 1006 copies printed by William Bowyer for Bernard Lintott of London in 1711. Just 25 of these can be accounted for today.9 That’s 25 copies which left Bowyer’s workshop in 1711, each making their own journey via Bernard Lintott out into the 21st century, each with their own individual knocks and marks. The same book, but each and every one of those 25 survivors is now a unique object because of the individual journey it has made to get here. No two are now alike. The Bolton Library copy alone of the 25 bears the markings of Cashel Cathedral Library, rendering it a unique object.



So while not every item in the collection can be classed as a unicum, their individual histories render them unique objects in their own right.




  1. Unique specimen, example, copy.[]
  2. See Record R184795, ESTC.[]
  3. See Record R29961, ESTC.[]
  4. See Record T174766, ESTC.[]
  5. See Record T200129, ESTC.[]
  6. See Record T135477, ESTC.[]
  7. Read more about Archbishop William King in A good eye.[]
  8. Matteson, R.S. and Barton, G. (2003). A large private park : the collection of Archbishop William King 1650-1729. Cambridge: LP Publications, p. 585. Find it here.[]
  9. See Record T33393, ESTC.[]