Who in the World Was Samuel Bradstreet? Marginalia and Signs of Use in Plantin’s Vulgate Bible

The marginalia of my pet book, Christopher Plantin’s Biblia, ad vetustissima exemplaria castigata: Quid in horum Bibliorum castigatione praestitum sit, subsequens praefatio latiùs indicabi, reveals a lot about the way in which the book was used and valued by its previous owners. I began investigating the ownership and use of my book by looking at the information listed in the Special Collections online catalogue and talking to Megan from Special Collections about the resources I could use to find out more about its history of ownership. According to the Special Collections online catalogue, my book originally belonged to a man named Samuel Bradstreet, who is described in the entry as its “early owner.” Additionally, there is a bookplate in the blue case housing my book that gives some information about how it wound up at Colby.

The bookplate in the case housing my book.

According to the bookplate, this Bible was gifted to Colby by a man named Ernest H. Johnson, a discovery that left me with a lot of questions.  Who were the men who owned this book, and how did it reach both of them? Why did they own this book, and how did they feel towards it?

Before examining the marginalia and signs of use in my book, I asked Megan from Special Collections about how I could find information about the men listed as its previous owners.  Unfortunately, Special Collections does not have any information about the owners of my book or a readily accessible record of when it was gifted to the school, so Megan suggested that I use the internet and Ancestry Database to narrow down potential owners based on the date that my book was published and the historical information I already have about it. The searches I conducted for both men left me with an overwhelming number of results, so it became clear that I would not be able to trace the exact identity of Samuel Bradstreet or Ernest H. Johnson, or figure out how the book made its way to Colby.  With Professor Cook’s help, I sought to learn more about the previous owners of my book through the marginalia and other signs of use they left behind.

By reading the signature in the margins of the title page letter by letter, I was able to confirm for myself that one of the authors of marginalia in my book was a man named Samuel Bradstreet.  According to Professor Cook, the style of handwriting used is from the 16th century, which means we can confirm that Samuel Bradstreet likely have owned this book close to its publication date (1567.) Bradstreet’s signature is written in a black ink that has faded overtime (it seems to be water based.) The style of handwriting and color of the ink matches two other fragments of writing- one of which is further up in the margin, and one of which is further down in the margin.  Both pieces of writing have been mostly blotted out, but part of the fragment in the upper margin says vetus est, which roughly translates to “the old’ or “the former.”  There are also straight lines drawn through some phrases to deliberately scratch them out.  The fact that there is so much random text that has been scratched out and smeared messily suggests that the physical form of this book wasn’t extremely valuable to Samuel Bradstreet- he likely wasn’t writing so haphazardly in a very expensive or important codex.  Additionally, because Bradstreet owned this particular book, it seems likely that he was a Roman Catholic (for reasons that I discussed in my previous blog post.)

Left: The signature and upper marginalia of the title page. Right: a closer look at the signature.

The scratched out marginalia.

Interestingly, there is another style of handwriting in different colored ink on the middle of the title page. The most notable piece of writing is another signature, that appears to say “Huntbath,” which indicates that there is a second owner of this book.  The signature is in a dark brown ink, which likely was black at one point but oxidized over time. There are also small, random doodles in the bottom margin of the title page drawn in the same colored ink, which indicates that the physical form of this book was not overly valuable or sacred to this person either- again, they would likely not be writing so haphazardly in a very valuable codex. This handwriting and ink closely matches the notes in the margins of the biblical text. Often, these notes in the margins of the text are shorthand references to other biblical verses, but sometimes there are longer written notes. Unfortunately, because the book was rebound, parts of these notes are cut off and are therefore mostly illegible. This makes it impossible to deduce how Huntbath felt towards the contents of the biblical text, but luckily the neatness of the handwriting (which is far more deliberate and “clean” looking than the signature on the title page) tells us that Huntbath respected and valued the biblical text much more than the other physical aspects of the book, like the title page. Huntbath’s ownership of this book and apparent reverence for the biblical text means that he was also likely a Roman Catholic.

Huntbath’s signature and drawings on the title page.

The neater marginalia in the pages of biblical text.

On the final page of the glossary, there is a third piece of marginalia that confirms a third owner of my book. The handwriting is much different from both Bradstreet’s and Huntbath’s, as it is much larger and messier, but according to Professor Cook it still can be dated to around the 16th/17th centuries. The ink is black and faded much less than Bradstreet’s ink- I would guess that it is oil-based. Professor Cook and I spent some time trying to decipher what it said, which was difficult because the handwriting is messy and some words have been cut off due to the rebinding process.  We were able to determine that part of it says “let god have the greatest *** ** love and their affection,” which shows that this person was almost certainly religious (Roman Catholic if so) and felt a connection to the biblical text. This handwriting does not appear at all in any other part of the book, so I was unable to uncover any part of their identity other than the feelings they expressed on the glossary page.

The note written in the glossary.

All of the owners shared a similar reverence for biblical text, as the only marginalia made in the Old and New Testament components of the book was written thoughtfully and respectfully. Even though my book has a rather convoluted history of ownership, the marginalia helps humanize the people who owned it even in the absence of their concrete identity.  Through this research, I have been able to recognize my own patterns of use and therefore connect with the people who owned this book previously. I found it very interesting to sense the feelings of attentiveness or boredom through the marginalia, and wonder if people who will use my annotated books in the future will feel the same sense of connection and interest.



Megan from Special Collections

Professor Cook and Google Translate

Special Collections Catalogue Entry for Biblia, ad vetustissima exemplaria castigata: Quid in horum Bibliorum castigatione praestitum sit, subsequens praefatio latiùs indicabi

Ancestry Database