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The Jesuit Antiquarian Book Collection and the Provenance Project

The Jesuit Antiquarian Book Collection is housed in the Jesuit Archive at Mount Street, London. It consists of about 1250 volumes published before 1700, and many more published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  There is also a collection of several thousand pamphlets.

The collection contains bibles, prayer books and devotional works, theology, philosophy and Lives of Saints.  Works by and about Jesuits are well represented.  Authors include Ignatius Loyola SJ, Francis Xavier SJ, Edmund Campion SJ, Robert Parsons SJ, Robert Southwell SJ, Robert Bellarmine SJ, Pedro de Ribadeneira SJ, St Augustine, St Bernard of Clairvaux, John Cassian, the Venerable Bede, Nicolas Sander SJ, John Fisher SJ, John Floyd SJ, John Sergeant SJ.

Many of the books have been housed at Mount Street since the 1850s.  Others have arrived in the collection since then, either as individual purchases and donations or in groups from other Jesuit institutions which no longer needed them.  A large number of the books were in Jesuit institutions in the 17th and 18th centuries, or were owned by recusants or religious from other orders.  Our provenance project is an attempt to answer questions about how the books came to be in the Jesuit Antiquarian Collection using traces left by former owners or custodians, which include bookplates with names, inscriptions, librarians’ shelfmarks, booksellers’ labels or schoolchildren’s doodles.  Deciphering and tracing these and other clues about the past of the individual books can allow us to reconstruct a little about the history of the Collection, about Jesuit book collecting practices, Jesuit use and care of books,  and about wider Catholic book history.

Our Provenance Project is a collaboration with other institutions which hold significant collections of Jesuit historic books, including Stonyhurst Archive and Historic Library, The Venerable English College in Rome, the Heythrop Library in London and Campion Hall in Oxford, and the Bar Convent in York.  Please click on any of the links to find out more about their collections. 

On this website we are sharing images of many of the provenance marks found in our books.  The photographs were mainly taken as aids for cataloguing, so are not of the highest quality, but we hope they are clear enough to be useful here.  We'd love feedback on any aspect of our work. One of the aims of sharing our work here is to discover other books with Jesuit or linked provenance, so please get in touch if you have any comments about our books,  have seen similar provenance marks in other collections, or own a book with Jesuit provenance, or want to discuss old books with Jesuit links. Please get in touch via the feedback form at the bottom of each page.  

This is an ongoing project and we will be updating this website as new pieces of provenance evidence are unearthed.  Please return to keep up to date with our research. 

Useful resources for Provenance Research and Jesuit Books

Book provenance is a burgeoning area of activity within the wider field of Book History.  We have taken inspiration from provenance projects undertaken by other institutions.  Listed below are a few we have found particularly useful.

The Sion College Library Provenance Project was carried out by Lambeth Palace Library, which holds the Sion College books. Some findings and images from the project are highlighted on their website. A number of the Sion College books came from a Jesuit Library at Holbeck, closed in 1679, so it has links with our collection.  

St John's College Cambridge Library Special Collection have highlighted the provenance of many of their books, and present their findings both in a searchable manner, and as lists to browse.  

Book Owners Online approaches book provenance from the aspect of the former owners of books rather than from the institutions which hold them now.  

The second edition of David Pearson's book on Provenance research is invaluable. 

Pearson, David,  Provenance Research in Book History: A handbook Oxford: The Bodleian Library and New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press.  2nd edition, 2019

Who were the nuns?  is a prosopographical study of English nuns in exile 1600-1800.  Many of the books in our collection have belonged to individual nuns or to their convents.

Dijkgraaf, Hendrik, The library of a Jesuit community at Holbeck, Nottinghamshire: LP Publications, Cambridge. 2003

Whitehead, Maurice, English Jesuit Education, Expulsion, suppression, survival and restoration, 1762-1803. Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, UK and Burnham, Vermont, USA. 2013

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