Handwritten Notes, 1656 and 1784

One of the very best things about old books is the history each individual volume contains. After years of working with the NSLM collection, we haven’t even really scratched the surface. Just a few weeks ago, we were going over some copies of Markham’s Masterpiece and the Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier. We were surprised to find notes all over the end-papers.

Notes on the end-papers of Markham’s Masterpiece by Gervase Markham, eighth edition, 1656. Can you make out the words?

Though they are written in English, some of the notes are difficult to decipher. The end-papers on Markham’s Masterpiece are covered with medical recipes similar to those printed in the book. We’re reviewing the volume to see if these are copied from the text (making the end-papers a sort of early “favorites” selection) or if they are new recipes not included in print (implying that they are addenda or improvements on Markham’s work).

The dramatic notes, however, can be found in the Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, a similar veterinary compendium printed in the American colonies. It drew heavily on Markham but included many new recipes and cures.

End-paper signature: “Henry Willy, Richmond, Virginia, 21st Sept. 1784” Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, 1764

This copy of the Experienced Farrier was printed by James Adams of Wilmington, Delaware in 1764. Adams was reputedly the first to open a printing shop in Delaware. Henry Willy owned this copy. What’s truly extraordinary, though, is the facing page:

“Memorandum for Mr. James Rowan.”

The water damage to the page makes it a difficult read online. Here is a transcript of the message:

Memorandum for Mr. James Rowan — to enquire in Chamerstown of Mr. J. Campbell — where Michael Fallon Lives — & to inform him that Mr. Willy — took the liberty of opening a letter directed to Michl. Fallon directed to Mr. Willys care & it asserts that Mr. F’s Father wishes his return to Ireland — & also, since which Mr. Willy has heard that M. Fallon’s father was dead.

The limitations of 18th Century communications are on full display. The memo is instructions for James Rowan, and the receipt of weeks-old news from across the ocean appears to have prompted the revision of the message struck through. As a modern reader, it’s a bit painful to know how long it took to relay the message to Fallon; the limitations on speed of travel ensured little chance of a return to Ireland before the death of his father.

It appears that this book was used to carry the message with Mr. Rowan from Richmond to Chamberstown (later re-named Chambersburg) a journey of 200 miles. How long the book was away from Mr. Willy is unknown, but he re-wrote his name on the back end-papers three years later:

“Henry Willy, his book, March 24, 1787.”

Let us know if you have found something written in old books, either in the margins or on the end-papers! If you have an eagle eye for 17th-Century handwriting, leave a comment below if you’d like to try transcribing the notes from the 1656 Markham’s Masterpiece.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail





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