Identifying Sloane’s books
There are a number of ways to identify an item as one of Sloane's books.
The Sloane number
The black British Museum stamp
The Sloane number
The most common form of marking used by Sloane to number his books is an alphanumeric marking, a letter and a number. Generally speaking, they were numbered sequentially within each letter category, in order of acquisition. Upper case letters were used for folio and larger books; lower case for quarto and smaller. There were also special categories, such as Min.(indicating Miniatures; illustrated books, often coloured) and Pr.(indicating Print, followed by a Roman numeral; books with many illustrations or engravings), and Pr.Or.(Oriental material, mostly engraved). The example below shows both a Pr. number at the bottom of the page, another Pr. number, deleted, centre top, and an alphanumeric number r 149 at the top right. The early British Museum shelfmark 8 X a can also be seen. A small number of items are numbered with Roman numerals, for example XCVII or XLIX. These are mainly maps, prints, or items once classed as manuscripts.
Because the numbers were commonly written in the corner of a titlepage or flyleaf they have often suffered damage. When a Sloane number is not complete, damaged or otherwise partially illegible, it is entered in this catalogue with an open square bracket, for example, a 145[ . This number will be retrieved as a 145 even though the actual Sloane number might be a 1450, a 1451, etc.
Books may have more than one number if the number was changed during Sloane’s lifetime. Usually one number is deleted and substituted by another, as in the example above where Pr. CXXXIII has been deleted, and replaced by Pr. DXLV. Deleted numbers are entered in the catalogue and followed by (d), for example Pr. CXXXIII (d). On occasion, two numbers may appear, neither of which is deleted. In the example above, the number r 149 has not been deleted although it is probable that the book was shelved in the Pr. category.
Sloane’s numbers are the principal means of identifying his books.
Sloane used coded dates and prices to record the purchase of books. They occur in two different forms. Firstly, recording dates from 1682 and possibly earlier, until 1686, he noted the place of purchase and sometimes the price, the price being expressed in an alphabetical code. For example, in Diomedes Amicus, De morbis diasporadibus,
Venice, 1605, (BL shelfmark 1167.h.9) we find the place of purchase, London, and the date, 1682; in Joannes Andreas Schmitz, Medicinae Practicae Compendium, etc.,
Paris, 1666, (BL shelfmark 545.b.14.) we find the place of purchase, Paris, the date, 1684, and the price coded as a.c. This form of code was noted and described, with a list of known examples, by J.L. Wood, in Factotum
(Newsletter of the XVIIIth century STC), No.2, June 1978. The price codes were clarified by Margaret Nickson, in ‘Sloane’s codes: the solution to a mystery’, Factotum
, No .7, December 1979. The alphabetical codes very simply signify a=1, b=2, c=3, d=4, e=5, f=6, g=7, h=8, i=9. Thus the example above purchased in Paris cost Sloane one shilling and threepence.
The second form of code was used from 1686 to 1699. Here the place of purchase is not given, but both the date and the price are coded, using symbols. Nickson’s article explains how she arrived at their significance. The codes are as follows:
|| = 1
|| = 2
|| = 3
|| = 4
|| = 5
|| = 6
|| = 7
|| = 8
|| = 9
|| = 0
For example, in Jacques Gaffarel, Curiositez inouyes, sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans.
[Paris], 1650, BL 719.e.14, the code reads
signifying a purchase date of 1686 and a price of three shillings.
Similarly, Petrus Vascus Castellus, Exercitationes medicinales
, Toulouse, 1616, bears this code.
The symbols often appear, as in this case, joined together. This inscription can be transliterated as purchase date 1697 and price two shillings and sixpence.
In this catalogue, the letter price codes have been entered as they appear in the books, but all symbols in the purchase codes have been transliterated.
Sloane often acquired books from other libraries, either entire libraries or selected items. In cases where it is known that Sloane had many books from a certain owner, and that they could only have entered the library which currently holds them through Sloane’s collections, this is taken as a form of definite identification. For example, Sloane owned many books formerly owned by Joseph Fenton. Fenton’s books are found in other libraries, but when they also bear the black British Museum ownership stamp (see below) it is almost certain that they must have belonged to Sloane and have entered the British Museum as part of his collection. However, since there is not conclusive evidence, these books are marked as ‘probably’ Sloane’s.
The catalogue lists the previous owners of his books where they can be identified. The usual form of identification is an inscription with the owner’s name, or a mark, motto or shelfmark known to have been used by that person. The owner’s name is standardised for searching, and also transcribed as found. Names which are difficult to interpret are left as transcribed but may be standardised subsequently as evidence emerges.
The octagonal ‘Museum Britannicum’ stamp was intended to be stamped with black ink on Sloane’s books alone. Other colours were used for purchased or donated material, and for the Royal collection. It occurs in the following two forms (images not to scale) on Sloane books:
The picture is confused, however, by the continuing use of the stamp on later acquisitions, and by the use of similar but re-cut stamps as late as 1829. As evidence for Sloane’s ownership the presence of the stamp alone is not conclusive, but highly indicative. Books with the stamp but no other definite evidence of Sloane ownership are probably Sloane’s. For further details of stamps, see P.R.Harris, ‘Identification of printed books acquired by the British Museum, 1753-1836’ in Libraries within the Library,
ed. G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor (British Library, forthcoming 2009)
Manuscript notes or inscriptions often indicate Sloane ownership. The book may have been sent to Sloane, bearing his name or address, or he may have written his name on the book. Quite commonly his books are inscribed “Bibliothecae Sloanianae”, often followed by his number. This note appears particularly on prestigious and attractive items. This is a definite form of identification.
A small number of Sloane’s books bear small paper labels on which are written the Sloane numbers. The typical images below show the number at the top left-hand corner of the cover, and the letter at the bottom. Labels sometimes appear on the titlepage. The presence of this type of label is a definite form of identification of a Sloane book.
Sloane recorded the content of his library in three separate catalogues. The catalogues of the various parts of Sloane’s collections are described by Peter Murray Jones, ‘A preliminary checklist of Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues’, British Library Journal
vol. 14 (1), 1988. The catalogues which list his books and manuscripts are described in greater detail by Margaret Nickson, ‘Hans Sloane, book collector and cataloguer, 1682-1698’, in the same issue of the British Library Journal.
Of the three catalogues, the first, Sloane Ms 3995, is a small volume which records Sloane’s purchases from 1685 to 1687, which has not been used as background for this catalogue. The principal catalogues of his printed books are firstly a manuscript catalogue, now in the BL Department of Manuscripts, Sloane Ms 3972C, with an index at Sloane Ms 3972D. Some leaves, mainly recording manuscripts, were removed and bound as Sloane Ms 3972B. Secondly, medical books in Latin are recorded not in the manuscript catalogue, but in an interleaved copy of a bibliography of medical literature, J.A. van der Linden, Lindenius renovatus
, Nuremberg, 1686, BL 878.n.8 (Note: this book is fragile and must be consulted on microfilm). The fact that separate and very different catalogues were used means that it is extremely difficult to fully identify Sloane’s books completely from these sources.
The identification of Sloane‘s books has proceeded not from these catalogues but from examination of the books. However, these catalogues have been used on occasion to clarify Sloane numbers and may be referred to in the catalogue record.