20 October 2011

From 15th-Century Germany to 20th-Century New Zealand: Signs of Ownership in the Legenda aurea sanctorum (Cologne, 1476)

No other early-printed book in the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection bears such robust and identifiable provenance as its copy of the Legenda aurea sanctorum printed in Cologne by Conrad Winters, de Homborch, and issued in November 1476.

From the Book Stalls of Ghent
The earliest inscription, found beneath the colophon, was written a mere four months after the book’s publication. Though obscured by being nearly obliterated under heavy black ink, Christopher de Hamel has deciphered the inscription as that of a Master Nicholas Flint who appears to have purchased the book in Ghent in March 1477 (35).

The partially erased inscription of Nicholas Flint

Flint’s exact identity is not known, but de Hamel does note a Master Nicholas Flint among the Fellows of Oriel College, Oxford, from 1480 until approximately 1486 (30).

When and how the Dunedin copy left the possession of Master Nicholas remains a mystery. What is known, thanks to a much clearer inscription, is that the book made its way to Arbuthnott, Scotland, before the end of the fifteenth century.

Scottish Collection #1: Church of St. Ternan
An inscription in Latin along the top edge of the preface states that this copy was presented as a gift by the rector David Luthirdale to the Church of St. Ternan. The Church was consecrated by David de Bernhem, Bishop of St. Andrews, on 3 August 1242, and is perhaps best known for its association with the finely decorated Arbuthnott Missal.

David Luthirdale was inducted into the church at Glasgow as rector of Weem in 1474 and was rector of the Church of St. Ternan by 1484 (Durkan and Ross 126). Prior to his appointment in Arbuthnott, Luthirdale served as Archdeacon of Teviotdale, Glasgow, from June 1474 until October 1475 when he was appointed Archdeacon of Dunkeld – a position held until November 1479 (Watt 157, 177). Two years after his appointment to St. Ternan's, Luthirdale was employed as comptroller under James IV, and his name is found throughout the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland for that year (Murray 25, 27–8). No mention of Luthirdale is found after 1486, and we may assume that he died in office.

Luthirdale's inscription

With the coming of the Scottish Reformation in 1560, there can be little doubt as to the fate of the Legenda aurea. In all probability it was purged from the Church of St Ternan library, joining the wave of other books flooding into the Scottish and English book trade as a result of the religious upheaval. 

Scottish Collection #2: The Library of James Balfour
The book is next recorded in the library of herald and antiquary Sir James Balfour (ca. 1603–1657), whose ownership inscription appears on the recto of the front flyleaf. Balfour was one of the most significant book collectors in seventeenth-century Scotland, and his acquisition of such material as chronicles, registers of religious houses and bishoprics, and cartularies preserved some of what might have been lost during the scattering of pre-Reformation Scottish libraries (ODNB).

After Sir James’s death, his library is presumed to have passed to his brother, the botanist and collector Sir Andrew Balfour (1630–1694). Four years after the death of Sir Andrew, the manuscript portion of Sir James's library was purchased from the Balfour family by the Faculty of Advocates on 2 December 1698 (Ovenden 18). His printed books were dispersed at auction the following year, along with some books from Sir Andrew's own collection (the majority of his library had already been auctioned in 1695). The Legenda aurea, however, is not recorded in the Catalogus selectissimorum ... fratres D.D. Balfourios, Jacobum ... et Andream (Edinburgh: Andrew Symon and Henry Knox, booksellers, 1699). 

Ownership inscription of Sir James Balfour

Scottish Collection #3: Newhailes Library
The book resurfaced around the beginning of the eighteenth century in another important Scottish collection. The Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report IV (1874) lists a copy of the ‘Sanctorum Legende’, bearing the same inscription by David Luthirdale, among the Newhailes Library of the Dalrymple family. This collection was formed over three generations, beginning with Sir David Dalrymple (ca. 1665–1721), continued by his son James Dalrymple (1692–1751), and then by his grandson Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes (1726–1792), who greatly expanded the library and brought it to its zenith.

One of the gaps in this book’s history had been what happened after it left the Balfour collection and before it entered into the Newhailes Library. The shelf-mark 
‘K4.41’ on the verso of the flyleaf and the Balfour inscription may hold the answer.

According to Brian Hillyard this early Newhailes shelf-mark designated that the book was the 41st volume on the fourth shelf from the ground in press K. Hillyard explained that in about 1740 extra presses were added to the library room (previously A–Q, now A–Z) and the books rearranged. This evidence suggests the Legenda aurea was acquired before the death of James Dalrymple, father of Lord Hailes, in 1751. Hillyard also noted that a number of books in the Newhailes Library bear the Leo Armorum Rex inscription of Sir James Balfour, and that Lord Hailes’s grandfather, Sir David, was purchasing books in 1699, the same year as the Balfour sale. It therefore seems most likely that the Legenda aurea passed directly into Sir David’s collection around the time of the July 1699 sale of the Balfour library.

Newhailes shelf-mark

To England and then Aotearoa
The Legenda aurea remained in the Newhailes Library until 1937, when Sir Mark Dalrymple, the great-great-great grandson of Lord Hailes, sold a portion of the collection at Sotheby’s, London, on 24 and 25 May. The book (lot 420) was purchased by the firm of John & Edward Bumpus, bidding on behalf of Dr Charles Newman of Peterborough, England. It remained in Dr Newman’s possession for almost thirty years before being auctioned again by Sotheby’s on 14 June 1966.

According to John O’Mara of the Early British Department at Maggs, the firm was commissioned by an ‘R. D.’ to purchase the Legenda aurea. The lot, however, went unsold, as this unidentified person (or institution) possibly used up their funds on earlier bids. In the end, Maggs purchased the book as stock. O'Mara theorised that the mysterious ‘R. D.’ could have stood for ‘Reed Dunedin’, and that Maggs planned to offer the book to the Dunedin Public Library once it secured further funds. This is indeed plausible, since the Library acquired the book from Maggs five months later in November 1966, adding the Legenda aurea to its extensive collection of Bibles and biblical commentaries.

The fact that the book ended up in Dunedin is rather fitting. Given the city’s strong Scottish heritage, Sir Alfred Reed perhaps summed it up best: ‘it seems not inappropriate that the [Legenda aurea], after ... thirty years in England, should find its ultimate resting place in the Scottish-founded city of Dunedin, the Edinburgh of the South’ (17). In an interesting twist, the 
Governor-General of New Zealand at the time of the 1966 acquisition was Brigadier Sir Bernard Ferguson (1911–80), a descendant of Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes.

Sir Bernard and Lady Ferguson with the 1476 Legenda aurea
From A. H. Reed's Story of the Golden Legend (1967)
Photograph by Earle Andrew, Wellington

Legenda aurea sanctorum, sive Lombardica historia. Cologne: Conrad Winters, de Homborch, 8 Nov. 1476 (shelf-mark: RBC Jac 1476). ISTC ij00086000GW M11193.


This entry is based upon two earlier works – by Sir Alfred Hamish Reed and Christopher de Hamel respectively – with additional information provided, such as the details on David Luthirdale, the examination of the Newhailes shelf-mark, and the connection between the Balfour and Newhailes collections.

Thanks are due to Brian Hillyard and John O'Mara for the information they provided in 2008.

Please see my blog post on two manuscript fragments used as pastedowns in this copy.

John Durkan and Anthony Ross. Early Scottish Libraries (Glasgow: J. S. Burns, 1961).

Christopher de Hamel. 'Medieval Books in New Zealand' in Transactions / treizième congrès, Édimbourg, 23-29 septembre 1983 ([Edinburgh]: Association Internationale de Bibliophilie, 1985): 29–35.

Athol L. Murray. ‘The Comptroller, 1425–1488’. Scottish Historical Review, 52:1 (April 1973): 1–29.

Richard Ovenden. 'Sir James Balfour (1600–1657) and Sir Andrew Balfour (18 January 1630–10 January 1694)' in William Baker and Kenneth Womack (eds.), The Dictionary of Literary Biography: Pre-Nineteenth Century Book Collectors and Bibliographers (Detroit: Gale Group, 1999): 12–20.

Alfred Hamish Reed. The Story of the Golden Legend (Wellington: A. H. & A. W. Reed, 1967).

Sotheby’s & Co. Catalogue of a Selected Portion of the Valuable Library at Newhailes, Musselburgh (London: Printed by H. Davy, 1937).

---- Important Printed Books of the 15th Century, 14 June 1966 (London: Sotheby's, 1966).

Alexander Du Toit. 'Balfour, Sir James, of Denmiln and Kinnaird, first baronet (1600–1657)' in H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004); on-line edition, Lawrence Goldman (ed.), September 2010. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1189, accessed 25 November 2008.

Donald Elmslie Robertson Watt (ed.). Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae medii aevi ad annum 1638 (Edinburgh: Printed by Smith and Ritchie Ltd., 1969). 

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