Book Traces – Iconographic Encyclopædia of Science, Literature and Art

This week, I hit the jackpot! Instead of finding just one 19th century book with marginalia, I found a four-volume encyclopedia set with varying degrees of marginalia. The “Iconographic Encyclopædia of Science, Literature and Art” was translated and edited by Spencer F. Baird and arranged by J. G. Heck,, and published in New York in 1851.

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All four books shared the presence of a nameplate in the front. In this case, that meant that the original owner’s name was printed in the left upper corner of the second page on all four volumes. I googled the name, “George W. Maynard, h.a.,” and came up with a 19th century artist with the same name. George Maynard (1846-1923) was a highly respected American artist and while the books may, obviously, refer to another George Maynard, it was very cool to think that they may have once belong to such an incredible figure of American history.

George W. Maynard

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Volume I had two instances of marginalia on top of the nameplate. One page had “variation of Needle [illegible] in 1837” written next to a section of text. Another page had a section starred and an associated comment of “How does this prove it?” written along the bottom of the page. The author chose to associate the text by drawing in outside knowledge to connect to the book and by questioning the proof within the text.

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In Volume II, a page had “Birds of Paradise” written next to a section on birds, specifically Passeres. In this case, the marginalia was interacting with the book by making a comment on the section and connecting another reference to the birds the section is referring to.

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Volume III had a comment, “[illegible] – Is this the origin of the Irish expression, “blood [illegible]”!” written along the bottom of a page. Like the marginalia of Volume II, this comment referred to a section on the page and looked at though the writer of the comment was interacting with the text by drawing parallels between the text and outside knowledge.


I really enjoyed the Book Traces project! I have always loved coming across handwritten notes in books and instances of marginalia in older books is something I have missed in the digital age. Immersing myself into the library and pulling these 19th century books from the shelf and flipping through the pages for small marks was something I not only enjoyed, but found to be incredibly rewarding. As an anthropology major, seeing people interact with their environment (or their books) is something I love to observe and this project offered the perfect opportunity to do so. Being apart of a project to preserve and archive these small traces of the past was incredible rewarding and inspiring.


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