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Commonplace Books

Selected Primary Resources

Prof. Lois Potter | English Department

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Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229


The Special Collections Department holds several examples of early commonplace books -- and its related genres: receipt (or recipe) books, copy books, and autograph albums -- in the manuscripts and archival collections. Selected examples are significant in representing the history of the book as well as the art of the book. The practice of collecting, compiling, and organizing quotations and passages has been popular since the sixteenth century as an educational, intellectual exercise for self-cultivation. From John Locke in England to William Byrd in colonial America, keeping a commonplace book was formative work for a cultured gentleman. The role of the commonplace book's creator offers opportunities to consider the context of that individual in his or her time -- what he or she was reading, what was selected, how the passages were classified and organized. More free-form commonplace books gathered random facts and miscellany, "a medley of information" as described in the 1811 introduction to Richard Arnold's 16th century chronicle of London. As such individualistic creations, commonplace books can be studied as another form of life writing, or "self works." Receipt books with recipes and remedies from the domestic sphere, and medicinal formulae collected by physicians or pharmacists carry on the commonplace tradition of collecting, copying, and classifying useful information. Friendship or autograph albums of carefully copied or original verse and prose are related to commonplace books of classic quotations, though the albums' content and copy sources reflect more the sentimental culture of the 19th century (and the feminine circle of creators who exchanged these albums) than the classic education of 16th or 17th century gentlemen who kept commonplace books. Whether autograph albums or collected quotations, commonplace books demonstrate great efforts of penmanship, calligraphy, and artistic presentation. Printed sources in the Special Collections Department include early published works as well as contemporary fine press editions that highlight typographic presentation of collected wit and wisdom.

See related exhibitions:

Word and Image: The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608, Folger Shakespeare Library

Self Works: Diaries, Scrapbooks, and Other Autobiographical Efforts, University of Delaware Library

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Selected Printed Sources

Arnold, Richard, d. 1521?

The customs of London, otherwise called Arnold's chronicle: containing, among divers other matters, the original of the celebrated poem of the nut-Brown maid. Reprinted from the first edition, with the additions included in the second. London, Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington [etc.] 1811.

LOCATION: Special Collections folio DA680 .A75 1811

Blount, Thomas Pope, Sir, 1649-1697.

A natural history: containing many not common observations: extracted out of the best modern writers. By Sir Thomas Pope Blount. London, R. Bentley, 1693.

LOCATION: Special Collections Horticulture SB91 .A2 B587 1693

A Commonplace book : profound & profane thoughts & observations gathered, set in type and printed, with embellishments / by John DePol. Maple Shade, N.J. : Pickering Press, 1985.

LOCATION: Special Collections PN6081 .C65 1985

Erasmus, Desiderius, d. 1536.

Des. Erasmi Roterod. de utraq[ue] verborum ac rerum copia lib. II ad sermonem & stylum formandum utilissimi. Amstelodami : Apud Ioannem Ianssonium, ao. 1662.

LOCATION: Special Collections PA8517 .D4x 1662

Foxe, John, 1516-1587.

Acts and monuments of matters most special and memorable, happening in the church : with an universal history of the same : wherein is set forth at large, the whole race and course of the church, from the primitive age to these later times of ours, with the bloody times, horrible troubles, and great persecutions against the true martyrs of Christ ... / by the author, John Fox ; whereunto are annexed certain additions ... ; to which also is added the life of the author both in Latine and English. London : Printed for the Company of Stationers, 1684.

LOCATION: Special Collections folio BR1607 .F5 1684

Grabhorn, Robert, 1900-1973.

A commonplace book of cookery : a collection of proverbs, anecdotes, opinions and obscure facts on food, drink, cooks, cooking, dining, diners & dieters, dating from ancient times to the present / compiled by Robert Grabhorn ; and with a preface by M. F. K. Fisher. San Francisco : Arion Press, 1975.

LOCATION: Special Collections PN6084.F6 G73

Karl Ludwig, Elector Palatine, 1617-1680.

Philothei Symbola christiana : quibus idea hominis christiani exprimitur. Lugduni Batavorum : Apud Viduam Johannis à Gelder, 1682.

LOCATION: Special Collections BV150 .K3 1682

Lyric verse : a printer's choice / compiled and printed by David R. Godine. [S.l. : s.n.], 1966 (Lunenburg, Vt. : Stinehour Press)

LOCATION: Special Collections PN6099 .G6 1966

Pentagram Press.

The Pentagram Press commonplace book : a selection of typographic interpretations. Minneapolis : The Company, 1988.

LOCATION: Special Collections Z250 .P46x 1988

Ussher, James, 1581-1656.

The annals of the world. Deduced from the origin of time, and continued to the beginning of the emperour Vespasians reign, and the totall destruction and abolition of the temple and common-wealth of the Jews. Containing the historie of the Old and New Testament, with that of the Macchabees. Also all the most memorable affairs of Asia and Egypt, and the rise of the empire of the Roman Caesars, under C. Julius, and Octavianus. Collected from all history, as well sacred, as prophane, and methodically digested. London, Printed by E. Tyler, for J. Crook and G. Bedell, 1658.

LOCATION: Special Collections folio D57 .U87

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Manuscripts and Archival Collections

In addition to finding aids, Special Collections maintains several inhouse lists of literary and historical manuscripts. For assistance of any kind, please contact a Librarian in Special Collections.

MSS 097 Diaries, Journals, and Ships Logs

Hendrick, Joel. The Common Place Book of Joel Hendrick, commenced April 13th, 1844, Norwich Academy [Connecticut?].

Mackintosh, John. Extracts from the Histories of Scotland and England, 1806.

Olney, Oliver. The Traveller's Offering; or "Summer Blossoms" and "Autumn Leaves," Philadelphia, 1853.

"To Caroline A. Smith these blossoms & leaflets, gleaned from mountain, lake and dell, are most respectfully dedicated as atoken of affection & regard by the compiler and author."

Presentation album of verse copied for and dedicated to a young man's sweetheart, with extraordinarily accomplished penmanship and calligraphy.

Peale, Eleanor. A Book for Extracts, ca. 1820-1850

Copied and original verse and prose with elaborate penmanship and calligraphy in more than one hand. The book also includes some original art. Text is copied from Wordsworth, Shelley, Milton, and the book also includes "Twas the Night before Christmas" copied "from the Troy Sentinel" [1823].

Creator unknown. Recueil de Morceaux choisis / extraits de differens Auteurs, [18th c.]

In French and English, including selections from Dr. Johnson.

Creator unknown. Sampler of prose and poetry, [Philadelphi], ca. 1828

Item 005 Black, Samuel Henri. Selected from various authors: Chosen paragraphs, agreeable to the fancy of the compiler, 1810–1844; 1 v.

Resident of New Castle County, Delaware. Personal miscellany, from copied quotations to agricultural memoranda.

Item 066 Shaw, Caroline. [Album of verses], 1828-1829.

Friendship album of probable student of Deer Park Seminary for young women in Newark, Delaware.

Item 090 Creator Unknown. [Physician's notebook], ca. 1721-1766.

"This receipt I write out of ye London Journal, July 22, 1721." Formulas, receipts, prescriptions.

Item 095 Cooper, Gerogina Maria. Copybook and poetry scrapbook, 1866-1900.

Includes lines copied for penmanship, sums, "miscellaneous exercises," rhymes, biblical verses, and dialogs "spoken by girls and boys at Ebenezer Church." Numerous deaths and marriages are copied from the Delaware Republican, a Kent County, Delaware, newspaper. On January 1, 1871, Georgina Cooper lists herself as teacher and identifies her pupils for School District No. 29 in Hollandsville, Delaware.

Item 107 Fotterall, Sara K. Receipt book, [1864].

Recipes for food and drink; medicinal remedies and domestic treatments, probably from Philadelphia.

Item 111 Faxon, John. Copybook, [1860s].

Penmanship excercises copying statements extolling the virtues of temperance, modesty, etc.

Item 114 _____ Bradley. Commonplace book, [1831]-1845.

Created by ____ Bradley, owner of a cotton spinning mill in Kighley, York County, England, this commonplace book is filled with personal notes and miscellaneous facts and observations. Many entries reflect Bradley's fascination with contemporary discoveries, inventions, and political affairs around the world..

Item 145 American cookery and household receitps, ca. 1835-1858.

Food recipes, medicinal cures, and household hints. Includes recipes for cakes, cookies, breads, vegetables; cures for snake bite, measles, hives, and rheumatisim; hints for improving candle wicks, exterminating roaches, and making cement.

Item 154 Index to remarkable passages, 1803-1804.

Recipe book with journal entries describing agricultural plantings.

Item 156 Baker, Mary. [Receipt book], ca. 1730.

18th century English recipe book for food and medicinal cures, elegantly copied with decorative calligraphy and careful indexing of contents.

MSS 100 > Manuscript and Archival Collections

MSS 312 John Anderson papers, 1948-1994 (bulk dates 1978 - 1994); 5 linear ft.

Papers of the Philadelphia-based fine printer of Pickering Press, who often collaborated with wood engraver John DePol. Box 3 F89 & F90 Preliminaries - A Commonplace Book - contains the working files and collected quotes toward this Pickering fine press edition.

MSS 449 Littell Family Papers, 1808-1999.

Delaware and Pennsylvania family, including three Morris sisters from Germantown, Pennsylvania, who created numerous copybooks and scrapbooks in the 19th century. Box 3 F47 Copybook/scrapbook, ca. 1830-1876. Includes clippings of engravings, original and copied poems, stories, and quotations assembled and written by members of the Morris and Littell families.

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