A book from Sir Isaac Newton’s library discovered at The Warburg Institute

Written by Dr Anna Gialdini |

The Warburg Institute Library is home to hundreds of thousands of books dating from as early as the 15th century. Have you ever wondered who may have previously owned the books in our collection?

In this article, our recent Graduate Library Trainee, Dr Anna Gialdini, shares with us how she uncovered the identity of one of our books previous rather well-known owners.

One of the most exciting aspects of library work at the Warburg is how varied the provenance of its collections can be. A little book called Lusus serius: or, Serious passe-time : a philosophicall discourse concerning the superiority of creatures under man caught my attention firstly for its contents: written by Michael Maier (1568–1622), alchemist and physician in the service of Rudolf II (1552–1612), the text is cast in the form of a debate between representatives from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, competing for the privilege of being considered the most useful to mankind.

The opening page of Lusus serius

The Warburg edition was printed in 1654 and can be found at classmark Innes Collection FGH 5680, having been part of the library of Michael Innes, later bequeathed to the Warburg. The book, however, had some interesting previous owners, including Isaac Newton (1643–1727). His name appears nowhere in the volume, but the evidence is all there.

Evidence that links the book to Isaac Newton’s library

Musgrave and Huggins

The first sign is in the bookplate on the pastedown at the beginning of the volume, reading “PHILOSOPHEMUR” (“Let us philosophise”). This, together with the handwritten shelf-mark on the bookplate itself, is a clear sign that the book was part of the library at Barnsley Park, home of the Musgrave family (and their books).

The bookplate for the Warburg copy of Lusus serius

Tracing backwards, we can identify a previous owner, Charles Huggins (d. 1750), whose own bookplate is faintly visible underneath the Musgraves’. It was Charles’s father John, a local prison warden, who originally purchased Isaac Newton’s books after the latter’s death in 1727, for his son (at the time Charles had been newly appointed rector at Chinnor, in Oxfordshire). Books with the Newton – Huggins – Musgrave provenance were later dispersed across the antiquarian book market in the early twentieth century.

Dog-eared pages

What is even more exciting, however, is the other piece of evidence that links this book to Isaac Newton: one of the infamously large dog-ears that Newton used not just to mark pages, but to point at a specific passage, using the corner of the page itself.

A dog-eared page from Lusus serius

This is just one of the many unexpected encounters you can make in the stacks of the Warburg Library: a glimpse into the reading habits of Isaac Newton, still clearly visible in a book.

See other examples of Newton’s books identified in the same way:

How to recognise a Newton library in 60 seconds
Newton’s lost copy of Mede, revealed
In dog-eared pursuit
Folding pages (Scenes from the Library of Isaac Newton, Part 2)

Download a scan of the books from our catalogue and read more about Newton’s library in John Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton (1978; classmark FAM 30).

by Dr Anna Gialdini

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