catalogue of catalogues

My current research on the mathematical book trade in early modern Britain builds on the ‘Catalogue of British Book Catalogues in Print & Manuscript up to 1700’ (dubbed the ‘Catalogue of Catalogues’) which actually began its life with the AHRC-funded project ‘Reading Euclid’s Elements of Geometry in Early Modern Britain and Ireland’ based at the Faculty of History, University of Oxford. In that project, my colleagues, Benjamin Wardhaugh, Philip Beeley, and I studied the reception of Euclid’s works by analysing annotation, teaching, and collecting practices during this period. With further research fellowships at the Grolier Club and the Folger Library (and an upcoming one at Linda Hall Library), I have since been focusing on mathematical book collecting practices to understand how mathematics and its practical applications (including architecture) spread throughout Britain prior to the industrial revolution. In addition to examining actual extant copies of books for annotations and ownership inscriptions, I have been studying these book catalogues for their mathematical content. Although a termination date is set at 1700, the chronological limits are not yet finalised.

material evidence studied

‘Catalogue of Catalogues’ is a metadata database recording various types of book lists extant from this period. The book lists include (in print) bookseller, auction or sale, bequest, and institutional library catalogues, as well as bookseller advertisements usually appended to books. In manuscript, they include institutional and personal library lists, but also lists of desiderata and shopping lists. Ownership inscriptions in extant books are also included, these especially to record book ownership by those less represented in terms of the survival of book lists. The catalogue is not geographically limited, so the libraries of British institutions on the continent are also included.

in print:

  • bookseller catalogues (trade and retail)
  • advertisements by booksellers or publishers appended to books
  • catalogues of institutional (including royal) libraries
  • bequest catalogues (e.g. Bibliotheca Norfolciana)
  • auction catalogues (including ones annotated with prices and other marks, and hammer copies)
  • sale catalogues of libraries of individuals (sold directly without auction)
  • general catalogues of printed works (e.g. those by Andrew Maunsell)
  • bibliographical lists

in manuscript:

  • personal library lists
  • house inventories that include book titles
  • lists of desiderata (e.g. from auctions) or shopping lists (e.g. requests to friends travelling overseas), sometimes attached to correspondence
  • catalogues of confiscated libraries during the Civil War
  • catalogues of institutional libraries (including schools, Catholic colleges, trade companies in the Levant or India, etc.)
  • bequests to institutional libraries

in fragment:

  • lists constructed from individual ownership marks in books; these especially to record book ownership by those less represented in terms of the survival of lists (e.g. women and mathematical practitioners)
  • lists of subscribers to individual titles (can be in print or manuscript)

some samples (selected from material I have permission to share)


Although it has so far accumulated well over 1000 entries, the catalogue is yet a work in progress. Once completed, it will be available to other researchers as a dataset as well as a searchable database.

a static preview sampling some of the included data