Books Will Speak Plain

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 11:37am -- mfarias

This week's blog post comes from our Special Collections Cataloger, Maris Humphreys:


The cover of Books Will Speak Plain (2010)

We have a great book on historical bindings – Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings by Julia Miller, published by The Legacy Press in 2010. I look at its illustrations during lunch. I looked at one and said out loud, “That book is on my desk!” The book in Miller's work is by John Hamilton Moore (1738-1807) and its title is The practical navigator and seaman’s new daily assistant, being an epitome of navigation (1791, 9th ed.), first published in 1772. It was plagiarized by Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), after Bowditch claimed to have corrected 8,000 errors. A good summary of Moore’s and Bowditch’s work can be found at, click here to view.

Nathaniel Bowditch by Gilbert Stuart (last, unfinished painting by Stuart)
Photo Credit: Wikipedia 

The binding is akin to sailcloth. This is common. If you need to keep your navigation manual useful on a ship, what is accessible? Sailcloth. I know of three copies of Moore/Bowditch covered in sailcloth. It is not strictly binding, but a cover over the binding. We know of our example (1795), the example in Books will speak plain (1791), and a later 1852 copy of Bowditch, The new American practical navigator, offered by ten pound island book company in its List 245. The sailcloth illustrated in Books will speak plain has more of a linen weave, while ours is coarser.  

The practical navigator and seaman’s new daily assistant, being an epitome of navigation (1795, 11th ed.)
From the collection of the Redwood Library. 

The identification of the Redwood’s book was difficult. It lacks the first four leaves, including the title leaf, and final four leaves. The final two leaves present comprise “A catalogue of new charts, pilots, and sea books” published by John Hamilton Moore. The last section of books on navigation contained our title. But which edition was sitting on my desk? A look at OCLC, our national bibliographic utility, which gives locations for books as well as their descriptions, gave Peabody Essex Library as the home of many editions. Always loving a field trip, I went to Peabody Essex and from their holdings determined that we do indeed hold the title and have its 11th edition.

Inside the front cover, showing the missing title leaf and the cloth bindings, which are similar to the bindings in Books Will Speak Plain

Usually previous owners sign a title page, but we do have a plate signed. Facing page 278 is a plate titled “A first rate ship of war” and the signature is “Samuel Barrett His book 1801.” We stay at the far Madaket end of Nantucket several times during the year and are near the town pier named for  Walter Barrett. Somehow the sea and a member of Nantucket’s Barrett family needed to be explored. Excellent help at the Nantucket Historical Association gave me document signatures which were those of the signer in our book. Now able to add birth and death dates of 1740-1815, our catalog contains a complete entry for Samuel Barrett.

"A first rate ship of war" plate with a signature on top.

Signature reading "Samual Barrett His Book 1801"