Provenance is an important concept for historians, collectors and museums. It refers to the chain of ownership of any collectible item, including manuscripts, artworks, official documents or, in our case, a family Bible. Establishing the provenance of an item—such as the Bonniwell Bible—from its creation to the present day is important for several reasons:
- By studying this Bible as an artifact, a book published on paper, we are establishing its history and authenticity as a Bible, published in London, England, by Christopher Barker, in the Geneva translation, including copious notes, helps and other additions, probably during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and, more specifically, circa 1580-1603.
- By studying the inscriptions in this Bible, we can also try and establish who owned the book, and when they owned it. The more we know about this, the more confident we can be about the historical and genealogical information found in the Bible’s many inscriptions.
Who owned it first?
That’s still a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, we do have a solid—though perhaps not unbroken—history of Bonniwell family inscriptions in this Bible, beginning in 1697 and continuing through the early 1900s. First-person family recollections record the Bible’s direct descent from that time until the present day. And we know that this Bible was first in the possession of a related branch of the Bonniwell family and then owned by “our” Bonniwells no later than 1795:
Bonniwell Bible, detail, showing inscription by William Bonniwell, 1798, and ligature WBonniwell, 1795. photo credit: Kendalyne Gentile, 2022.Continue reading