Rare books often contain traces of former ownership and signs of reading, such as bookplates, signatures, inscriptions and annotations. These marks can provide valuable insights into who owned the books, how they changed hands and how the texts were considered and used by readers.
One mark left by previous generations of readers is the manicule, a hand and finger drawn to point at a sentence or paragraph. Particularly prevalent between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, (Sherman, 2005, p.19), the symbol is also known as a pointing hand, fist, mutton fist, index and indicator (p.27). Following the introduction of printed books, printers also added manicules as aids for readers.
The manicules pictured above are from a heavily annotated mid-seventeenth century book of law reports held in Special Collections. The 352 manicules (yes, I counted them) range from the functional to the elaborate, complete with cuffs and fingernails. Some of the legal cases seem of particular interest to past readers and those pages are crammed with marginal notes, symbols and underlined sentences. The title page carries the inscription `Geo. Bowler’ in an ink and hand that appear to match some of the annotations. Many centuries later, a yellow label for the `Devonport Public Library Reference Branch' was pasted on to the front pastedown.
Click on the photo to see more manicules from the book.
Jo Birks, Special Collections
Great Britain. Court of King’s Bench & Hobart, Sir H. (1658). The reports of that reverend and learned judge, the Right Honourable Sr Henry Hobart knight and baronet, lord chief justice of His Majesties Court of common pleas. London : Leybourn.
Sherman, W.H. (2005). Toward a history of the manicule. In Myers, R., Harris, M., & Mandelbrote, G. (Eds.), Owners, annotators, and the signs of reading. New Castle, Del. : Oak Knoll.