Bookplates are generally good ways of tracing the provenance, or previous ownership, of a book. Sometimes, however, they can be misleading, and researchers should be careful not to jump to conclusions.
A book from the LSU Libraries’ McIlhenny Natural History Collection illustrates this point. Inside the cover of John Ray’s Wisdom of the Works of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1756) is a bookplate with the name “Hans Sloane, Esqr.” printed on it. One might assume that the book belonged to Sir Hans Sloane, the famous natural history collector whose bequest of books and artifacts formed the foundation of the British Museum. (Sloane is also famous for having “invented” milk chocolate, the recipe for which was later adopted by John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury chocolate company).
There’s just one problem: Sir Hans died in 1753—three years before this book was published.
A quick look at the Dictionary of National Biography reveals that Sir Hans had a son, also named Hans; unfortunately, the child died in infancy. However, an inquiry to the Sloane Printed Books Project at the British Library, which is trying to recreate Sloane’s library (many books from which were sold in duplicate sales in the 19th century), reveals that Sloane had a great-nephew, also named Hans, who used a bookplate. Given the 1756 printing date of LSU’s copy of Ray’s sermons, the book must have belonged to Sir Hans’ great-nephew rather than to Sir Hans himself.
At least one other U.S. library with a book bearing the bookplate shown above has identified it as being from the library of Sir Hans. Bibliographers beware! Hans Sloane, Esq., and Sir Hans Sloane were not one and the same.
– Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books