The Vault

Delightful 17th-Century Traveling Library Packs 40 Volumes Into One

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Closed, the leather outer case of this 17th-century traveling library looks like an oversized book. Its shelves contain 40 small volumes, bound in vellum. The blue-painted frontispiece, opposite its shelves, catalogs the contents; the small books bear no titles on their spines.

While scholars don’t know exactly who was responsible for this volume’s construction, they believe it was commissioned by William Hakewill, an MP, lawyer, and student of legal history. Hakewill seems to have gifted four such sets to friends and associates in the years 1617 and 1618.

The library, a luxury item, was meant for the personal use of noblemen on the go. (A later example of the same kind of set was Napoleon’s traveling library, housed in an oak case for shipboard and campaign use.) By giving such a gift, Hakewill complimented his recipients’ learnedness, while displaying his own inventiveness and wealth.

The titles, typical of reading material for educated, upper-class people at the time, include works of classical history, theology and philosophy, and poetry; authors Tacitus, Virgil, Ovid, Aquinas, and Seneca found places on the shelves. A small copy of the Bible appears in the theology section.  

(There are more pictures of the library in the Daily Mail’s article about the set, including a close-up of the frontispiece listing its contents.) 

Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library.