Black is the raven…black is the rook…blacker the child…who steals this book…’Tis the season for ravens and spooks, so we thought we would share something from the Cotsen Library’s special collections. Namely, book curses!
Book curses have existed for centuries as a method to discourage and punish thieves. Typically located on the front or back pages, they are literally a description (often presented as verse) of what will happen to you should you unwisely decided to steal the book.
Some book curses are incredibly detailed and intense, other are more playful, like the bookplate you see above. The plate is pasted inside Littledom Castle : and other tales, written by Mrs. M.H. Spielmann and illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1903. Look at the gorgeous cover:
Katie and I also found this book, Goldfish at School, or, The Alphabet of Frank the Fisherman, published in 1853:
Below is the book curse. It’s a little faint, but it reads “Steal not this book for fear of for over he’s the owner.”
If you hop over to Cotsen’s fabulous curatorial blog, you’ll find this post, A Field Guide to Fairies. Inside a 1742 edition of Histories, or tales of passed times by Charles Perrault is a book curse penned by Mary Fearman:
A few more curses from Cotsen’s collections:
Virtue in a Cottage; or, a mirror for children in humble life, London, ca. 1790: “”Ellen Nickson / her Book Stal not / this Book for / of Shame for hear / you see the owners / name Ellen Nickson”
The Protestant tutor enlarg’d, London, 1707: “Them that doth this book take / I will send them straight to the Perly gate”
Almanack, London, 1775-1789: “Steal not this Book my honest friend, or else the Gallows will be your end; and if I catch you by the Tail, I will lodge you safe in Newgate Gaol; and when the Judge will come to say where is that Book you have stolen away, and if you say you do not know, he will say go down below.”
Speaking of ravens, would you like to meet THE raven? If so, follow this link (if ye dare)!