The Search

The Search for copies of Ralph Brooke’s Catalogue started with a chance encounter at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. In preparation for a graduate class in the History of the Book, I called up a number of 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century imprints where the Fisher had two or more copies. My goal was to show students how copies of the same edition might differ because of changes made during the printing process. The Fisher’s two copies of the 1619 edition of Brooke’s Catalogue provided an excellent case as each copy had a number of differences in words and phrases that existed in corrected and uncorrected states. But there was more. One of the copies contained numerous manuscript annotations, and several of these ‘readers’ notes’ supplemented or corrected the printed text. The second copy was also of interest owing to its expertly hand-coloured blank arms. While these and other books inspired an exciting discussion, I left the class with a lingering set of questions: Why had the owners of these copies chosen to annotate and/or colour this book? Was this common practice? Who owned books of printed heraldry in the 17th and later centuries? And what might be learned by consulting additional copies of Brooke’s Catalogue, both the 1619 and 1622 editions?

At the time, I had no idea that this final question would inspire hundreds of e-mails to numerous institutions in North America, the UK, Europe, and Australasia. Moreover, the bibliographical descriptions and images gathered from the generosity of Special Collections’ librarians worldwide would inspire presentations at the annual conferences of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, SHARP, and the Renaissance Society of America. That question would also guide the proposal that led to my receiving a two-year Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) IDG grant. And that question is at the heart of the digital site that you, the user, are currently navigating.

To date, I have located more than 160 copies of the two editions of Ralph Brooke’s Catalogue. I have since conducted multiple research trips to the UK, and after two years of Covid-19 lockdowns, I have examined several of the copies in-hand. Over the next year, I aim to provide bibliographical descriptions and select images on this site for all known copies.

If you are aware of (or perhaps even own a copy of one of the two editions of Brooke’s Catalogue not found on this site) please contact me at as we would happily add details of your copy to our census.