Skip to Main Content
Online Exhibitis Home Special Collections Home Library Website GW Law School Official Website

Celebrating Provenance: Introduction

Celebrating Provenance

Scholar Image


Lawyers might call it “chain of custody,” but book collectors and librarians call it “provenance.”  In the world of rare books, “provenance” – the history of the ownership of a book – has been described as “the pedigree of a book’s previous ownership.”  Evidence, by way of the owner’s name (generally a signature or stamp), arms, bookplate, or other marks found in the book or on the binding, is used to establish the custodial chain.  Where the book is silent, provenance might be pieced together from auction records or booksellers’ catalogues.

Provenance can help establish the authenticity of the book in question, and a distinguished provenance may add to the interest, and importance, of that copy.

The Law Library holds a number of rare books formerly owned by notables in law, history, or with a special connection to GW, some of which are displayed here.


Curated by Jennie Meade, Director of Special Collections, | Winter 2017