This article examines the provenance of a rare sixteenth-century copy of Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie (Edinburgh, 1599), an agricultural manual that, unlike previous guides, was aimed at tenant farmers at the lower end of the social order. These rural farmers had relatively modest levels of literacy and have understandably left few records of their encounters with Tusser’s manual. Yet this copy contains rare material evidence of use by a family of tenant farmers living in Somerset in the early seventeenth century. Later, in the eighteenth century, it belonged for a time to William Henry Ireland, the notorious Shakespeare forger, who then passed it on to George Chalmers, the Scottish antiquarian book collector who amassed a significant gentleman’s library and who was also hoodwinked by Ireland’s forgeries. Following the auction of Chalmers’s library in 1842 this book found its way into the British Museum Library in 1846 via the London book trade. It is remarkable not just for its survival (it is one of the two copies extant of this edition) but because of what it reveals about its owners over the centuries.
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