Return to the archives!

This Thursday I went to the archives in Pamplona for the first time since May 2019. Obviously at that moment I didn’t think that it would be 3 years until the next time! But with the pandemic and everything, I couldn’t come.

But at 9am on Thursday, I went to the Archivo Real y General de Navarra (AGN) to begin this research trip.


After so long, I had forgotten some of the little things about working in the AGN, like if I can ask for lots of cases at once, can I have more than one document on my desk, can I get on the wifi, what time do I need to hand in my materials, do I need a sweater, etc. All those little things that you get used to when you’ve researched at a particular archive for a while. And really, this is the first research trip for me that I’ll spend more time in the AGN than the Archivo Diocesano de Pamplona (ADP). In my research, I’ve only ever used about 3 cases from the AGN versus 40+ from the ADP. To some extent that’s because it’s been easier to figure out which cases I need before coming to Spain with the ADP. It’s really easy to find cases that have post-mortem inventories of private libraries in the ADP catalogs. But since I’ve shifted my focus to booksellers in my MA thesis and in my future PhD dissertation, more of what I need seems to be in the AGN. I am still going to the ADP, but out of the 7 days I have in the archive, I’m only spending 2 in the ADP.


For this trip, I’m focusing on court cases that have inventories or just simple lists of the books that booksellers were selling in the 17th century. These could be post-mortem inventories (inventories made of the business when the bookseller died) or inventories made for other reasons. Some of them are of the entire shop; some are just for one transaction of books between booksellers or booksellers and customers.

I have a spreadsheet that’s not even close to being finished of all the cases I want to look at for my PhD thesis (or more likely the rest of my life…) relating to bookselling and booksellers in Navarre, and the AGN tab alone has 95 cases. I’ve identified 22 as “high priority” because they’re more directly related to bookselling versus cases that just involve booksellers. Those lower priority ones can still be important because they often provide more context and information about the booksellers, but I’m looking for data about what books they were selling for the moment, and that data is in the cases with inventories.

Anyway, between Thursday and Friday I was able to look at 5 cases, though I only transcribed material out of 3. The first case that I looked at was n. 297878 from the AGN, where the litigants are Bartolome París, a bookseller in Pamplona, and Abraham Rogier, a bookseller in Bordeaux (about 285km from Pamplona). I haven’t looked at all of the contextual parts of the case to totally figure out what is going on, but París owed Rogier money, and as part of the machinations over this debt, one of the scribes (Martín de Ollo y Bidaurre) for the court went over to París’ shop on the Calle de la Navarrería (now the site of many bars in Pamplona) to look at his goods (possibly to seize some for the debt?). When París saw Ollo y Bidaurre coming, Ollo y Bidaurre says that París ran away, but Ollo couldn’t catch him. So on July 29, 1623, Ollo y Bidaurre went back to the store and inventoried all of the books. My transcription indicates that there are 88 entries, but those entries represent more than 88 books since a single entry might be for more than one book like “dos quadraxessimas de bardaxi. el uno sin cubierta 4o” which refers to Quadragesimal duplicado by José de Bardaxí, and likely one of the editions printed in Zaragoza by Juan de Lanaja y Quartet (USTC search). But even so, compared to the bookseller I studied in my MA thesis, Lorenzo Coroneu, París has way fewer books. He only needed 2 bookcases for all of them. And if that Quadragesimal by Bardaxí is anything to go by, París is selling more new books versus Coroneu was primarily a used bookseller. The Zaragoza editions of Bardaxí are from 1619 and 1620, and this case is from 1623. And also as opposed to Coroneu, París seems to have been a bookbinder as well since also listed in the inventory of the shop are a press, scissors, a punch, and a sewing frame.

The second case I looked at turned out to not be so useful, though still interesting. In AGN n. 163799, Martin de Berdún and Brianda de Aldaz sue Antonio de Barraicoa, a soldier, for attacking them because he thought they were charging too much for sheets of paper. There’s no mention of books in here, though Berdún is certainly of the more successful booksellers of 17th-century Pamplona, but it is still useful to confirm that booksellers in Pamplona had blank paper for sale as well. I might go back to this on a future trip, so I transcribed just a little bit of one of the folios that explains the case well.

The third case was for the bookseller Juan de Palazos. This inventory was a post-mortem inventory, and a physically interesting one since it was done on long, narrow sheets of paper, and the pieces were pinned together at the top. The pin (more like a thin nail really) is still there 400 years later! This case is the most dramatic so far because Juan de Palazos didn’t just die, he was murdered by Juan de Agramont and don Miguel de Baigorri. I don’t know all the details yet, but what’s even weirder is that his brother, Hernando de Palazos who’s a wood turner in Zaragoza, comes up to Pamplona to collect his brother’s things as the next of kin and at the end of the case he forgives in writing his brother’s murderers and states that they aren’t to receive any kind of punishment criminal or civil from the secular or the religious authorities (the bishop’s involved because Juan de Agramont is an ecclesiastical notary). While it is phrased in a document towards the very end of the case as Hernando doing so out of love, I can’t tell whether he really believes in “to err is human, to forgive is divine” or if he just doesn’t care about his brother at all, so by forgiving his brother’s murderers he can cut through a bunch of legal mess. My mom thinks that Hernando paid them to bump off Juan.

The fourth case is the “giant” case, meaning it’s super duper long. As in 867 folios long. It’s a 7 inch stack of paper with a piece of twine running through it to keep the pages together. And this is actually a case that I have looked at briefly before because it involves Lorenzo Coroneu and his brother Juan Coroneu. Juan Coroneu sent books to Juan Antonio Berdún (the son of Martín Berdún from the second case) from Bayonne, but there’s still an outstanding debt owed to Juan Coroneu that Lorenzo and Pedro de Irrure are trying to collect from Juana de Guendulain, Juan Antonio Berdún’s widow. The case goes on for 12 years (1666-1678), and it is so convoluted that’s there’s actually a small printed summary of what has happened in the case at folios 708-718. The case has several inventories, both of the entire shop at Berdún’s death copied from a different court case and I think of what Juan Coroneu sent. I didn’t end up transcribing anything new; I just took notes on where things were that I want to get digitized copies of. That in and of itself took probably 2 hours. And if I don’t look at the case again while I’m here, I’ll probably come back to it again in the coming years since there’s so much data about the books being passed around booksellers, but also about the relationships between booksellers in Navarre and between Navarre and France.

My notes for what I want photocopies of in the giant case

The final case that I looked at contains the post-mortem inventory of Guillermo de San Lorenzo who died in 1631. For the moment, it appears he died naturally, but who knows, maybe there’s another murderer lurking. I only managed to get through 82 entries and haven’t transcribed any non-inventory parts, so I’ll continue with this on Monday, but the handwriting isn’t terrible and the scribe is fairly consistent in giving the format of the book (folio, quarto, octavo) and binding information which is nice!

Preliminary reflections

This trip has felt different in some ways. I can tell that I’ve spent 6 years working with these types of documents. I know I’m going to still regret not transcribing some parts in a couple months, and I still can’t decipher every bit of handwriting as easily as I want, but I feel more confident in my judgements on what I need to prioritize, and I can read faster (though these cases have been pretty nice as far as palaeography goes). And if there’s anything that book history Twitter has taught me, we all encounter handwriting puzzles, and we all regret not transcribing one more folio!

I’m also planning on asking for more photocopies than I usually do, mostly because photocopies are cheaper at the AGN. That’s why I’m mostly just transcribing inventories and documents which summarize what’s going on in a case and that have good handwriting (i.e., they won’t take so long to transcribe). Like I did for the giant case, I can note down what folios in each case I want photocopies of and then transcribe them from the digitized PDF at home.

So even when I get back to the US, I’m still going to be working in the archive in a way!

That’s all for now! I might write the next post tomorrow about how I’m doing my transcriptions because I’ve really changed the way I transcribe.

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