5 December 2013
Now that we’re back to our regular twice-weekly schedule of posts, it’s time to bring back our crocodile mystery series! As a refresher, the series posts a mystery item at the (approximate) beginning of each month, inviting speculations in the comments about what it is and what its significance might be. The following week one of our regular authors shares the reveal and explanation.
Here, then, is your mystery for the last month of the year 2013:
Please share your thoughts and observations and questions below in the comments and come back next week for the reveal!
3 December 2013
There’s a persistent rumor that “Mr. Folger never paid more than x for a painting.” The value of x depends on who’s telling the story, but it’s generally around $2,000 and is used as evidence that he wasn’t interested in paintings. The rumor probably began with Mr. Folger himself. When negotiating with dealers, he sometimes allows as how he might consider purchasing the item in question, but it’s really not the sort of thing he usually collects, and in any case, he’s never paid more than some small amount for such a thing… You get the idea.
So, is the rumor about paintings true? No. In 1927, he paid over 25 times the legendary $2,000 for The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions, painted by George Romney (1734-1802). It cost £10,500, which worked out to $51,075.94 the day the bank draft was made. Continue Reading →
26 November 2013
The Folger is thrilled to share the news that we are the recipient of a generous three year National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO), an online searchable database of encoded semi-diplomatic transcriptions of all Folger manuscripts from the period 1500-1700.
That’s the final product, anyway. Getting there is going to be quite an adventure for us, one that we plan to share with you on The Collation at regular intervals once we get up and running next year. We hope that EMMO will expand the textual landscape of early modern England, providing a corpus to explore on its own and to compare to other corpora of print works such as EEBO-TCP.
The most important goal of the project, since we are a library, is access. The transcription and encoding of manuscripts is as crucial to access as is cataloging and digitization. It might even be more so, since manuscripts are slippery and wide-ranging things that tend to defy simple categorization and that are often written in impenetrable hands.
An example of a difficult hand in a very interesting manuscript: a page from Richard Stonley’s diary, for June 18, 1581, in which he describes seeing a dwarf, an extremely tall person, and a baby with a huge head, all on the same day, at the Lord Mayor’s and at the Royal Exchange (Folger MS V.a.459, fol. 3v).
Continue Reading →
21 November 2013
title page for Fertel, La science pratique de l’imprimerie
In 1723, a Frenchman named Martin-Dominque Fertel published a book on printing, La science pratique de l’imprimerie. It’s good to look at early printing manuals, especially when one is trying to understand how early printing works, so I was delighted to learn that the Folger acquired a copy of the book from the Veatchs in September 2012. When I called the book up from the vaults, I saw that it was housed in a specially-made case:
The Folger copy of Fertel’s La science pratique de l’imprimerie
But why was the book in a box? Continue Reading →
18 November 2013
A guest post by Daniel Starza Smith
The Folger’s unique collection of manuscript letters by John Donne (1572-1631) is rightly recognized as being of international importance. Donne is regarded as one of the foremost intellectual figures of early modern England, a poet of remarkable erotic daring, a keen legal mind who poured his learning into complex tracts on contemporary controversies, and, in later years, the most renowned preacher of his day. His marriage letters at the Folger (L.b.526-536) have been digitized, edited, and pored over by scholars seeking information about Donne’s scandalous marriage in 1601, which cost him a promising career and earned him a spell in prison. But another John Donne document (V.b.201) lies neglected among the collections enjoying no such high profile.
John Donne letter, recto and verso (V.b.201)
Why has this manuscript attracted so little attention? Because its author was John Donne, Junior (1604-62), the considerably less admired son of the famous divine. The younger Donne (henceforth simply “Donne”) has gained an unenviable reputation over the years—at best, a gadabout libertine who wasted his wit on fripperies; at worst, a drunk, a sexual predator, and a hot-head who caused the death of an eight-year-old boy. The historian Anthony Wood memorably said of Donne that his nature was vile, and that “he proved no better all his lifetime than an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over free thoughts.” A later biographer, Augustus Jessopp, declared Donne’s surviving letters “full of the most shocking indecencies.” Jessopp had one in his possession, he admitted, so “incomparably filthy and obscene” that he kept it hidden from public view and was regularly tempted to destroy it, adding: “I am prepared to believe anything bad of John Donne the younger.” Continue Reading →
13 November 2013
Just like “Fernweh”—the opposite of “Heimweh” or one’s longing for distant countries—the German word “Fingerspitzengefühl” is almost impossible to translate. Literally it refers to the sensitivity of one’s fingertips and it expresses an accurate knowledge or a delicate feeling that some people have for certain things or situations. It is a conviction which you cannot precisely express, but about which you feel certain. An equivalent for “Fingerspitzengefühl” may be intuition—a form of knowledge and awareness of something which remains mainly implicit and which is difficult to convey.
Most of us have an intuitive knowledge about typography. Over time we have all built up an internal time scale for the looks of books enabling us easily to distinguish the mise-en-page of books published fifty years ago, books a century old, and books printed during the ancien régime. All books from a certain period have characteristic features in common, and even if we cannot exactly tell what those features are, the more books we have seen, the more accurate our intuition. Continue Reading →
6 November 2013
Have a look at the coat of arms worn by Edwin Booth (1833–1893) in the title role of Shakespeare’s King Richard III. Notice something wrong?
Richard III tunic worn by Edwin Booth in the 1870s.
Hint: The conventions Victorian aesthetics aren’t the same as the conventions of medieval heraldry.
Aesthetic rules call for heavier design elements below lighter ones (hence a pyramid of fleurs-de-lis) and bilateral symmetry (hence sets of lions facing each other). But compare the costume’s arms with the actual royal arms, seen here in a detail from a severely unflattering etching of Henry VIII: Continue Reading →
30 October 2013
“For a cancer in the brest”
The large penstrokes of this title caught my eye as I was cataloging a recently acquired receipt book (a book of culinary and medicinal recipes). In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we provide a window into breast cancer treatment in the 17th century. Here is a full recipe, followed by a modernized transcription:
“For a cancer in the brest”
For a cancer in the breast
Take 3 pounds of new burnt lime, unslacked, and put it to a gallon of spring water and let it stand four days, then pour the water off as clear as may be. Then take half a pound of sassafras wood and half a pound of licorice and half a pound of anise seeds and half a pound of currants; shave the wood very thin and bruise all the rest and put them in the water and let it stand four days longer. Then drink thereof every morning and about four in the afternoon, a small sack glass full.
Continue Reading →
23 October 2013
Here Is a Play Fitted is on view through January 12, 2013
The Folger’s current exhibition, Here Is a Play Fitted, takes a broad look at how Shakespeare on the stage has changed over the past 400 years. For a full look at that topic, you have until January 12, 2014 to see the exhibition—and you should! But for this blog post, I’d like to focus in on one small aspect of this exhibition about staging Shakespeare: costumes.
Although people usually think of books and manuscripts when they think of the Folger’s holdings, the collection does indeed include some historic costumes, three of which guest curator Denise A. Walen selected for display in this exhibition. We also included two modern costumes (and a plastic donkey head) from the Folger Theatre archives. One of the major undertakings in putting this exhibition together was figuring out how to display these five costumes, since it is not something we do regularly, and since our own conservation lab is designed to care for books and paper, not textiles. Continue Reading →
16 October 2013
A guest post by Dawn Rogala
Editor’s note: Folger conservators are internationally known for their expertise in book and paper conservation. When it comes to conserving paintings, though, we turn to outside experts like Dawn Rogala of Page Conservation, Inc. Here, Dawn explains how she treated the Cosway Portrait of Shakespeare. All photos in this post have been provided by Page Conservation.
Using a binocular microscope to monitor progress removing one of the Cosway Portrait’s varnish layers
In April 2013, an eighteenth-century portrait of William Shakespeare believed to be from the collection of Royal Academician Richard Cosway (1742–1821) made its way from the Folger Shakespeare Library to the Page Conservation studios for conservation treatment.
Back view of the unframed panel
The wooden panel support is approximately 1/8″ thick, beveled on the reverse to 1/32″ thick at the edges. The wood is in good condition and there is no evidence of insect activity. Viewed from the front, the panel has a slight convex curve, and its fine diagonal grain runs from the top left to the bottom right of the composition.
A preparatory layer of white gesso (a smooth chalk-based coating) lies beneath the portrait and extends to the edges of the panel. The portrait is executed in oils, thinly applied with overlapping fine brush strokes and minimal impasto (paint applied thickly enough to stand up in relief). Close examination of the painting revealed surface abrasions in the background paint, most likely from previous restoration cleaning. Cleaning tests indicated that there was an upper layer of synthetic varnish over a yellowed natural resin varnish. Although some retouching was visible over areas of background abrasion, heavy layers of discolored varnish made it initially difficult to determine the extent of the earlier retouching. Continue Reading →