learning from mistakes

One of my favorite categories of early modern books are those that show errors, small mistakes made in the process of printing them.

a leaf that was folded when it was printed

I don’t love them because I like to laugh at them. I love finding them because they remind me that books are made by people and they carry with them traces of their making. Books don’t just magically appear.

The image above is of a leaf from The compleat French-master and it’s not too hard to figure out that it must have been folded as it went through the press (click on the photo to go to another post I wrote about this). I don’t know that there’s anything particularly informative about this mistake, but I do like it. Other mistakes tell us something a bit more about the printing process. Look through this slide show of a gathering from The Perfect path-way to salvation to see if you can spot what the error here is (if the slide show doesn’t work for you, you can see the images here):

It’s easiest to spot if you notice that the text here is going through the ten commandments in order and explicating each one: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 7, 9, 10 (I didn’t include the tenth, but trust me, it’s there on the next page). Now do you see the problem? Two pages have been switched: N7r and N8v are in each other’s slots. If you look at the images of those openings below, you’ll see that the catchword on the left-hand page of the top opening (“raine”) should be followed by the left-hand page on the bottom opening, which starts with the phrase “raine on the iust,” and the catchword on the bottom of the right-hand page of the top opening (“Why”) matches the beginning of the right-hand page on the bottom opening.

N6v || N7r

N8v || O1r

If you look at this figure from Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography, which shows a common imposition for a 16mo (the format of this book), you’ll see that pages 13 and 16 (the page equivalents of signatures 7r and 8v) are right next to each other—easy enough for a perhaps tired pressman to reverse without noticing. (None of this format stuff making sense? I wrote a super short post elsewhere giving a quick demonstration with a newsbook. And you can check out our very own Impos[i]tor to try generating your own impositions!)

Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography; imposition for 16mo

So, what do you think happened here, in this 1585 Vita di Giesu Christo?

upside down text on page 252 of a 1585 Life of Christ

On the one hand, it’s pretty obvious: the text at the bottom of the page is upside down. Oops. But wouldn’t you think that whoever was setting the type would notice it was upside down? That’s a pretty big mistake.

But if you look closer, the mistake isn’t that the type is upside down, but that it’s been inked. The text in italics is an oratione, as a reader has indicated in the marginalia, but unlike the one at the top of the page and elsewhere in the book, it’s missing its header. And the text below it starts in the middle of a sentence, rather than at the beginning. These signs, along with it being upside down, suggests that the text wasn’t intended to be read, but was serving some other purpose. What that purpose might be is clearer once we notice that the larger italics in the middle of the page announcing the end of the first section of this work: “Il fine della prima parte della vita di Giesu Christo.” The next part begins on the recto of the next leaf:

the verso of the same leaf and the beginning of the next section

In other words, it doesn’t seem as if there was any text intended to be printed below the conclusion of the first part. A printer, however, can’t simply leave that space empty, nor can it be filled with flat blanks, since that means there wouldn’t be an even surface for the platen to push against, and the uneven pressure on the type could cause breakage. A printer in this situation would use bearing type—uninked type that might leave a blind impression on the page but otherwise service to balance out the load of the press.1

I’m less sure about what is happening in the title page to this 1641 petition:

misinked title page

If you look carefully at this title page, you’ll see that there are some shadowy, misaligned markings as well as the properly printed main text. It’s especially visible in LONDONS with the DONS echoed just above and to the right. You can see an echo of “ble the K” in the same relationship to “Honourable the Knights” a few lines below that. My first guess would be that the paper slipped while being printed, or that perhaps the pressman brought down a fresh sheet on to the type before the type had been reinked for a new impression. But there’s clearly some sort of pivoting that’s happened—the right half of the page has the extra impressions, but the left half is clean. And if you look closely at the white space around “Names” I wonder if there isn’t yet something else to notice:

detail of double impressions

Here you can see that the most of the faintly inked material is in a parallel plane, above and to the right of the proper text. But in the last line above, there’s an “N” above and to the left of “Names” in addition to the one above and to the right. That same pattern is also visible in the “IAN” of “PARLIAMENT.” So what caused this to happen? I’d welcome any thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Check out the recent scholarship by Randall McLeod for more on the things that bearing type can tell us. []

Author: Sarah Werner

SARAH WERNER is Digital Media Strategist at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Editor of The Collation. She blogs about books and reading, writes about modern performance and Renaissance drama, and is known in some corners of the web as @wynkenhimself.


  1. Concerning the 1641 Humble Petition. I would have at the very first said, “dirty tympan.” However, since there would be a pretty careful frisket for a title-page that won’t do. However, if one looks at this in the ESTC one sees that there are two states of the t-p (Wing C4343 and C4343A) The first state reads according to ESTC ‘ First word of line 8 of title is “citizens” and last word of line 10 is “above”. Variant: first word of line 8 is “ciizens” and last word of line 10 is “about”.’ Sarah has posted the second state. What she has here, I think, is the very first copy printed of the second state which bears the shadow, either because of dirty tympan, or trial pull uninked as the change was made, and then the final pull inked after the change. The unlocking and re-locking of the forme would account for the shifting of the positions of type. And since this is a single-sheet pamphlet one would need to look at the other pages in the outer forme to see if similar things can be seen.

  2. I don’t want to flog this horse to death, but it can’t be the tympan for that would leave a mirror image. However, do the shadow letters show any signs of having been pressed into the paper? It is really not possible to tell from the image posted.

  3. I think it would be very interesting if a raking light, or some such similar trick, over the page might show the type for the first state of those two variants biting the paper. Also, the “The” of the first line interests me since it is not really a shadow but a double strike, or so it appears to me. Also, according to ESTC only two copies of Wing C4343A are known (Newberry and Yale), whereas 33 copies, including yours, exist of Wing 4343 (the first state reading ” ‘ciizens’ and ‘about’.) This is manifestly not the case with the Folger copy. EEBO’s image of the Newberry copy of Wing C4343A shows it reading “citizens” and “above” and its image of British Library copy of Wing C4343 show it reading “ciizens” and “about.” Aside from mere cataloging error what else is involved here?

  4. Hi William,

    So my camera can’t do justice to further details of the title page, but for now, here are some more observations:

    The shadow letters don’t appear to bite into the paper at all. I did notice that the right side of the tp (the side with the shadows) seems to be more lightly pressed than the left side of the paper. The verso of this leaf is blank, and there is a more pronounced impression from the type on the shadow side than the other side. (You can actually see the differing amounts of bleedthrough on the EEBO copies of both C4343 and C4343A.) The impressions of the chain lines are also fairly clear on the recto of the tp, for what that’s worth. And the title page is clearly conjugate with the fourth (last) leaf, and the verso of that leaf is also blank. In other words, might the combination of type and bearing type have some role in this? (I clearly have bearing type in mind from the previous image in this post!)

    As for the cataloging, my interpretation of the records is that it’s C4343 that exists in an uncorrected (ciitzens/about) and corrected (citizens/above) state, rather than C4343 being the corrected and C4343A being the uncorrected. Wing doesn’t add C4343A until the 1994 edition of the catalog. Prior to that, the Yale copy is identified as C4343 (I’m assuming it’s the same copy since the Yale location drops from the C4343 list and is added to the C4343A). The Yale catalog notes that their copy is missing the imprint date (http://hdl.handle.net/10079/bibid/3178269) but the EEBO’s copy of the Newberry copy shows the date, albeit trimming has cut most of it off. And, now that I look at it, I see that the both the Yale and Newberry catalogs cross-reference their copies as C4343 (Newberry is here: https://i-share.carli.illinois.edu/nby/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&v1=1&BBRecID=570916). In other words, it’s really not at all clear to me what’s making C4343A another edition of C4343!

    I feel like I’ve gone down some sort of rabbit hole here!


  5. I had assumed that C4343 was the uncorrected state and C4343A the corrected state. But leaving that aside, since this is a single sheet pamphlet imposed in quarto, the outer forme will have one blank page (A4v), the title-page, and two pages of text. The first two will be in one half of the forme (A1r, A4v) and the other two A2v and A3r) in the other half. The inner forme will be all text save for A1v, the blank verso following the title-page. The text pages are, to my mind, pretty full and tightly packed. Alas, EEBO did not film and/or digitize A4v in either the Newberry or BL (Thomason E.180[16] ) copies so it is not possible for me to see what is on it, if anything. Note however, that the Folger copy has the corrected readings of Wing C4343A but the blurring “THE” in line one as found in C4343. Without knowing anything about the two states one might assume that the shadows were produced by a less-than-full pull of the press and than another pull but after the paper has slipped slightly. But, “THE” in line one could not be so close to the earlier image if that had happened. Without looking at a significant number of other copies of Wing C4343A and the other copy of Wing C4343 at Yale to see if there are significant variants, and not just in the title-page, I am not sure it is possible to solve this one. Anyway, I have folded a sheet of paper in quarto with the pages marked on it and will continue to ponder these things in my heart.
    It may be the case–it seems to be the case–that we may have more that one state of the title-page and so, perhaps, Wing C4343, Wing C4343A, Wing C4343B? Whoops! I’m going down the rabbit hole!

  6. If the type was switched up mid-print-run, I’d guess that somebody was trying to save paper and re-use this proof sheet — either by only lightly inking, or intending to print the proof in blind, but without cleaning the type too well in advance.

    … Especially since this looks like a hasty little pamphlet. No?

    • Ah, I like this explanation–it takes care both of the skewing and partial shadowing! It doesn’t quite answer the double-struck “THE” that William notices, but might that be explained by some wobbly type in that line, that jiggled when it was printed for real? Does type do that?

  7. Ok, I’m looking at the Beinecke copy right now — I don’t have answers, but I can at least tell you what I’m seeing, and how it compares to the copies described above.

    This is a “Ciizens” / “about” issue of the t.p., and the missing date in the Beinecke catalog is simply due to the severe trimming at the bottom of the page. The “THE” in the top line does appear to be, like the others, a double-strike, with the second, darker strike just a tad lower than the previous faint impression. However, I’m not seeing any shadows whatsoever on the rest of the t.p. Like Sarah’s picture above, the left coat-of-arms is significantly darker than the one on the right. The upper-right corner of each page has been repaired at some point, and the pamphlet was at one time probably bound with together with others, due to that wonderful red color on the fore-edge. So I’m not sure how the subsequent treatment of the pamphlet may, or may not, affect what I’m seeing.

    You can just barely see that the t.p. seems to have been folded at some point, vertically down the page (on an axis between the “Z” and “E” of “CITIZENS” in the 2nd line). A4v (which is rather dirty) has very clearly been folded along the same axis. There’s also a contemporary annotation on A4v, which is otherwise blank: “The Rebellion in Years 1641, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 & 49″

    • Thanks, Adam, for looking at this for us! It does clarify what issue the Yale copy is, though I continue to be perplexed about what the difference between Wing C4343 and C4343A is, given that there are copies in both that are the “ciizens” variant and copies in both that are “citizens.” Sometimes catalogs drive me crazy!

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  9. Couple of things. I think the problem with Wing C4343 and C4343A is probably just a classical Wing Problem. It is perfectly clear that C4343 is the one with the t-p “ciizens” and “about” and C4343A is the one with “citizens” and “above” but with the typical slippage of Wing entries, and added by the reported results which is what we get with the ESTC there is now probably some lack of cataloging clarity. I think the only thing for it is for all 35+ copies to be looked at again to make sure which is which. Note that Adam Hooks reports that the Yale copy which is supposed to be C4343A has the t-p readings of C4343 so the number of known copies of C4343A is still two but aside from Newberry we must now add Folger. This problem may also speak to something which has been worrying me from the beginning of this. If we assume that survival rates must have something to do with number printed and distributed, why do only two C4343A survive as opposed to 33+ of C4343? If the correction of the t-p is that late in the print run why make it? Indeed, why make it anyway in a piece of ephemera such as this?

    On a couple of other matters. Yes, type can do that and I have seen (am currently working on) instances where bits of words, whole words, and the like mover around considerably during the print run of any forme which is not very tightly and correctly locked. I do like the idea of a paper-saving proof pull, though I am not sure it explains the downward movement of the final state. If one looks at the Folger copy and the Thomason copy (C4343) and the Newberry copy (C4343A) one can easily see the horizontal shift of the line with “citizens” in it when the “t” is inserted, but something else has to be involved to have “THE” in line one to stay where it appears to be while all else appears to move downward–if that is what is happening.

    I’m still thinking.

  10. Sarah–

    My assumption would be that what we are seeing with the shaow images is offset ink from other sheets during handling in the print shop:

    1) The page is printed and stacked with other sheets while the ink is still damp.

    2) The ink offsets onto the other sheets.

    3) The sheets are shifted and then pressed together again, causing the ink to re-offset onto the original sheet or to other copies of the same sheet.

    4) This happens a couple of times.

    This would explain: a) why the writing is not mirrored, b) why the text appears shifted in different directions in different portions of the same sheet (it offset in different places on different occasions), c) why Adam isn’t seeing the same effect on his copy (offsetting happens to different sheets in different ways depending on their individual handling).

    Randy has some work in progress where he follows this sort of offsetting, both direct (and thus reversed) and double (right way round) in a variety of books. You should ask him about it.

  11. I’ve just had a look at the Newberry copy. It reveals nothing more in person than what can be observed on the EEBO scan of the microfilm (or at least nothing more to my eye). The only observation I can make (and this may be a bit of reaching) is that the “S” of “Subscribed” seems a bit more squashed, and the same could be said for a few other letters, nearly all on the left side of the page. While this could be an inking issue, my guess is that something about the set up of the type or the operation of the press itself was causing more pressure to be applied to the left hand side of the page. This (thin) hypothesis would support that this is a later impression when compared with the Folger copy (e.g. more evidence of squashed type would occur over time).

    In my initial exchange about this with William via Facebook, my theory was very much like what Allison suggests. This seems more likely to me than re-offset transferring, but who knows.

    The odd leftward jump of the shadow “P A R L I A M E N T.” would appear, to me, to mean the following: In between C4343 and C4343A, at least part of the type was reset and the line containing “P A R L I A M E N T.” was accidentally shifted to the left (as it seems in basically the same place in C4343 and C4343A in respect to the lines above and below). After the pull (which was a proof pull, improperly inked or, more likely, uninked with residual ink producing the shadow), this was caught, fixed, and then was properly inked and pulled, thus producing the impression we see in the Folger’s copy.

    But William raises an interesting question about the scarcity of the “corrected” t.p.s.

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