“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: September edition

Don’t panic—it’s still August, but rather than wait until the middle of September to share the new crocodile mystery,  I’m going to share it now and Heather will discuss it next week.

At initial glance, it’s pretty clear what’s illustrated below: an address leaf of a letter, in this case a newly acquired letter from Thomas Cromwell to Nicholas Wotton, 8 November  [1539]. The question we’ve been asking ourselves, and now you, is, What is going on with the repair along the right side and upper half of the leaf? See that ghostly printing?

click to enlarge in a new window

Clicking on the picture will open it up in our digital image collection, where you’ll be able to zoom in to examine it in detail. We’ll look forward to any thoughts you have to share and Heather will discuss this more next week!

Author: Sarah Werner

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

12 Comments

  1. It’s hard to say ‘what’s going on with the repair’ if we can see only one side of the sheet. The ‘ghostly printing’ may be bleed-through from an adjacent sheet that this sheet was stored with or piled with, perhaps from a printer’s shop. The text appears to have been some sort of petition.

    • If you click on the image to open it in a new window, you’ll find the option to see the rest of the images of this letter, including the other side of the sheet. Click on “thumbnails” towards the upper right of the window, and then the recto of this sheet should be the penultimate image.

  2. This is an interesting letter. It appears to me that what remains of it has been “repaired” by pasting it together with two pieces of paper which were deemed suitable but have faint printing on them. Since it is unlikely that the ink has faded, I suggest that this might be ghost printing from type that has been cleaned and this is taking the last of the ink off. I do the same thing with woodblocks and, if the image is very faint, I will re-use those sheets in the interest of economy.

    Definitely before the age of any clear standards of conservation.

    By a huge stroke of fortune, I can identify the names as being justices itenerant of Northumberland from the early 18th Century. See the list here:

    http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43395

    the date 1792 appears to be a typo and should read 1702.

    Fascinating.

  3. For what it’s worth, I can confirm that the verso is blank (or at least, that it doesn’t have evidence of type on it, my memory is fuzzy).

    Also, thanks Andy for an idea for a future Collation post: repairs that look odd to modern eyes. Call number ART 265- 963 in the Folger collection is a good example: an engraving repaired with a piece of an unrelated engraving.

  4. Actually, on second thought that doesn’t match exactly, but it is quite close.

    • If/when you do find an exact match, I’d be interested to know what’s on the recto of the conjugate leaf (because you’ve dropped everything to work on this pressing issue, right? We recently added Blogs to the “Means of Inquiry” statistical category in our reference database — and moved “Telephone” and “Letter” into “Other”).

  5. John. Perhaps the sheet is from Volume One?

    • You all are on the right track, but I think it is actually from a different work. The title (and volume number) are just barely visible if you zoom in on the image. I’ll show what I think it is a variant of on Thursday, but we’re also quite interested in how this artifact came about, before it was used to mend this manuscript. It doesn’t seem to be a bleed-through or offsetting situation, but then what is it?

  6. I agree that it would be unlikely for ink to fade. But might ink darken? In a scenario like the one Andy describes above, in which type has been cleaned and this is a sheet that took the last bit of ink off the type, might it once have been less visible but it darkened over time?

  7. I cannot think of circumstances in which ink pigments would darken. The faint impression looks so familiar from cleaning my own engraved blocks. My assumption is that the person who carried out this repair was not simply not fussy about the paper used; it did the job and the letter was then put away.

  8. Apologies for missing the mistake in the above post; its getting late here.

    I cannot think of circumstances in which ink pigments would darken. The faint impression looks so familiar from cleaning my own engraved blocks. My assumption is that the person who carried out this repair was simply not fussy about the paper used; it did the job and the letter was then put away.

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