Second Thoughts on Second Editions. The Dutch Fingerprint (Part II)

In my previous Collation post I explained what a bibliographic fingerprint is and how it works. The examples I will discuss in this post will demonstrate how useful the fingerprint is to compare copies remotely and to identify title editions and variants within editions. Some of these discoveries may shed more light on (bad) habits in book production and the marketing of books in the early modern period. If you doubt what printer’s and book sellers want you to believe, just verify some fingerprints!

A Second “Second Edition”

The rich Folger collections house an interesting story written by the prolific German Jesuit Hieremias Drexel (Augsburg 1581–Munich 1638). Unfortunately, the title page of this book is severely damaged. 

torn title page of BS2458 D7 Cage (fol. A1r)

The upper half of the engraving is torn off, but parts of the author’s name (“R.P. Hier[emia Drexel]”), his affiliation (“Soc. Ie[su]”), and the name of the city where he spent the largest part of his career (“Monachii”) are still readable. More importantly, the imprint at the bottom is still intact, asserting that the book was produced at Antwerp in the office of the widow of Jan Cnobbaert in 1641.1 The book deals with the Old Testament story of Joseph, and if we check “De Backer-Sommervogel,” the famous bibliography dealing with Jesuit publications, we find this work listed in volume 3, column 201, number 25.2

description in De Backer-Sommervogel, vol. 3, col. 201, no. 25: Ioseph Ægypti Prorex

The brief entry mentions a 12mo edition from 1640 and an Antwerp 16mo edition published one year later. According to the description, the book consists of “8ff., pp. 321.”, that is, “8 leaves, 321 [numbered] pages, and an engraved title page.” The Folger copy counts a first gathering of 6 leaves (that is 12 pages), followed by a numbered series of 321 pages and one blank page, so the description of the prelims does not completely fit. We would doubt the identification of the format, too. The chain lines in the Folger copy run horizontally, and we can see parts of the watermark in the middle of the front margins.3 The smaller formats are always difficult to identify, but the evidence of both the chain line orientation and the pattern of watermarks point in the direction of a small common 12mo. Apart from that, everything seems fine. There is just one final check to perform: consulting the Short Title Catalogue Flanders to see if it records this edition.

Narrowing down Drexel’s editions to those published in 1641 results in a list of ten different titles, including two different editions of the Ioseph Ægypti Prorex discriptus.

Screen shot from STCV: List of editions by Drexel published in 1641

Both editions are described as 24mos, and both have a pagination that seems to fit with the one in the Folger copy.4 Both editions also have the same engraved title page, which seems to match ours, but their collation formula as well as the fingerprint differ between the two editions.

At the left hand side, the engraved title page of the edition described as no. 12902323; right the engraved title page of the edition as no. 6822926. Courtesy STCV

The collation of the Folger copy matches description STCV 6822926, as does the fingerprint.

Screenshot from STCV, description no. 6822926

Now that we have identified the right edition, the question arises why there are two different editions with different type and the same engraved title page. Reusing engraved title pages was a common practice at the time, but, as we will see in the second case further on in this post, publishers mostly had the copper plate adjusted in some way to point out that it concerned a new edition. There is something odd about this edition, which seems to me not to have been printed in Antwerp. It is a gut feeling based on some typographic particularities. The use of paragraph marks in subtitles is not that common in Antwerp editions from this period, and neither are the acorns arranged in a triangle at the end of the book. Moreover, the use of black letter (Fraktur?) in the comments at the foot of the text, indicates a Germanic origin of the letterpress work.

Paragraph mark in the subtitle on page 314 and black letter at the foot of that page. Germanic layout practices?

Fol. P5r.: Acorns arranged in a triangle. Germanic layout practice?

Drexel was a German Jesuit, and two additional elements point in the direction of a German origin: first, the work is dedicated to Joannes Christophorus, bishop of Chiemsee in Bavaria; and second, the approbation is issued in Dillingen (26 March 1640).5 If this actually is a German edition preceded by an Antwerp title page, how does it relate to the other edition in the same year which uses the same engraving? Was it printed at the same time, before or after the other one? Did the German publisher buy the original copperplate, or did he only acquire a run of readily printed engraved title pages? The latter seems to be more likely, because if he did possess the copperplate, the imprint could easily have been changed to represent his address. But then the question remains, why did he not print his address in colophon? There is not really a reason to play hide and seek with the public, or was there?

A Second “First Edition”

Our second example also illustrates the problematic character of engraved title pages and the usefulness of the fingerprint. In the vault on Deck C two editions of Ludovicus Nonni’s Diæteticon sive De re cibaria are sitting together on the same shelf like brothers, one dating from 1645 and one from 1646.6 The cards in the Continental Card Catalog referring to this remarkable treatise on healthy food describe the earlier 1645 edition as “the second, enlarged edition” and the 1646 edition as “the first edition” (Lat.: nunc primum lucem vidit”).

The cards in the Continental Card Catalog for the 1645 and 1646 edition of the Diæteticon, respectively

The STCV records three editions of Nonnius’s treatise on medical dietics. The eldest one is an octavo edition published in 1627. The second edition, in quarto, appeared in 1645 and correctly states this edition information on its title page, “secunda editio et auctior”.

Engraved title pages of the 1645 and 1646 edition of the Diæteticon, respectively

The 1646 edition (also in quarto), however, can by no means be considered as the first one, as the publishers wants to make us believe. It is clear that the Antwerp publisher Petrus Bellerus is trying to fool the public by setting up this second “first edition.” This so-called first edition obviously is not the first at all! If we look more closely at the edition statement on the engraved title page, it becomes clear that the “secunda editio” version with the 1645 is the elder one, and that the “nunc primum lucem vidit” represents a later state of the copper plate.

Details of the edition statements on the title pages of the 1645 and 1646 edition of the Diæteticon, respectively

What is new about the 1646 that would induce a clean-fingered publisher to change the edition statement the way Petrus Bellerus did? A comparison of the fingerprints in both copies raises an interesting point. They read as follows:

164504 – a1 ã2 u$ : a2 i3 .$G. – b1 A c : b2 3V2 es$Deus$
164604 – a1 ã2 u$ : a2 i3 .$G. – b1 A $o : b2 3V2 es$Deus$

Apart from the date, the only difference in the fingerprint appears at position b1, the first signed page of the book proper. And indeed, if we closely look at the first gathering, some tiny differences can be discovered. For example in the 1645 edition, the first word in the citation from Lucretius bears an accent on the “q”. As opposed to the rest of the book however, this gathering seems to be the only one that has been reset.

Fol. A1 in the 1645 and 1646 edition of the Diæteticon, respectively. Different states

Today, a comparable intervention could at the most result in an edition statement reading “different state of gathering A!” For Bellerus, however, financial or other issues may have justified his usage of the misleading formula “nunc primum lucem vidit.”

  1. The widow of Jan Cnobbaert was active from 1638 onwards. She stayed in the house Saint Peter where her husband had been running the printing shop, near the Domus Professa of the Jesuits in Antwerp. []
  2. A. & A. de Backer & C. Sommervogel, Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus. 12 vols. Heverlee 1960. []
  3. Parts of the watermark can be seen on the following leaves, each time more or less in the middle of the fore-edge margins: fols. A3, A6, B5?, B7, B11, B12, C7, C11, C12, D7, D11, D12, E7, E8, E11, E12, F7, F11, F12, G7, G11, G12, H7, H8?, H11, H12, I7?, I11, I12, K7, K8, K11, K12, L7, L8, L11, L12, M7, M8, M11, M12, N8, N11, N12, O7, O11, O12, P1 and P4 []
  4. The pagination has one unnumbered printed page (the title page), followed by a blank page, ten unnumbered printed pages, and a series of 321 numbered pages. The edition STCV 12902323 lacks the final leaf X8, which is presumably blank. In that case, the pagination formula would be identical to the one in the other 1641 edition recorded as STCV 6822926. []
  5. Bishop Joannes Christophorus (Germ.: Johann Christoph von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn (1591–1643), was bishop of Chiemsee from 1624 until his death. See E. Naimer: Liechtenstein, Johann Christoph Graf von (1591–1643), in E. Gatz (ed.), Die Bischöfe des Heiligen Römischen Reiches 1448–1648. Berlin 2001. []
  6. The call numbers are RM215 N7 1645 Cage and RM215 N7 1646 Cage respectively. []

Author: Goran Proot

GORAN PROOT is Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is currently surveying layout and typography in early modern books.


  1. A reader from Antwerp informed me that the URL of the STCV database has changed. Please consult the Short Title Catalogue Flanders here:

  2. For those interested in cataloging issues, please note that in Goran’s second example, the disingenuous 1646 book would still get a separate record in the catalog. That is because although the 1645 and 1646 books constitute the same ‘edition’ in bibliographical terms, they constitute separate ‘issues.’ The default approach for rare materials is that each edition and issue are represented on its own separate bibliographic record (that is, a single record in), while different impressions and variant states are described together. (The best and most concise definitions for these terms are found in Philip Gaskell’s from A New Introduction to Bibliography, excerpted nicely on the bookseller’s site:

    In an ideal world, that is. Users of Hamnet and other online catalogs and databases–most particularly the ESTC–do not always follow this neat division. Please stay tuned for the first of an occasional series on cataloging at the Folger and beyond.

    (Sarah, I really mean it this time!)

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