The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

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

And now, for your viewing pleasure, we present this month’s crocodile mystery. What is it? How was it made? What size is it? Would it sell well as a postcard in the Folger gift shop?

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Please share your thoughts below, and don’t be shy.  In the spirit of the Folger’s current exhibition, Very Like a Whale, remember that things not only are, they also seem, evoke, relate, and conceal. ((The exhibition takes its name from Hamlet’s description of a cloud that looks like a camel… except that it looks like a weasel… and like a whale.))


  • This looks like two colors of hair braided together into a ball shape. It reminds me of a memento mori, but I’ve never seen one that’s just round, not made into a wreath or jewelry. Though I can’t tell what the background is or how large the item is, so maybe this is part of a larger item. Now I’m quite curious!

  • Looks like a braided/knitted wool button for a jacket or coat. The first thing that came to my mind when i saw this picture: itchy wool.

  • I want to guess that it’s human hair set into a wax seal used to fasten a letter closed. Perhaps a token of the sender?

  • That’s a wonderful word, trichobezoar. It’s not even in the OED, but it means something like a hair-ball, right?

    • A bezoar is a hard object that forms in an animal’s stomach due to material that it cannot digest–hair is one of the things that can trigger it; trichobezoar would be a word specific to a bezoar formed by hair. I would assume, however, that it would look something more like the images you find by googling it, rather than the tidily-formed object here! For what it’s worth, my cat used to cough up hairballs, and I can attest to the fact that they weren’t pretty colors! (There was a bezoar in our exhibition on Beyond Home Remedy, and you can read a bit about it here:

  • Getting warmer… getting warmer…

    The button/toggle guesses are close. And yes, it is part of a larger object… a MUCH larger object.

  • Also, I’m loving seeing the variety of guesses! Since I already know what it is, I have a limited imagination for what it isn’t. The thought of a braided-hair memento mori or love token hadn’t occurred to me, but makes plenty of sense. And a trichobezoar definitely hadn’t occurred to me

  • It’s a very small (parchment?) tab with a small ball knotted onto it that’s been attached to the fore edge of a leaf within a larger book. (In the image you can see the blue edges of the leaves; they’ve been fanned a bit for the photo, it would seem.) It allows the reader to move easily to a particular section of the text. I’ve seen a few different types of these navigational aids. I suspect there are several of these knotted tabs placed throughout this particular volume in a way rather similar to what we see on phone books that have indentations cut into the text block.

  • Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Aaron Pratt wins the grand prize… which, in this case, is having a Folger curator write “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!” immediately after something he’s written.

    Check back Monday for details, including pictures that will give you a good sense of its itty-bitty size (or, for those who prefer metric units, its micro-mini size).

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