“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.1

  1. 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. []

Author: Erin Blake

ERIN BLAKE is Head of Collection Information Services at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Previously (from March 2000 through March 2014) she was the Folger's Curator of Art & Special Collections. Erin teaches History of Printed Book Illustration in the West at Rare Book School, and is chief editor of Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics).


  1. Is it safe to assume this item is perhaps an inch across?

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. To me it looks like it might be a toggle or a part of a fastening. But I’ve never seen one that looks quite like that.

  5. 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?

  6. It’s a trichobezoar.

  7. 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: http://titania.folger.edu/BeyondHomeRemedy/).

  8. I was also thinking this is a button or toggle, or some kind of closure.

  9. Getting warmer… getting warmer…

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

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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).

  13. Check out Erin’s explanation and more pictures of this itty-bitty tab divider in her next post.

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