Looking like a book

Last month I wrote about a book—nay, a leaf of a book—and the secret histories it reveals about how it was made, from the growth of the tree that became the woodblock to the valleys and hills that formed during the making and printing of the paper. I promised then that I’d write another post that took us into the afterlife of that book, the ways in which the future imprinted itself on it.

I’ll start by reminding you of what we saw:

leaves A3v-A4r of Josua Sylvester's Lachrymae Lacrymarum

leaves A3v-A4r of Josua Sylvester’s Lachrymae Lachrymarum

On the right is the text of Josua Sylvester’s poem Lachrymae Lachrymarum, mourning the death of Prince Henry. On the left is a black mourning page with Prince Henry’s arms. Last time I focused on the history of that leaf and the material conditions of its making. This time, I want to look at what happened after it was made. Take a closer look at the lower left-hand corner of that leaf, shown below with A3v on the left and its obverse, A3r, on the right:

a repaired corner (sig A3v on the left; A3r on the right)

a repaired corner (sig A3v on the left; A3r on the right)

At some point after the book was made, the bottom corner was torn off (that’s not an unusual bit of damage to happen to a book) and someone decided to repair it by adding in a new piece of paper (that’s also not an unusual repair). But since the page is black, the repair is black as well, and that’s what makes it stand out. The paper is different, and it has taken the ink differently—you can’t see the same lines running through it as we see elsewhere on the page. What you can see on the mourning page is the outline of what looks like a “C,” presumably a bit of watermark from the paper used to repair it, a watermark that, as you already know, doesn’t pick up the ink because on this side, the wire has left an imprint and the ink doesn’t reach down into the valleys. In looking at this page, Randall MacLeod sees not only the letter “C” but an upside-down “1″ above it and to the left, and an “8″ to the left of that.1 He notes, too, that the paper is wove, rather than laid paper, as evidenced by the lack of chain and wirelines (see Erin’s post on paper-making for more on wove and laid paper). The “81″ in the watermark, suggests MacLeod, indicates that the repair was probably done around 1881.

This isn’t the only repaired page in the book. The last leaf has been similarly fixed:

repaired leaf (sig. I4v)

repaired leaf (sig. I4v)

In the big swath at the bottom of the page, the difference between the original and the repair is even more obvious—the black is blotchy, and on the other side, the pen fill-in is crude:

repaired leaf

repaired leaf (sig. I4r)

My point is not to mock but to note the desire to make whole. These two repairs were, I suspect, done at different times, or at least by different hands. The first one is carefully made, with the skeleton’s legs carefully inked in. The one at the back of the book seems differently intended: the skeleton’s legs aren’t supplied, the black border at the bottom is crosshatched rather than solidly filled in, and the printer’s name is inked over smaller pencil marks. I suspect that the hand that supplied the remainder of Humfrey Lownes’s name couldn’t do the same for the skeleton. But the visual impact of the page calls out for that bottom border, for the black at the bottom to balance the black at the top. The eye wants to see what it wants to see, and the hand supplies it as best it can.

Something similar happens when the book is filmed for University Microfilms International (UMI), the microfilms of which form the basis of Early English Books Online (EEBO). Here’s the title page to Lachrymae Lachrymarum, as it appears in EEBO:

The title page to Lachrymae Lachrumarum, as seen in EEBO

The title page to Lachrymae Lachrymarum, as seen in EEBO (reel STC 677:08)

Looks right enough, yes? But here’s what the title page looks like, as seen from the Folger’s digitization:

Title page of Lachrymae Lachrymarum (as digitzed by the Folger)

Title page of Lachrymae Lachrymarum, as digitized by the Folger

The UMI image looks like what we might expect the book to look like, given our experiences with books in general: white paper with the title printed in black. But in this instance, the xylographic title page mourns along with the rest of the book, printed with a woodcut that creates a black base with the letters and coat of arms carved out to remain white. So why does UMI reproduce a negative image (with the white in the original appearing as black), not the positive? Given that UMI filmed two copies of this work and both show the title page as black words on a white background, it’s clearly not a one-time accident. And given that the rest of the book appears as it should, black mourning pages and all, it’s clearly not an accident that applies to the entire film.2

Here’s what we can reconstruct: Two Folger copies of Lachrymae Lachrymarum were filmed around 1952 for the UMI project. STC 23578 copy 4 has a torn title page and is missing the colophon (it’s UMI’s STC 667:04, although the EEBO record doesn’t make that clear). STC 23578 copy 2 (UMI’s STC 677:08) has a trimmed, but otherwise complete, title page and the colophon is present; it’s the copy that I showed above.3 The Folger’s copies of the microfilms are negatives and they show both books as they should be throughout; the UMI microfilms are positive and they also show the books as they should be throughout, with xylographic title pages. EEBO’s images are simply scans of the UMI microfilms, and so should show the title page in its proper state.

So where did the error get introduced? One possibility is that the scanning of the microfilm was entirely automated and was set to adjust backgrounds to white and writing to black (making it possible for the machine to work from either positive or negative microfilm). The machine transposed the title page to conform to its programmed understanding of what books were supposed to be. Another possibility is that a person checking the scans saw the black title page, noted its anomaly, and manually “corrected” it to conform to the more typical standard of white title pages.

Both possibilities have the same explanation at their root: the image was made to match what we expect to see, not what we actually see. If the all-black mourning page let us see the material history of its printing, a history that normally passes unobserved, this reversed title page lets us see how much our expectations drive what we observe.


My thanks to Ian Gadd, who first drew my attention to the oddity of the EEBO image; to Julie Ainsworth, Head of Photography and Digital Imaging at the Folger; and to William Davis, Senior Photography Associate at the Folger, who pulled out the records and films of the books and who provided the speculations about how the negative title page came to pass.

  1. The numbers are more visible when backlit. R. MacGeddon [pseud. Randall MacLeod], “An Epilogue: Hammered” in Pete Langman, ed. Negotiating the Jacobean Printed Book (Ashgate, 2011), pp 137-99. []
  2. EEBO is behind a paywall, but if you have access to it, you can find both copies of Lachrymae Lachrymarum by searing for STC 23578. []
  3. This copy is also bound with Du Bartas’s works, which explains why the title page isn’t shown in EEBO as part of a full-page opening: the verso facing the title page would actually belong to a separate work. []

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.

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