In recent months, the Folger Shakespeare Library added a rare emblem book to its holdings, a thin quarto bound in pasteboards holding 24 unnumbered leaves . The emblem book presents itself as a “new year’s gift” containing 13 engravings: one coat of arms and twelve emblems executed by the prolific engraver Frederik Bouttats. ((It is not clear whether this series should be ascribed to Frederik I or Frederik II, both of whom were active in this period.)) The author of the text is a Jesuit who remains anonymous.
The book was produced in 1658 by the Antwerp printer Cornelis Woons, who was active in that city between 1645 and 1673, the year of his death. Woons was a productive printer: the Short Title Catalogue Flanders currently lists 147 titles that refer to him. At least one of those titles is a false imprint: a 1686 edition mentioning his name appeared 13 years after his death and probably has a northern origin, as it discusses the reasons why the reformed faith should be—“according to its own foundations”—untrue to God. ((See http://anet.ua.ac.be/record/stcvopac/c:stcv:3136193/E.)) The fact that Woons’s name became a method of obfuscation for works with sensitive content can be considered an indirect marker for his success.
This emblem book consists of six gatherings of four leaves, or six sheets of paper (4°: π4 A–E4). As the following graph indicates, this book is one of the less bulky products of Woons’s press: 71% of his described output involves more than five sheets, and 30% of his editions consisted of 16 to 32 sheets, far more than average 17th-century book in the Southern Netherlands.
Although the Folger copy is thus far the only one in STCV, it is not a unique copy. The University Library in Namur (Belgium) seems to possesses a copy as well, although the description suggests it is incomplete. ((In this copy, (part of?) the first unsigned gathering π4 seems to be lacking; see Charles Matagne, Répertoire des ouvrages du XVIIe siècle de la bibliothèque du C.D.R.R. (1651–1700), tome 1. A–L. Namur: Centre de Documentation et de Recherche Religieuses, 1992, p. 781, no. T316.)) As far as Mr Google can tell us, a copy of this emblem book turned up in April 1825 as lot no. 708 in the public auction of the library of the deceased Ghent adjunct priest Luc-Joseph van Crombrugghe. ((See Catalogue d’une belle et très-remarquable collection de livres […] délaissés par M. Luc-Joseph van Crombrugghe, en son vivant vice-curé de l’église de S. Michel à Gand. Dont la vente publique aura lieu dans la maison mortuaire […] le 25 avril 1825. Gand (1825).)) Because the catalog description refers to a copy “Met plaeten zeer schoon in kouleuren afgezet. à dos de mar. vert.” (“With beautifully coloured illustrations. With a green morocan spine.”), a description that matches the book now at the Folger, this seems beyond doubt our copy. After Van Crombrugghe’s death, it was sold to P.J. Dhuyvetter for 0.50 livre. ((See the annotated copy of the auction catalog, digitized by the Google Books project. Call number: Ghent University Library, G.15863.)) Apparently, P.J. Dhuyvetter was also a Ghent citizen who was active in the Kolveniers guild, a local fraternity. ((See Jaerboeken van het souvereine gilde der kolveniers, busschieteres en kanonniers gezegd hoofdgilde van Sint Antone, te Gent, ed. Ferd. Vanderhaeghen, Gent 1867, vol. 2, p. 237, where he is mentioned as a member of the guild from 1805 until, at least, 1816, when he was treasurer of the guild. The Jaerboeken are also available through the DBNL website.)) Who possessed it after Dhuyvetter is not known.
The Folger copy is exceptionally beautiful: all thirteen illustrations are hand-colored by an early—possibly contemporary—hand.
At the beginning of the book is a page-sized coat of arms: a crowned argent lion rampant on a lozenge-shaped gules field of flowers. ((The color of the lion is rather dark, but it is confirmed by the lack of hatching, indicating the metal argent (silver in heraldic terms). The field is vertically hatched, thus confirming the color gules (or red) in the system developed by the Louvain engraver and printer Jan Baptist Zangrius. For an overview of the different hatching systems used in the 17th century, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatching_system.))
Whereas hand-colored coats of arms in hand-press books are rare, uncolored coats of arms are not rare at all. At present, 22% of all editions in the STCV database mention the presence of coats of arms. 13% of the editions have the arms on the title page or in the prelims, and 10% indicate at least one image of a coat of arms elsewhere inside the collation. Only 125 editions on a total of 20,451 in the entire STCV has a coat of arms outside collation. ((Because some editions combine two or three features, the percentages do not add up.))
If we consider editions only from the period 1601–1700, the number of editions including coats of arms amounts to 24% for the entire century. The following graph illustrates that this feature was most popular in the first half of the century, especially in the 1620s, when one-third of books contained at least one coat of arms. This number decreases soon after that period, and in the second half of the century, coats of arms clearly become less important.
I do not have a quick and easy answer to the question of why coats of arms become so popular in hand-press books in the third decade of the seventeenth century. This feature was on the rise since the beginning of the century, when engravings in books in this region had become fashionable. I do see two potential factors. First of all there was the Twelve Years’ Truce between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic (1609–1621), which was good for economy, and this may have has its influence on the use of more illustrations in books. Second, the influence of Antwerp’s Peter Paul Rubens on the graphic arts was very important. His prints and title pages were very well known, and this may have inspired publishers to enhance the visual appeal of their books.
Should the appearance of coats of arms in books be considered a fashion in the 17th century or not? For now, the STCV does not describe enough editions to survey this feature in the 16th century. For the 18th century, on average one book in five shows a coat of arms, but as the database is not yet very strong for this period, this number may change in the coming years as more editions will be added.
If these questions have whet your appetite to learn more about early modern heraldry, come visit the Folger’s soon-to-open exhibit, “Symbols of Honor: Heraldry and Family History in Shakespeare’s England,” co-curated by Nigel Ramsay and Heather Wolfe.