The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’thing is your crocodile?” August 2016

As July rapidly draws to a close, we have a pretty new puzzle for readers to ponder.

This month’s mystery is about the picture on this paper cover: what is the image about and why is it on this cover?

august mystery

As always, leave your thoughts and guesses in the comments, and we’ll be back next week with the answer.


  • It is a novel about a man living in the past and who’s Spanish author died on the same day as Shakespeare…

    • Indeed Goran, this is an image depicting Don Quixote (among other characters) but what is it doing on this thick paper cover of a manuscript not related to Cervantes’ text?

      • Books were sold with paper covers which were meant to be discarded when the book was bound. This may have been a leftover leaf from Don Quixote used ostensibly as a temporary wrapper.

  • The artwork appears to have been copied from the first German edition of Don Quixote (1687) though it might be the other way around.

    • Thank you for your valuable comments, Jeff. You are close to discovering the mystery of the month!

      • It’s too hot outside to work on the fence right now, so I might as well deal with this head-scratcher.

        The original artwork is by Jacob Savery III (1617-1666), who came from a long line of Flemish artists, but was himself an engraver and printer in Dordt. His 1657 Den Verstandigen Vroomen Ridder, Don Quichot de la Mancha (love that title) is considered to be the first illustrated edition of Don Quixote.

        While the frontispiece to the first volume conforms to this month’s croc in most respects, the engraving of Merlin is taken from the frontispiece to the second volume, in which Merlin appears. The fact that he is moved to the the v1 frontispiece suggests that this might have been a single volume edition of Don Quixote.

        Savery’s Don Quixote was copied by many other engravers and publishers for the next 70 years or so (including the German edition I mentioned earlier), but I was unable to find an exact match for this engraving.

        Knowing only that the book block this leaf encloses is not Don Quixote, I must fall back to my original guess that it was either a castoff from a copy of Don Quixote or a leaf from a disbound copy meant only to wrap it temporarily until such time as it would have been used by the bookbinder to stiffen the spine or perhaps for his wife to line a pie tin. In this case, for whatever reason, the leaves were never sent to the binder.

        Alternate-but-much-less-likely theory: This castoff or disbound leaf may have been used by a bookbinder as an end paper, which would have resulted in the engraving being hidden when it was pasted to the binding. There is evidence of water damage, which could have resulted in the end paper coming free of the front cover. As there would probably have been great deal of bleed through to the verso, only a very low-rent bookbinder would have been so careless. Also, I can’t imagine the engraving surviving so well after being pasted to a piece of book board.

        I’m out of guesses, and the fence isn’t going to repair itself. Thank you for only doing this to me once a month.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)