15 July 2014
by Sarah Werner

The symbols of signature marks

I’ve written before about what sort of information we can learn from studying signature marks, and Goran wrote recently about the use of Latin abbreviations to indicate the gathering. So I thought the time has come to look at some of the other types of marks we find in signature marks.

What comes before A?

title page of Foure Sermons of Maister John Calvin

title page of Foure Sermons of Maister John Calvin

This 1579 translation of Jean Calvin’s Quatre sermons avec exposition du Pseaume 87 (STC 4439) begins with a dedicatory epistle from the translator John Field and a letter to the reader from Calvin. The sermons themselves follow, beginning on A1r and continuing through H3v. But if the main text starts with A, how are the preliminaries signed? With symbols, obviously!

signing the opening leaves of Calvin's Four Sermons

signing the opening leaves of Calvin’s Foure Sermons

Continue Reading →

9 July 2014
by Sarah Werner

Identifying a leather bookplate

As became clear in the robust conversation around this month’s crocodile mystery, what we’re looking at is a leather bookplate—a circular, good-tooled leather bookplate stamped with the initials “E. H.” and a rose. While the object itself might have been easy to recognize, working out what the specifics of it were revealing was a bit harder. As Erin noted, the bookplate looked as if it had been cut down from a larger piece, leaving jagged edges rather than the smooth circle one might expect from a die-cut bookplate. On the other hand, the other books bearing this bookplate at the Folger show the same jaggedness. Whoever used this bookplate clearly had a number of them made, but also appears to have had them cut down to size.

On the left, the original bookplate for the crocodile mystery (144- 489q); on the right, another example of the same bookplate (STC 11905)

On the left, the bookplate used for the crocodile mystery (from 144- 489q); on the right, another example of the same bookplate (STC 11905) (click this and other images to enlarge)

So, who is this EH? I came across this bookplate when a student was working on a book with it, and there was no indication of who it belonged to in our records. But it got under my skin—I was certain that since we had others with that mark, and since it was clearly not an inexpensive bookplate, it had to be connected with an owner that could be traced. And so I began what was (in retrospect) a slightly roundabout way of working out who it was.  Continue Reading →

3 July 2014
by The Collation

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: July 2014

Just in time for the holiday weekend, a new crocodile mystery!

your July mystery

your July mystery


This month’s crocodile mystery will be, for many of you, obvious as a category of object. So there’s an extra challenge: what else can you say about its identity? (Full disclosure: I have a hunch on this, but would love to get confirmation or a different answer from your collective wisdom. And as your reward, we might get to update the associated record in our catalog!)

1 July 2014
by Guest Author

William Dethick and the Shakespeare Grants of Arms

A guest post by Nigel Ramsay

For many visitors to the Folger’s Heraldry exhibit, “Symbols of Honor,” the stars will be the three original draft grants on paper of Shakespeare’s coats of arms. These belong to the English heralds’ long-established institution, the College of Arms in London, and they have never before been out of England.

the three drafts of the grants of arms to Shakespeare's father

the three drafts of the grants of arms to Shakespeare’s father

The Shakespeare grants can be seen to be in the hand of the herald William Dethick. It is surely more than probable that they represent what he discussed with William Shakespeare and wrote down at the time, when the two men were together one day at the College of Arms.

Of course it’s a pity that the resultant formal grants—calligraphically-written parchment documents that would each have had a painting of the Shakespeare arms—no longer survive. Shakespeare’s own archive disappeared centuries ago. Just what the parchments looked like can easily be imagined, however, by looking at some of the contemporary examples of such documents that are in the show. (See, for example, this grant of arms to Stephen Powle.) We can also be absolutely sure that William Shakespeare did use the coat of arms that is the subject of the first two drafts, since this coat appears on his funerary monument in the parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Continue Reading →

24 June 2014
by Goran Proot

An argent lion rampant: coats of arms in 17th-c. books

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. The author of the text is a Jesuit who remains anonymous.

Title page of the 1658 emblem book. The printer’s device of printer Cornelis Woons, the “golden star”, is hand-coloured. Folger 267921, fol. π1 recto.

Title page of the 1658 emblem book. The printer’s device of printer Cornelis Woons, the “golden star,” is hand-colored. (fol. π1r)

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. 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.  Continue Reading →

19 June 2014
by Heather Wolfe and Guest Author
1 Comment

Let’s make a model!

Co-written by Heather Wolfe and Jana Dambrogio

In 2010, Jana Dambrogio and I were thinking independently about slits and stabs in early modern letters. Jana, after having had made many models of the letters of Tomaso di Livieri from the 1580s and 1590s (housed in the Fondo Veneto, Sezione II, in the Vatican Secret Archives), had just seen a letter in London from Elizabeth I that was similar in structure to a format used by her humble Venetian. In this pre-envelope era, some of Livieri’s letters had vertical slits that aligned when the letter was folded shut. A triangular paper wedge was cut from one of the corners of the letter and threaded through the slit to “lock” it shut.

image of teaching model prior to being opened

image of teaching model prior to being opened (model made by Jana Dambrogio)

Detail of a teaching model as it is being unlocked, demonstrating the function of the slit and the triangular piece of paper.

detail of a teaching model as it is being unlocked, demonstrating the function of the slit and the triangular piece of paper

Continue Reading →

17 June 2014
by Deborah J. Leslie

Fun in cataloging, or, the mysterious 12mo

On occasion, interesting and unusual aspects of books, manuscripts, and prints catch the attention of the cataloger at work on them. The office of the Cataloging and Metadata Department (located on Deck A right below the Paster Reading Room) is an open area with a large table in the center, which makes it really easy to show each other the cool stuff we come across. Something interesting, unusual, and cool crossed my desk recently, and it seems a shame not to share it with a wider community.

title page of John Newton's Tabulae mathematicae

title page of John Newton’s Tabulae mathematicae

John Newton’s Tabulae Mathematicae, or, Tables of the Naturall Sines, Tangents and Secants, published in 1654, offers up exactly what the title promises: hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense numbers in tabular form. Tucked in among its 452 unnumbered pages is a folded leaf containing (wait for it … ) a table. So far, nothing unusual.

Now we’re getting to the fun part. When the folded leaf is unfolded, we see a lot of wasted space, in stark contrast to the compact printing everywhere else.  Continue Reading →

12 June 2014
by Erin Blake

Hidden notes, “bibliographic nightmares,” and STC call numbers

Sometimes when keyword searching Hamnet, the results include mystery matches: when you Ctrl-V to find the word you’re looking for on the page, it’s not there. That’s because some fields only display on the “MARC view” tab. Usually the information isn’t worth making public. For example, what displays as:

Five-line description of specific copy of a book.

is served up by this underlying Machine Readable Cataloging, or MARC: Picture of text that reads: 852	 0_ |b DeckC-Rare |h PR2805 |i 1820b Sh.Col. |j cs790 |x CMS 20101102 |z In plain paper wrappers. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Folger.

The only hidden piece of information is “CMS 20101102″ – the initials of the cataloger who created the record and the date the record was finished.

Sometimes, though, information in a non-public note seems worth bringing to light. When keyword searching for “fingerprints” the other day, the results included the Hamnet record for Folger call number STC 22459b.2 for no apparent reason. That’s because “fingerprints” only appears in a non-public note, which can be revealed by clicking the MARC view tab:

An exceptionally difficult item to classify bibliographically; see "The Library", ser. 5, vol. 1 (Sept. 1946), p. 113-26. There are, broadly speaking, three settings of the work. The fingerprints provided in STC 22458.5-22459b, based on this article, fail to give a meaningful sorting by these settings, and further subdivision (by imposition, &c.) is frustrated by the mixture of states exhibited by each forme from copy to copy.

If the information wasn’t meant for public viewing, who was it meant for? Answer: staff of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). It’s in the 509 field, which Folger ESTC catalogers used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to send messages back and forth to ESTC Headquarters. Sometimes entire conversations about an item take place in the 509. Continue Reading →

10 June 2014
by Sarah Werner

Four states of Shakespeare: the Droeshout portrait

So the mysterious eye of this month’s crocodile belongs to no other than Shakespeare, as some readers immediately recognized:

Droeshout's engraving of Shakespeare on the title page of the First Folio

Droeshout’s engraving of Shakespeare on the title page of the First Folio

More specifically, it is Shakespeare’s left right eye as depicted in the third state of the Droeshout engraving from one of the Folger’s copies of the First Folio. If you’re wondering why I chose his eye as the June crocodile, that previous sentence is key: the portrait of Shakespeare engraved by Martin Droeshout for the First Folio exists in 4 different states, 3 of which can be seen in copies of the First Folio (the fourth state wasn’t introduced until the Fourth Folio in 1685).

The first thing to remember in understanding this series of images is that copper plates can be altered, even in mid-production, so that changes can be introduced to an image. (To refresh your understanding of how engravings and etchings are made and how long copper plates can be used, read these posts from Erin Blake.) So it was possible for Martin Droeshout to introduce the following change from the first state of his Shakespeare portrait to the second:  Continue Reading →