May 27, 2015
by Caroline Duroselle-Melish
Comments Off on A Renaissance best-seller of love and action

A Renaissance best-seller of love and action

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s 26 copies of various editions of Lodovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso attest to its success during the 16th and early 17th centuries (a success that continued for much longer, but that is another story). An epic poem replete with love and action, Orlando Furioso was an international bestseller worth having in one’s library even if one did not read it. It blended the austere literary tradition focused on war that developed around the memory of the medieval French king Charlemagne with the magical elements and love interests found in Arthurian legend—on top of which Ariosto added an ironic tone and humanist outlook. Loosely based on the Chanson of Roland, the epic follows the deeds of the fictive knight Orlando throughout the known world, including a trip to the moon. In it, Europe defends itself against invasion by the King of Africa, and the plot pits Christians against Saracens, with Orlando falling in unrequited love with a pagan. A significant side plot follows the Christian warrior Bradamante and her Muslim lover Ruggiero, who Ariosto presented as the ancestors of his patrons, the d’Este family.

Publishers competed with each other in producing new editions of the Orlando—the Universal Short Catalogue lists close to 200 pre-1601 editions—offering different features to always attract more customers: one could own an Orlando in a pocket or a large-size edition (the majority of the editions were in a quarto format), with editorial commentaries of various length, and with or without illustrations.

Early illustrated editions

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May 21, 2015
by Erin Blake
Comments Off on Meet the Hamnet HBCN (“Handy Butt-Cover Note”)

Meet the Hamnet HBCN (“Handy Butt-Cover Note”)

When libraries replaced card catalogs with computer catalogs, researchers lost a crucial piece of information: an at-glance indication of relative trustworthiness. Consider this thin slip of paper from the Folger’s card catalog, for example:

Accession-level record from Folger card catalog

Accession-level record from Folger card catalog

Looks fairly preliminary, right? That’s because it is. This is an “accession slip” (referred to in some libraries as a “flimsy”). It was typed up in the Acquisitions Department, then filed in the card catalog as a place-holder until the item could be cataloged.

Now look at the same accession-level information as it would have appeared in Hamnet:

Same accession slip information as it would appear in an online catalog

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May 19, 2015
by Sarah Hovde

“A superfluous luxury”: the St. Dunstan illuminated editions

If you’re a regular user of the internet, you probably saw a multitude of images posted for the Bard’s birthday a few weeks ago. I can almost guarantee, though, that few were as opulent as the contribution from the University of Missouri Libraries Special Collections Tumblr: a beautiful leather-bound set of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with some striking illuminations.

On a whim, I did a quick search to see if the Folger also had a copy of this set—and we do! It was photographed for our Bindings Image Collection and is now fully cataloged in Hamnet (Folio PR2848 1901a Sh.Col.).

St. Dunstan Sonnets (front covers; part I on left)

St. Dunstan Sonnets (front covers; part I on left)

The colophon shows us that this is a St. Dunstan edition, specially illuminated for Howard T. Goodwin and signed by the illuminator, the publisher, and a representative of the University Press.

St. Dunstan Sonnets (colophon, part I)

St. Dunstan Sonnets (colophon, part I)

A revival of the lost art of illumination

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May 7, 2015
by Abbie Weinberg

Guten Tag! Como vai? Parlez-vous français?

Spring is Conference Season for many academics, allowing us to travel far and wide for our academic and professional enrichment. Sometimes, we find ourselves traveling in places where the local language is not one of the ones we are most comfortable with. (Until someone invents a time machine, my relative fluency in classical Latin isn’t going to help me order dinner, is it?)

So what’s a traveling scholar to do? Today, one of the more common answers is probably “download a translation app for my smart phone.” However, before the predominance of smart phones, one might first have reached for a foreign language dictionary or phrasebook.

If you’ve ever walked around with a “pocket sized” Berlitz or Lonely Planet book of words and phrases in your travel bag, you’re really just continuing a tradition that has been going on for 400+ years.

While the Folger holds dictionaries in many different languages (and combinations of languages), of particular note is our collection of polyglot dictionaries. These seven- or eight- language “dictionaries” are more than basic Word X = Word Y kind of books. This genre of book is based on Noël de Berlemont’s Flemish-French colloquies and dictionary, of which the earliest surviving copy is a 1536 Antwerp edition at HarvardContinue Reading →

May 5, 2015
by Sarah Powell
Comments Off on A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

There is a place in the north Atlantic Ocean where emerald waters and sandy shores await your toes—at least, according to a 2015 holiday brochure on Barbados. The royalist Richard Ligon scarpered there in 1647 after backing the losing side during the English Civil wars (1642–1649) and finding himself a “stranger in my owne Country.” Three years later he returned to England and wrote about his escapades in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, first published in 1657. The words in this month’s crocodile challenge are Ligon’s (from page 96 of his account) but they come to us via the secretary hand of Henry Oxinden on the verso of the back endleaf of his miscellany (ca.1642–1670; V.b.110).

the May crocodile (click on the image to see the full, zoomable page)

The Folger’s transcription of these lines reads:

Sugar as itt hath a facultie to preserue. all fruits that grow in the
world from corruption, & putrefaction, so it hath a vertue being
rightly applyed to preserue men in their healthes.

Well done to all the Collation readers who came close with their transcriptions. In addition to what was transcribed in the comments section, we also noticed a second “t” on “itt” and a period between “preserue” and “all.”

And a spoonful of sugar goes to Stephen Ferguson who noted that Oxinden is paraphrasing Ligon’s sweet prescription for good health and long life:  Continue Reading →

April 30, 2015
by The Collation

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: May 2015

This month’s crocodile is more of a challenge than a mystery. We are looking for paleographer beginners and lifers to have a stab at these lines and tell us the truth about sugar. If you think you know whose handwriting this is, even better …

What does this say? (to view this is more detail, click the image; the lines in question are the three that the manicule points to)

What does this say? (To view in more detail, click the image; the lines in question are the three to which the manicule points.)

Please leave your answers in the comments below. You don’t need to worry about transcription conventions, but if you’d like, you can consult the transcription guidelines we follow on The Collation. And come back next week for the reveal!

April 23, 2015
by Caroline Duroselle-Melish and Georgianna Ziegler
Comments Off on How an 18th-century clergyman read his Folio

How an 18th-century clergyman read his Folio

The Folger Shakespeare Library has never acquired another copy of a Shakespeare Folio since the Folgers’ time—until now. We recently added number 38 to our collection of Fourth Folios (S2915 Fo.4 no.38). Published in 1685, this was the last of the four great printings of Shakespeare’s collected plays during the 17th century. It was followed in 1709 by the first “modern” edition, by Nicholas Rowe, who followed the Fourth Folio text but added scene divisions, stage directions, and a character list (dramatis personae) for each play.

Several printers and publishers collaborated on the Fourth Folio, following the frequent practice in 17th-century England to share the printing and the financial risks involved in making a large book. The title page exists in three different states listing some or all of the contributors, possibly indicating that the financing of the book changed over time and that new partners were brought in to rescue the project. In our copy, the imprint has been torn away so that it is impossible to identify which issue of the title page this is.  Continue Reading →

April 16, 2015
by Paul Dingman

Golden quills and paleography skills

In my last post about EMMO‘s progress, I briefly mentioned Practical Paleography or “PracPaleo,” our intentionally relaxed, no-registration-required introduction to transcribing secretary hand for readers and staff at the Folger Shakespeare Library. This time around, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the notable and versatile results of this new initiative.


Since paleography has usually been taught at the Folger in an intensive, controlled class format—a group of regular participants meeting on a set schedule—this series of ten one-hour sessions, each one optional, meeting every other week with an always changing set of participants was a bit of an experiment to see how—or if—paleography could work in such a decidedly different configuration. The experimental series concluded at the end of March, and I think that by a variety of measures the experiment has been a success.

In addition to the achievements of providing paleographical knowledge, letting people connect with the Folger’s collections in a new way, and getting several manuscript pages transcribed, the EMMO team has been able to test our process of encoding-while-transcribing further with the Dromio software. And broadening accessibility to manuscripts—one of EMMO’s main goals—helps us vet and interpret transcriptions. An account of a few golden quill awards from PracPaleo highlights some of these intellectual benefits.  Continue Reading →

April 14, 2015
by Sarah Werner
1 Comment

Correcting with cancel slips

correcting item 3 (sig. 1[8]r)

correcting 4 lines (STC 25286; sig. 1[8]r)

Thanks to my last post, when Mitch Fraas and I were looking at how different copies of the same book handled having a printer error (Judas instead of Jesus, in that case), I’ve spent the last week with cancel slips on my mind—those pieces of papers that are pasted in to correct printing mistakes. Once you start looking, you can find cancel slips in a huge range of uses and states. (And as long-time readers know, I’m always interested in printer’s mistakes and how they can be corrected.)

What do you do if you’ve misprinted one of three propositions central to the 1599 Westminster conference? You print the corrected third proposition and paste it over the error—cheaper than reprinting the whole sheet (the whole book is only two sheets long) and easier than pasting in a canceled leaf.

Of course, for shorter errors, printers often included a list of errata—known mistakes in the book that users are invited to correct on their own. But what if your errata has errata? Paste in the correction, like the printer does for this 1660 Homer:  Continue Reading →

April 9, 2015
by Abbie Weinberg
1 Comment

Folger files; or, a fetch-quest come to life

“MS. corrections to the text, by the author (Folger files).” Such an innocuous note in the Folger copy note field of the record for our second copy of Philip Massinger’s The Bond-man (STC 17632). Meaghan Brown, the Folger’s CLIR Fellow, came across it while doing a survey of our collection of early modern drama. There are hundreds of notes like it in Hamnet. In most cases, the “Folger files” referred to are either the Case Files or Curatorial Files.

The Case Files are the records from the purchases the Folgers themselves made: as items were acquired, they were given a case number, and associated documentation—such as the bookseller’s catalog, correspondence, newspaper articles about the sale, even labels from packing slips—was carefully saved. They are an amazing source for provenance research and simply knowing more about a particular item. The Curatorial Files are similar, collecting documentation on noteworthy items in the collection.

However, in this case, that note sent me on a two day treasure hunt through Folger institutional archives to try to sort out what, exactly, was going on.

It started out as a simple enough request: Meaghan asked if I could find the file on this item, so that she could verify exactly why the manuscript annotations are being attributed to Massinger himself.

The Hamnet record gave me my starting point—well, what should have been my starting point:  Continue Reading →