The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Heirloom apples and pears, anyone?

We’ll begin with another crocodile-style challenge in this post, from a manuscript miscellany compiled by Henry Oxinden (or Oxenden) (1609-1670) of Barham, Kent, Folger MS V.b.110. Here’s a detail from p. [4] of the miscellany:

can you guess what this text is? (click to enlarge in a new window)

Can anyone identify what this text is? Leave messages in the comments below and I’ll provide additional clues if needed. (As a reminder, you can click on all of the images in this post to enlarge them in a new window.)

This folio-sized miscellany is best known for Oxinden’s list of 123 Elizabethan and Jacobean play texts (including many by Shakespeare) from his library. Some of these titles are now part of the Elham Parish Library, and are cataloged in the University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral’s online catalogue

catalog of plays in Oxinden's library (p. 93)

The miscellany starts with a title and guilt-inducing command, “Miscellanea / Let nobody see this booke. Hen: Oxenden,” and a pointed aphorism on the next page, after a paragraph on how to plant and protect young trees: “Secrecie is the key of everie considerable worke.” I won’t reveal all of his secrets here, but the volume is typical in many respects, with medical receipts, poems, extracts from  contemporary religious writers, aphorisms, epitaphs, and other notes, in English and Latin.

But it also includes something entirely different, which gardeners and seed catalog readers will love: on pages 109-111, Oxinden lists over 18 varieties of apples and 43 varieties of pears, as well as apricot, cherry, and plum trees. I have never before come across an early modern manuscript description of what we would now call “heirloom” fruit trees, and it is fascinating to see how many varieties were available to a diligent gardening hobbyist in Kent in the 1660s. Tree planting and grafting were not new pursuits for Oxinden, and yet he experimented with fruit trees with particular enthusiasm later in life, when he and his wife moved from Great Maydekin to Little Maydekin and ill health prevented him from doing much else.

Oxinden’s notes go into great detail about grafts made by him and one John Brasier, such as:

Grafted then in Queens delighte orchard on the peare tree at the right hand of the French Pippin tree, a graft of the long strigg pare, a rare good pare, & an early pare sent mee by Capt Randolfe. … grafted the hether tree in the garden amongst the Gooseberry Bushes with the Kings plum.  (p. 109)

Oxinden on grafting fruit trees (p. 109)

He comments on when and where he planted his trees, and in some cases, who provided him with trees: Captain Randolph is his most frequent supplier, but he also received from “Mr. Vincent treasurer” a winter bergamot, a Windsor pear, and a warden pear, and other varietals from Sir Robert Hales, Capt. John Andrew (golden pippin), Capt. Merriweather (violet plum). He mentions that other varietals were originally brought over from France by the earl of Winchester. In some cases, he notes their main characteristics, the size of the harvest, when they were ripe, or their price at market.

Apples include (listed on p. 110): Kentish pippin, greening, pearmain, russet pearmain, golden rennet, golden pippin, russet pippin, “Harny[?]” apple, French pippin, “sollie” apple, collie, marigold, queen apple, spice apple, bull’s eye, edge court, partridge apple, great egg apple. Note that many are marked with manicules, possibly indicating the ones that he had in his orchard.

list of apples (click to see full page in new window)

Pears include (listed on p. 111): grey chesil, green chesil, poperin, Katherine, black sorrel, winter, pound, russet greenfield, Isabella, Susan, diamond, summer bon Chrestien, winter bon Chrestien, summer bergamot, winter bergamot, maidenheart, dove, painted, Edward, Monsieur John, balding, Perry, lady’s buttock, honey, orange, quince, pound, nutmeg, Robert, king’s, warden, Thatcher, etc.

list of pears (click to open up full page in new window)

Some of these cultivars appear in printed husbandry manuals as well, such as John Worlidge’s Systema agriculturae being the mystery of husbandry discovered and layd open  (1669), but others do not (the Folger has a couple of later editions of this work, including a 1681 edition).

I wonder how many of them still exist, either in seedbanks or in orchards? We are so accustomed to our supermarket varieties (Granny Smiths, Fujis, Red Delicious, Bartlett) which have been cultivated to have perfect, travel-resistant flesh and skin, and a slightly broader and tastier range of apples and pears at local farmers’ markets, but wouldn’t it be exciting to encounter a Lady’s Buttock pear or a Bull’s Eye apple?


  • Thanks for mentioning the manicules, Heather. I see these manicules are consistent with William Sherman’s observation in his Used Books that each reader tended to draw a manicule that is as distinctive as a person’s signature. I wonder why each of the 15 manicules in STC 2106 is quite different from all the others? One, in the gutter, is even a fist with a pointing thumb.

  • Yes, it is shorthand, but not Willis or Bright. Keep at it, and I will follow up with a short post soon, describing the shorthand system and identifying the text (unless someone beats me to it in these Comments)!

  • My answer: The Lord’s Prayer.

    1) There’s a clue in the file name and
    2) the graph ‘o .’ works perfectly when assigned the value ‘thy’

    I’ve encountered shorthand used in other devotional private writings, such as the diary of Thomas Shepard at NYPL. Perhaps you could tell us more about such use.

    • Right! It is the Lord’s Prayer based on Thomas Shelton’s system. Stay tuned for images and descriptions in a post later this week. (And we’ll definitely work on creating less revealing file names in future crocodile challenges.)

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)