The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Itty-bitty tab dividers

The main trick with November’s “crocodile” was having to figure out the scale. It looks at first glance like a woolly button on a pin-striped shirt:

The November ‘Crocodile’

But when a ruler is included in the shot, you can see that the colorful bobble is only 3 mm in diameter: 

Millimeter marks next to the itty-bitty tab divider.

When I posted the picture, I hadn’t yet thought up how to explain what the little thingie is, so in addition to congratulating Aaron Pratt for figuring out what it was in Friday’s comments, I’d like to thank him for describing it so well. In his words:

It’s a very small (parchment?) tab with a small ball knotted onto it that’s been attached to the fore edge of a leaf within a larger book. (In the image you can see the blue edges of the leaves; they’ve been fanned a bit for the photo, it would seem.) It allows the reader to move easily to a particular section of the text. I’ve seen a few different types of these navigational aids. I suspect there are several of these knotted tabs placed throughout this particular volume in a way rather similar to what we see on phone books that have indentations cut into the text block. 1

Indeed, the pages are fanned in the photo, since the book was open on a book cradle at the time. The volume contains four separately-published German texts from the second half of the sixteenth century, all having to do with legal issues, and measures 312 x 224 x 73 mm. It has two tab dividers, one at the beginning of the second title, a 1557 book of police regulations in the Duchy of Bavaria, the other at the beginning of the third title, a 1578 book of commentaries on the Duchy’s laws:

Fore-edge of Folger 212- 796f, showing the two tab dividers (with one clasp open, to avoid hiding the tab)

Each of the tabs—which are about the size and shape of a paper match—is glued to the fore-edge of the title page:

Title page of Folger 212- 796.2f, with its tab divider on the fore-edge; the tab divider for the title page of Folger 212- 796.3f can be seen near the lower right.

As I said in the comments, people who guessed “button” were close, since twisted silk buttons for clothing could be made in much the same way, with a wooden or fabric core. It’s hard to get a good enough view of the thread ball to see exactly how the strands were woven together and pulled into a ball, but these pictures, taken with a 50X portable USB microscope, give an idea:

Bobble on the fore-edge tab, seen straight on.
Bobble on the fore-edge tab, three-quarter view from the side.
Bobble on the fore-edge tab, seen from above.

The binding itself is quite spectacular, if I may be permitted a digression from the tab dividers (once I get talking about something, it’s hard for me to stop). It’s a typical German binding of the time, being alum-tawed leather over wooden boards, decorated with impressions made from pictorial and ornamental rolls. The roll used for the outer pictorial frame has the Four Evangelists, 2 while the roll used for the middle frame has four out of the Seven Virtues. 3 Notice how you can tell which direction the binder worked by figuring out which end of each roll has a complete picture, and which has a cut-off one.

Front cover of a volume of Bavarian legal texts bound by Hans Lietz of Augsburg (flourished 1588-1629).

For a full description and zoomable images of the binding, see call number 212- 796f in the Folger Bindings Image Collection (and for a description of Folger Bindings Image Collection, see The Collation for July 7, 2012).

And for my final digression, notice that the call number in the Folger Bindings Image Collection is “212- 796f” but searching that call number in Hamnet brings up nothing, even though the book has been cataloged. 4 That’s because it’s not so much that the book has been cataloged as that the four titles contained within it have, call numbers 212- 796.1f, 212- 796.2f, 212- 796.3f, and 212- 796.4f:

Hamnet search for call numbers starting “212- 796”

Libraries have traditionally been more concerned with books as texts rather than books as objects, so at the Folger (at the moment, anyway) a search on the name “Lietz, Hans, fl. 1588-1629” takes you to the record for the first of the four titles in this volume, where his name is an “Associated name” specific to the Folger’s copy. Ideally, it would also take you to a record for this particular binding—call number “212- 796f”—with Lietz as the “Main Author” (since he created the binding), subject headings for the depictions of the Evangelists and the Virtues (useful to image researchers, for example), and the four titles bound in it as “associated” records. If there are any software designers out there who would like to design a system that would easily show this kind of structured relationship, and any philanthropists out there who would like to fund the software development and cataloging staff to make it happen, please do get in touch.

  2. Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the gospel-writers in the Christian Bible
  3. The roll has all three Theological Virtues—Hope, Charity, and Faith, in that order—but just Fortitude from the Cardinal Virtues. Did Lietz’s workshop have a second “Virtues” roll, with Prudence, Justice, and Temperance? The answer might be in Konrad Haebler’s Rollen- und Plattenstempel des XVI. Jahrhunderts, but if I went and looked it up, I’d just find some other tangent and never finish this post.
  4. The call number derives from the volume’s accession number, 212796. In other words, the item that was added to the collection immediately before it has accession number 212795, and the item immediately after has number 212797. Once a book is cataloged, the accession number gets turned into a call number, with a dash and a space after the first three digits (a hold-over from card catalog days, since adding the dash and the space made the number wrap to a second line in the upper left of the card, ensuring that it would fit in the corner) and a suffix indicating whether it is shelved upright with small books (“q” for “quarto”), upright with big books (“f” for “folio”) or flat (“b” for “broadside”). Note that the use of “quarto” and “folio” to designate size rather than format is a 19th-century abomination development. At the Folger, “quarto” shelving is for bindings up to and including 30 cm; “folio” shelving is for books 30.1 cm to 50 cm high, or oblong books wider than 23 cm; and “broadside” or “flat” shelving is for anything over 50 cm or whose housing cannot safely hold its weight upright on the shelf. If you really love digressions of this kind, see Sarah’s post on the books that are in our header image.


  • Thanks for the additional information. I’m a little surprised to see only two of these here, but the low number of course makes sense in a sammelband of only a few of works. Did the fourth title actually get short shrift? Any indication of adhesive residue?

  • Yes, the fourth title page did originally have a tab. Now, unfortunately, it just has a tab-shaped rectangle of paper missing from the fore-edge.

    • It makes some sense that the final tab would be–if any–the one missing in a volume like this. The book is a rather thick folio, so if a reader relied on the tab to lift up the rest of the text block, the paper surrounding it would be under a good deal of stress, increasing the likelihood of tearing.

      • Exactly. Sadly, the damage seems to be fairly recent: there’s an un-faded dot on the fore-edge where the now-lost bobble protected the coloring from light. The tab was already missing when the Folger acquired it in 1975, though.

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