The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: April 2013

Is April the cruellest month? If so, here’s a suitably dark crocodile mystery for you to solve:

your April crocodile
your April crocodile (click to enlarge)

What is this and what might we learn from it? Your speculations are welcome in the comments, and the answer will appear later this week!

UPDATE (10 April): Read the comments below for some thoughts that have been bandied about and some clues on what it might be.


  • It looks like the digitised version of the reverse of a blank page at the front or back of a book, with the handwriting on the other side bleeding through. If it’s from the front of the book, the writing is likely to signatures etc of former owners.

    With much squinting and playing around with thresholds I think I can make out the words “James Moses v Cr” in the middle of the page.

    If this somewhat optimistic reading is correct, this page may come from one of the Folger’s copies of a 1583 translation of Cicero’s De Officiis (

  • It’s a 571px x 946px jpeg. Do I win?

    More seriously, there’s presumably some kind of non-visible-light imaging going on, which is why it’s monochrome. But of what and why?

  • There are faint marks indicating the grain of wood underlying a covering of thin leather.
    There are vertical marks on the left hand side from top to bottom which look like fillet wheel tooling. I think this is a book board, possibly 18th century.

    • Ah, yes, excellent eye for the wood grain! (For those who didn’t spot the grain, look for the curved lines running up to the right from the bottom left of the image.) Those marks are indeed there, although there’s no leather and this isn’t a book board.

  • A radiograph of…a piece of wood covered with paper, but if its not a book board, then I’m beat.

  • A further clue: Erin is right to notice that the image is monochrome, but it is so because the object itself is monochrome. As for Philip’s implied question about where this might be located, it is in a book, but it is not the endleaves. And there’s no foxing going on here! As I say above, it’s not a book board, but a board is not irrelevant…

  • My guess is that we’re looking at a close-up of a “mourning page” from a printed elegy, funeral sermon, or perhaps something less reverent like Tristram Shandy. I suspect we see wood grain because the black rectangle or square was printed with a wood block.

  • And Aaron’s got it! It’s a detail of a mourning page from an elegy. I’ll spell out which elegy and discuss the history and mechanics of mourning pages in my post. But in the meantime, thanks for playing along, and do feel free to note any other features that catch your attention–there’s a few more that are kind of funn.

    • At first I thought the image was a negative designed to point out what looks to be some “papermakers’ tears”, primarily because I fancied an association of April with “showers” and thus, perhaps, drips of water.

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