The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

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

A new month and a new mystery! What can you tell us about this? What is it and why is it interesting?

a mystery to ponder
a mystery to ponder

You know the drill: leave us your thoughts in the comments below, and come back next week for the reveal!

Update 5/30: A commenter asked about watermarks, so here is an image of the full leaf. (Or at least more of the leaf—I didn’t take the photo so I’m not entirely sure of all the context. ^SW)

the full leaf of our mystery item (click to enlarge)
the full leaf of our mystery item (click to enlarge)


    • I didn’t choose this and I don’t know exactly what it is, so this is maybe the blind leading the blind, but…. This looks unlike other handmade paper I’ve seen. I do see wire lines running horizontally, but what’s happening with the thicker horizontal lines?

  • It seems unlikely that chain lines would be running both lengthwise and crosswise, though it’s possible. But why would a frame maker do that? Perhaps for a frame to be used in making extremely large sheets of paper? Otherwise the heavier crosswise lines at regular intervals are mysterious.

  • Laid paper—Chain and Laid lines from a quarto

    On a tangent line…Looking at the varying thick and thin dark and light bands of the “Crocodile” image reminds me of the 19th century “Harvard Computers” who classified stars by “reading” the dark and light bands of stellar spectrographs.

    • Great comments from all! This is actually a pot sized sheet, which was one of the smaller sizes from the handpress period. The sheet has been trimmed so we don’t know the original dimensions exactly, but based on the position of the watermark and the counter it seems like the untrimmed width was close to 400mm (~16″).

  • Definitely (!) handmade paper, 18th century or earlier, so that leaves out a dandy roll mark. The thicker lines running parallel to the laid lines might be a measuring device – either for guide lines for writing, or for tearing the paper into strips. Since they appear to be separated by the same width as the chain lines, thus creating a grid of squares, could it be a mapping paper?

  • Hm! Sideways chain lines are common enough, but this is intriguing…

    Assuming it’s intentional and not a quirky anachronism (dubious assumptions indeed as those above point out), the only thing that makes sense to me is if the sheets were exceptionally large and/or thick and required the wires to run both ways to distribute weight of the paper – but then what does one do with such an unruly sheet, and who would possess such a mould? A large map, say, would still have to be largely engraved so the utility of this is unclear. Any watermark evidence?

  • I agree that it appears to be an “acid burn” (I’m not a conservator) from a leather turn-in, although my first thought on seeing the new image was that it was a sheet that had been double-dipped in the vat (I am a papermaker). But I’ll go with the turn-in idea, with the page being the fly -leaf of an endpaper. It’s unlikely that the chain lines are spaced any less than an inch apart. Also, I’m guessing that the image has been presented to us upside down: what appears to be the letters H S are really S H. But I still can’t identify the sheet or the reason for the fatter laid lines.

    • This is clever! It is true, you could flip this sheet 180 degrees and the “HS” would read “SH”. I can tell you though that this counter does in fact read “HS”. Though we did not post this image, there is a watermark on the other side of the sheet that confirms the “HS” orientation.

  • Is this possibly paper made by an early paper-making machine which used an alternative wire former to that of the Fourdrinier machine which produced wove paper?

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