Those of you who replied to the Crocodile post last week guessed right: what you see in this image is a piece of fallen type that was printed by accident over a page of text being printed. The height of the type is approximately 24 millimeters, which is the standard height of type (the zooming on the type makes it appear larger than it really is). The impression on the paper is so clear that one can see the nick and the groove in the foot of the type
The type is a punctuation mark, a period, as seen here in a modern example:
It is rare to find the impression of a piece fallen piece of type in a book, so it was exciting to catch this one (serendipitously, needless to say) in one of our two copies of Richard Eburne’s The Maintenance of the Ministery (1609, Folger call number STC 7470 copy 2). Its Hamnet record has now been updated so that others can find it.
Fallen type is a piece of type in a “forme” (the pages of text to be printed on one side of a sheet of paper locked in a metal chase) on the bed of the press that was either left by accident on the forme after correction, or that wasn’t locked in well enough and got pulled up before landing on another part of the text being printed.
As Joseph Moxon explains in his printing manual, the corrector could have forgotten to remove “letters or spaces lye in the white-lines of the form; which may happen if the compositer have corrected any thing since the form was laid on the press, and the compositer through oversight pickt them not all up.”1
Such type, lying on the “furniture” or spacing material surrounding the text could easily be picked up by the sticky ink when the forme was “beaten” and deposited on top of the text. “Beating”, is the process of inking the forme in which the “beater” pummels the type with a pair of ink balls, one in each hand. Any lose material is therefore liable to stick to an ink ball.
Not only pieces of type left by the corrector, but also type in the text itself can move. As Moxon writes, it is important that “the form be well and fast lock’d up” on the bed of the press2 The locking is done with wooden wedges well hammered home against the furniture surrounding the type. But if the forme is not tight, and especially if a line is not well justified by the compositor when setting the type (that is, if the line is a fraction short) some pieces of type may remain slightly loose. Again, the sticky ink on the ink ball can pull a piece of type out and let it fall on another part of the forme. This is the most likely explanation for the fallen type in our book. Set in a quarto format, the formes of type for The Maintenance of the Ministery would have looked like this:
Folio D4 recto (or page 23), with the fallen type, was head-to-head with folio D3 verso (or page 22) during printing. 3
Examining the text on page D3 verso in our copy, you will notice the trace of an ink trail just at the end of the long first paragraph where a period was set:
This is the mark of our piece of type, which was lifted from the forme by the ink ball, “flew over” and landed between the words “word” and “moveable” (how appropriate indeed!) on D4.
For more on the topic of fallen type, see printing expert James Mosley’s blog at http://typefoundry.blogspot.co.uk/2007/06/fallen-and-threaded-types.html.
- Joseph Moxon, Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1683-4). Edited by Herbert Davis & Harry Carter. 2d ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1962 [c1958], 230-231, http://hamnet.folger.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=39660, p.269. The spelling is the original one.
- Moxon, Mechanick Exercises …London: Oxford University Press, 1962 [c1958], p.269.
- For rules on the orientation of formes on the bed of the press, see Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995, 127.