The July Crocodile Mystery showed a “detail from a printed play” and asked what’s up with the strangely uneven tone of the page. What’s up is that although the text is printed, it is not printed in ink. It is a severely and unevenly faded photographic print. Here is the full page:
Every leaf in this facsimile of a 1617 edition of The famous victories of Henry the fifth is an actual photograph, printed on light-sensitive paper. It dates from around 1857, and is one of ten copies made from a book then owned by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps (1820–1889), and now in the collection of the British Library.1 It’s believed to be one of the first photographic facsimiles of an entire book.2
The photographs appear to me to be salted paper prints, a medium common in the 1840s and 1850s before being overtaken in popularity by albumen prints. With salted paper prints, the image is embedded in the paper fibers as a single unified layer, not created on a separate light-sensitive layer on top of the paper’s surface. These prints therefore have a matte finish, and the paper fibers are clearly visible on the surface under low magnification. They are reddish brown, except occasionally where there is a tiny irregular black dot within a small white area, evidence of a metal inclusion that prevented the paper around it from being sensitized: no image could be formed there when the paper was exposed to light because the silver ions had already reacted with the metal inclusion.3 For more information on how to identify salted paper prints, see “Salted Paper” in The Image Permanence Institute’s online Graphics Atlas.
As was usual for Halliwell-Phillipps, he produced a very limited edition. Each copy has “The negatives are destroyed & only ten perfect copies are preserved. J.O. Halliwell” hand-written on the front flyleaf.
Different copies are faded different amounts, and the fading must have begun very early. The Boston Public Library printed catalog from 1878 says of the Richard the Second facsimile, “all of the pages appear to have faded, and parts of some of them are entirely illegible.” as you can see in this comparison of two of the four title pages for The famous victories of Henry the fifth in the Folger collection.
At first, I thought that all of the fading and staining was the result of deterioration of the photographic print. But comparing leaf 18 in all four copies under the same lighting conditions revealed that the heavy staining in the lower left is identically shaped in each example. It has to have been present in the original glass plate negative. The identical discoloration is easiest to spot if you look at the first line of text in the four details, below, where a darker spot juts up between “my” and “sonne” (the first example, PR2812 .A24 copy 1, is so pale that you can barely read the text, but trust me, it has the stain).
All four copies at the Folger Shakespeare Library were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Folger, but not at the same time. Two of the four have catalog cards from before the library opened in 1932, a catalog commonly referred to as “Mrs. Folger’s cards” even though many are in Mr. Folger’s handwriting, and others are typed.
I wasn’t able to find definitive proof of the 1857 date given in Hamnet, the Folger’s online catalog. The cataloger took the year from the book’s entry William Jaggard’s Shakespeare Bibliography, Stratford-on-Avon: The Shakespeare Press, 1911, page 338. It is also described as being from 1857 in Franklin B. Williams, Jr., “Photo-Facsimiles of ‘STC’ Books: A Cautionary Check List,” Studies in Bibliography, Vol. 21 (1968), page 112.4 Neither Jaggard nor Williams provide a source for that date, though.
However, a secure date for Halliwell-Phillipps’s photographic facsimile of a different book, the 1608 quarto edition of Shakespeare’s The tragedie of King Richard the Second, is known. A note in Halliwell-Phillipps’s hand in the Boston Public Library copy is dated “Feb. 1858” according to the Catalogue of the Works of William Shakespeare…in the Barton Collection of the Boston Public Library, Boston Public Library, 1878, page 37. Is there a copy of the Famous victories of Henry the Fifth somewhere that has a note dated 1857? I would love to know. I was really surprised that I couldn’t easily find out more about these early photographic facsimiles, so if I’m missing something obvious, please let me know in the comments. And if there really isn’t anything on the topic, I hope this piques someone’s interest.
- British Library shelfmark C.34.l.10.
- William Jaggard, Shakespeare Bibliography, Stratford-on-Avon: The Shakespeare Press, 1911, page 338.
- James M. Reilly, Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints, Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Co., 1986, pages 34-35.
- Note that Williams is incorrect in stating that this is a facsimile of STC 13073; it is STC 13074, which has a varying imprint.