The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

A Sophisticated Leaf

Henry V fragment. Photo by Elizabeth DeBold.

There were several good guesses about this month’s Crocodile Mystery—a crease in the paper, or an off-center, pre-stamped envelope. But, Elisabeth Chaghafi was right on the money with her guess: this is a leaf that was missing a corner, which someone attempted to render “complete” by cutting and pasting the relevant bit from a different copy. In fact, both the fragment used for repair and the torn leaf have a distinguished lineage: they are both fragments from copies of two 1623 editions of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.

Henry V fragment. Photo by Elizabeth DeBold.

In addition to our collection of 82 First Folios, the Folger also holds a substantial collection of First Folio fragments. This second collection includes everything from single leaves up to whole, complete plays excised from the original volumes. We even have a proof leaf from Antony & Cleopatra with a copy editor’s markings, showing where the typesetter ought to correct errors he had made. As you may have read in an earlier Collation post published during our First Folio tour, most (if not all) of the First Folios known today have been “sophisticated.” That is, they were damaged or worn from a great amount of use, and from the eighteenth through the beginning of the twentieth century, it was acceptable and even encouraged for collectors and dealers to “complete” these copies by supplementing missing or torn pages with pages from one or more other copies, or to repair the paper and complete any missing text in manuscript facsimile.

A wider view of the repair in this Henry V fragment. Photo by Elizabeth DeBold.

Book collectors, binders, and dealers who engaged in “sophisticating” First Folios (and other books) were usually highly skilled, and so at times it can be difficult to spot a “sophisticated” section or leaf. Based on our own collection of First Folios, manuscript facsimile seems to have been a very common choice for completing a missing corner, which was why we were surprised to see that this leaf from Henry V in our fragments collection was repaired using the corner of a leaf from another copy. Unfortunately, whoever completed this repair didn’t quite line up the text just right. Given the discoloration and fragility of the repaired section, it seems likely that the leaf chosen to repair this one was in poor shape.

 In examining our collection of fragments, it seems possible that many of them exist as fragments because they were intended for use in sophisticating other volumes. Many have been repaired or made more “complete” in some way, and were perhaps being prepared for insertion into an incomplete volume. Some leaves have markings indicating that they were washed to get rid of formerly undesirable marginalia, another sign that someone may have been preparing to use them for sophistication.

A full view of a single leaf from Henry V, part of the Folger’s collection of First Folio fragments. The repair appears in the bottom right-hand corner. Photo by Elizabeth DeBold

This collection of fragments certainly has some enlightening stories to share about sophistication practices over the centuries, both in terms of Shakespeare’s First Folio as well as other works. The “Folio mania” that gripped many book collectors and dealers in the nineteenth through the twentieth centuries is evident in the carefully mutilated, Frankenstein’s Monster-like “complete and perfect” First Folio volumes they prepared, but also (and perhaps most blatantly) in these leftover fragments–judged either as worthy only of salvage for small pieces, or as someday able to help create an ultimate fantasy copy of one of the most fetishized books in Western literature.

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