The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

The Case Files

Hamnet version of folger cs number

The problem with using IDs in mysteries is we also attempt to make them easy to discover. Elisabeth Chaghafi got it in one: this number belongs to X.d.131 and marks this item as one of Henry and Emily Folger’s original contributions to the Folger’s holdings.

This number is known here at the Folger Shakespeare Library as a case number. They were usually written unobtrusively in pencil somewhere on the items bought by the Folgers, during the period when their personal collection was being transformed into our library. Here the case number appears above the call number on a Letter of command signed by Elizabeth I and sent to the High Sheriff of Warwickshire on July 28, 1602. These numbers, written into the back of books and on Hamnet record pages, indicate the numbered box (or “case”) in which the item first arrived when shipped from the Folger’s storage facility in Brooklyn to Washington, D.C. in 1932.

image of x.d.131

case inventory for 1329Box 1329 must have been quite exciting to open. The inventory lists this letter alongside a variety of works the Folgers bought in 1924, including editions by Colley Cibber, photographs of Victorian actresses, and a book from the Walpole Society on Inigo Jones’s designs. The cases weren’t thematic or ordered by type of material, but contained a mix of items such as letters of nineteenth-century authorspoliticians, and suffragettes; printed madrigals from the 1590s; a 1924 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Rape of Lucrece; and a register of the deer killed in Sherwood Forest in the 1590s.

Luckily for us, the Folgers kept as much documentation as possible related to their purchases, from shipping labels to correspondence with dealers and auction houses. Most of this documentation is organized in files linked to the cases in which their purchases were stored. Today the “cs” number, or “case file number” may link a researcher to a manila folder filled with newspaper clippings, labels, dealer descriptions, and carbon copies of letters sent by the Folgers themselves. Unfortunately not all case files are so rich in such resources, but many are.

cs1239 tells the story of how the Folgers acquired Queen Elizabeth’s letter.

On  Dec. 4th 1924, the London rare book firm of Maggs Brothers wrote to Mr. Folger that “we have pleasure in enclosing a report of several items which we think will interest you.”  They included a typed description of the items, along with a transcription of the Elizabethan letter—complete with a pen facsimile of Queen Elizabeth’s signature. Dealers such as Maggs often sent such letters and descriptions to the Folgers, and likely to other regular customers as well.

Transcription from Maggs Bros for Elizabeth letter


The Folgers were choosy, selecting only this letter from a catalog of at least a dozen items. Henry wrote back on Dec. 16th to request the letter be sent to him:

Maggs shipped it to the states on Dec. 30th, via “Commercial Paper Post Registered.” The consular certificate carries a $2.50 stamp and was signed by the vice consul of the United States in London.

The final price was £75. The Consul’s fee came to 11s. 3d., while shipping was only 10 d. The Folgers paid a total of £75.12.1 for this letter, which included no export tax or internal revenue fees (surprising to us!).

Not every case file contains such a detailed blow-by-blow. Some frustratingly include only shipping labels, while others include newspaper clippings commenting on large auctions, as well as correspondence, catalogs, and invoices.

Sometimes the information in the records can raise as many questions as it answers. The transcription Maggs sent to Henry Folger in 1924 includes a fascinating sketch of an intact wafer seal, a feature not found on the actual document. A stain on the wrapper of the document suggests that such a seal existed, but it’s unclear when it was lost.

Given our procedures for documenting whether a seal becomes dislodged or removed from an object (as well as Henry and Emily’s fastidious collecting), we doubt that the seal was lost after it arrived in Brooklyn. We suspect this sketch is a hypothetical of what the seal might have looked like, rather than an indication that we’re now missing something once attached.

stain on wrapper from a wax seal


Edit 1/2/18: Clarified the Inigo Jones entry on the inventory.


  • Well no, the Folgers didn’t buy any Inigo Jones drawings, nor, to the best of my knowledge, does the Library own any. The first item on your list is the Walpole Society volume of a selection of reproductions of Jones theatrical designs, edited by Percy Simpson and C. F. Bell–this was the best and most compendious collection until the publication of S. Orgel and R. Strong’s INIGO JONES: THE THEATRE OF THE STUART COURT, in 1973…which the Folger does have.

    • You are, of course, completely right. The full line from the inventory reads: “Walpole Socy. — Designs Inigo Jones … 1924.” and it was one of the many secondary works included in this case. We’re correcting the post, thanks for catching the error!

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