The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’thing is your crocodile?”: September 2019

We’re back! For this month’s Crocodile Mystery, we ask a classic question: what’s going on with this image? What is the purpose or function of the image shown?

As always, leave your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll be back next week with more information!

9 Comments


  • It would seem to be an emblem featuring a winged lion of St. Mark, a symbol of the city of Venice. Why a book in the Basel Public Library has a symbol of the city of Venice, well … *shrug*

  • Not Venice. That Crest has a Doge’s cap, and the lion is the symbol of St.Mark writing his gospel. This is a particoloured lion for starters. I’ll dig for my old heraldry book…In the meantime, a faint signature links to have been overstamped with the Library mark.

  • So far: wings on helmet, not animal. Closed helm: probably lesser nobility or gentleman status. Animal possibly leopard not lion. I was going it would turn out to be the Catesby coat of arms (“The Cat, the Rat and Lovell our Dog, Rule all England under the Hog”) but no such luck.

  • Perhaps this coat of arms belongs to…
    1) The city the book was published in
    2) The publisher of the book
    3) The book’s author.
    If it is (1) or (2), then it might be a kind of printer’s mark — albeit one that goes on the reverse of the title page, not on the usual position of the title page itself.

  • I haven’t got the faintest idea this time. All I was able to do was work out what book this is from what is visible of the title page – which means little to me, unfortunately, but for what it’s worth: it’s a copy of Andreas Karlstadt’s ‘Von geweychtem wasser und saltz: wider den unverdienten gardian Franciscus seyler’, printed in Strasbourg by Martin Flach in 1520.
    Incidentally, the USTC appears to be unaware of the Folger’s copy.

  • I want to read both the stamp and the coat of arms as marks of ownership.

    As others have noted, this is a duplicate copy in the Basel Public Library, so was presumably withdrawn and entered private hands. Searching the Folger’s catalog for “Basileensis” reveals a few books with the same bookstamp as the crocodile which were subsequently in the collection of Emmanuel Stickelberger. The arms do not appear to be those of Stickelberger from what I can find.

    It is possible the book was bought from (or donated by) someone who had already decorated the book with their arms. The handwritten text below the arms cut off by the crocodile image might confirm this.
    The two conjoined wings in the crest (a “vol”) are typical of heraldry in German-speaking countries, which is consistent with an owner with connections to Basel. A quick search in Rietstap’s “Armorial Général” shows many families using wings in their crest, but I couldn’t easily find a match to the arms. The most similar that I could find were arms used by members of the Reichel family in (I think) Bavaria, but these are different colours, the lions are facing the other way, and are holding a sickle. (See an image found through Google here: https://oldthing.de/1820-Reichel-Kinodorf-Wappen-Adel-coat-of-arms-Kupferstich-antique-print-0033337452)

    Colours in coats of arms are very important, because arms borne by two different people could have the same “design” but differ in colours. The arms here are hand coloured, which suggests (a) they were added to this particular copy of the book and coloured at the same time or (b) that if they were printed in all copies of the book, that this was done before 1600-1640 when a system of “hatching” was developed for indicating colour in monochrome renderings of arms.

    It would also be much more common for the lions to be facing the other way, “to the dexter” in heraldic parlance, so there is a faint possibility that the arms have been accidentally or intentionally mirrored. The rather dog-like depiction of what I presume are supposed to be lions might also indicate an inexpert artist, or one copying from an unclear exemplar.


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