Well, I’m afraid our mystery image might have been a little too mysterious. For those of you still playing along, the mystery image from last week is an image from a microfilm of Folger MS D.a.6 that seems to show multiple pages on top of each other. Here is the full double page opening for context:
Doesn’t help much, does it? But if you look closely at the top of the left-hand page, you’ll see a clue as to what might be going on:
You can see that the tops of the larger, thicker letters are oddly deformed—like, perhaps, the very tops were written on some other piece of paper that was later removed… And that is, in fact, exactly what happened. The extra piece of paper on the right-hand page is a tipped-in piece meant to cover the top part of the left page. However, when the manuscript was microfilmed, the tipped-in piece was folded to the right and photographed that way, thus obscuring both the top of the right page and the writing on both sides of the tipped-in piece.
But wait, it gets better.
Here is a recent photo I took of the left-hand page of this opening:
So not only does the page suddenly become legible and more cohesive, but it comes alive with careful coloring. The left-hand edge, a blurry mess in the microfilm, now appears as a careful border. The thickness of the lines at the top are offset by the yellow coloring. The whole thing looks far more intentional. Changes your perspective on these pages a bit, doesn’t it?
The color image helps the legibility of the verso of the tipped-in page, too. Here it is, with a white sheet behind it for contrast:
It’s not actually the color that lends legibility to the images above (after all, there is really only one color—yellow—that is added), it’s the shift away from a bi-tonal image of the microfilm. Even if the color images in this post were shifted to greyscale, they would still be significantly more legible than the microfilm.
We’ve written in previous posts about the potential challenges of using microfilm images rather than the original document (take, for example, the case of a book of mourning that got inverted on the microfilm; or the challenges of connecting a microfilm/digital version with the physical object it was created from). This manuscript, I think, really exemplifies the role that a multi-tonal image (whether it’s color or greyscale) can play in a researcher’s perception of an item.
Imagine, for instance, that you’d only ever seen this manuscript on the microfilm (or worse, in printouts from the microfilm!). From your perspective, this is what fol.19r of this manuscript looks like:
And here is (closer to) what it would look like if you saw it in person:
And similarly, fol.20r:
In both cases, these pages are (mostly) legible in the microfilm, rendering them sufficient for most researchers’ use. But when seen side-by-side with the color images, you can see that the microfilm obscures and blurs (sometimes literally) some of the details that the color gives.
As you can see from the few images I’ve shared above, Folger MS D.a.6 is a bit of an odd duck. The title we give it in the catalog reflects that: “Miscellaneous collection of material compiled by William Cook chiefly relating to Thomas Arden and his murder”. But even this doesn’t quite capture the truly cobbled-together nature of this item.
It is a compiling of separate compiled parts and looking at the spine, you can see that there are distinct parts that have been sewn together.
The first “chunk” of the volume is in a heavy paper wrapper and contains, in order, the chapbook “A Short Account of Lord Cheyne and Ld. Shorland”, “The Characters of the Persons concerned in the Tragedy of Arden” (printed contiguously with Cheyne & Shorland), and the chapbook “A Short Account of the Murder of Mr. Arden” (printed separately from the other two).
The second “chunk” of the volume begins after the end wrapper page for the first chunk, and begins with a printed “Catalog of Several Libraries and Parcels Lately Purchased” by one Thomas Smith. After this page (which I don’t think is used so much as a wrapper than as a flyleaf?), is fol.19, which is the magic square/measurements page pictured above. Fol. 19, 20, and 21 are all on relatively thick paper. Fol. 22 (shown below) is also a black-and-yellow page, and is partially on heavier blue paper, similar to the wrapper of the first chunk.
Most of the pages between fol.22 and the final leaf, fol.49, are not colored. Fol. 49, however, is:
So as you can see, this item is not particularly easy to describe, even with color photos. Think about all that is lost in the regularized, bi-tonal images of the microfilm.
This is not to say that microfilm doesn’t have its place! It is a useful, durable format that allows for broad access to otherwise fragile items and will probably outlast us all (I’ve occasionally heard microfilm referred to as the cockroach of the library world…). But, as with any surrogate, be it digital, print or film, we need to be aware of what is and is NOT being represented in the images in front of us.