Thank you for your guesses on this month’s crocodile mystery. The leaf pictured here shows text from the Litany printed in red. The blank space is where the text in black would have been printed in a second press run.
This leaf belongs to a set of four flyleaves—each with text from the Litany printed in red on one side only—located in the binding of a copy of The Image of Gouernance translated from the Greek by Thomas Eliot and printed by Thomas Berthelet in 1544.
At some point, the first front flyleaf and the last end leaf were used as paste downs for the front and back covers of this binding, which dates from the mid-16th century, or of an earlier one.
The text on the printed leaves is set in two columns corresponding to different pages of text printed on the same sheet. I suspect that what we are seeing here are fragments of one or several octavo sheets. The location of the catchword on the first end leaf along with the direction of the chain lines running vertically to the text support this argument.
Following the rubrication of manuscripts, 15th century printers experimented with ways of printing certain words of their text in red. This could be done by individually inking the type to be printed in red, but this was tricky and slow work. Another possibility was to print from two formes of type, one for the black and one for the red, but it is hard to achieve accurate registration of the red and black type.
Starting in the late 15th century, printing from a single forme of type masked with a frisket became the standard method. Each color was printed separately either printing the text in black first (this is the method described in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises) or printing the text in red first as explained in Martin-Dominique Fertel’s La Science pratique de l’imprimerie.1 Evidence seems to show that early on, the preferred method was to print first the red text like in the Folger sheets.2 Such red printing was done by setting all the type in the forme, as if it were all to be printed in a single color. An impression was then taken on an uncut frisket. Now the words to be printed in red could be cut out, leaving rectangular holes in the frisket but masking the type to be printed in black.
The forme was inked in red with the frisket masking the text that would be printed in black. The entire forme was then cleaned, and the type printed in red was replaced with spaces and quads (to avoid it printing black later). The printing of the forme in black ink with a regular cutout frisket could then start.
In the black first method, the type for the red text was first taken out, the forme printed in black with a regular frisket, then the red text put back and the forme printed again in red using a frisket with cutouts for the red text.
When no longer of use to print, some red friskets were used in bindings. A few are still extant and demonstrate how color printing was done.3
Usually, all the sheets from a forme with red text were printed in one run but in the case of the Folger leaves, this most likely did not happen. I suspect, indeed, that these are unique surviving impressions for an aborted or lost edition of An Exhortation Unto Prayer by the king’s printer Thomas Berthelet.
What follows is only a hypothesis at the moment as I have not had access to the books necessary to do a close examination of type. I have been relying mostly on EEBO images, which are almost useless when studying text printed in red (because the digitization was done from black and white microfilms) but the books discussed here are not available on any other digital platform.
An Exhortation Unto Prayer was first printed in 1544. Composed by Archbishop Cranmer, it was the first officially sanctioned liturgy in English and its use was mandated by Henry VIII. Four different editions of the text were printed in 1544, two of them produced by Thomas Berthelet, the king’s printer, and one printed by Richard Grafton for Berthelet (the first edition printed with music). While the text of the Exhortation was always printed in black, some of the text of the Litany was printed in red. The text went also through slight changes requiring variant issues to be printed. An Exhortation Unto Prayer is a small book made of two or three gatherings either in octavo or sixteenmo format.
None of the editions printed between 1544 and 1546 that I have been able to review have the same setting of type seen on the Folger sheets, but in several cases some of their types seem to match.
This type was used by Berthelet at different points in his career. Early in the early 1900s, W. W. Gregg identified close to 40 different types used by Berthelet in his books and he numbered 15 of those used the most often by the printer.4 Berthelet’s “Type 5″ is extremely similar to the one used in the Folger red impression sheets.
Berthelet used it mostly in 1530-1532 then only incidentally until he printed An Exhortation Unto Prayer in 1544.5
Interestingly, three of the Folger leaves include the same signature letter “B” printed below the left column. A likely explanation for this is that these leaves represent different trial settings of the same text. On two leaves, the change of type setting seems to have been minimal: in both cases, the left column was left blank most likely to later print in black the end of the Exhortation text.
While no text at all has been printed on one leaf, on the other one “Amen” (the last word of the Exhortation) has been printed as well as the catchword “As,” the first word of the Litany. “[B]eseche the to here us good lord” (set with different spellings) is printed in both right columns three and four times respectively in different settings. In the third leaf, the signature “B” appears in a slightly later part of the text.
These differences could be explained by the addition or removal of text to be printed in black at a time when the text of the Exhortation Unto Prayer was not definitive.
But perhaps the most intriguing feature of these red printed leaves is the fact that they are in the binding of another book printed by Berthelet also in 1544. Since they are printer’s waste, i.e. they were never used in a printed book before being used as endleaves,6 it is not unreasonable to think that they left Berthelet’s printshop together with the collated textblock of Eliot’s Image of Gouernance to a bookseller’s or binder’s shop.
Clearly more research is needed to confirm these hypotheses, but it is already possible to say that both as proof sheets and printer’s waste, these Folger leaves are a rare witness and an important document about the printing of the edition of an early religious text in two colors. If you have any further thoughts on this, feel free to share them with me: these leaves are a real Crocodile mystery!7
Some of the text on the Folger leaves can be reconstructed as follows. The text in brackets corresponds to the text, which would have been printed in black. I have used the transcription of the text from this site.
Second front flyleaf verso, left column:
Spare us good Lorde./ F[rom all evyll and myschief, from synne, from the craftes and assaultes of the devill, from thy wrath, and from everlastyng damnacion.] / [From blindnes of hearte, from pryde, vaynglory, and hypocrisy, from envy, harred and malice, and all uncharytablenes:] /Good lorde deliver us./ F[rom all fornycacion and all deadly synne, and from all the deceiptes of the worlde, the fleshe, and the devill:] / Good lorde deliver us. /F[rom lightnyng and tempast, from plage, pestilence and famyne, from battayle and murder, & from sodaine death]
Second front flyleaf verso, right column:
O holy, blessed, and glorious trinitie, thre persons and one god, have mercy upon us miserable synners./ H[oly virgin Mary, mother of God our Savyour Jesu Chryst.] pray for us./ A[ll holy Aungels and Archaungels and all holye orders of blessed spirites.]/ pray for us. / A[ll holy patriarkes, and Prophetes, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, & Virgins, and all the blessed company of heaven:]/ pray for us./ R[emember not Lord our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers, neither take thou vengeaunce of our synnes]
First front flyleaf recto, left column:
[end of text of the Exhortation]
First front flyleaf recto, right column:
beseche the to here us good lord. / T[hat …] …, we beseche / the to heare us good lorde. / T[hat] … / …. we beseche the to / here us good lorde. / T[hat] …/ … we / beseche the to here us good lord. / T[hat] …. / [catchword] we be-seche
First end leaf (facing last page of printed text):
[end of text of the Exhortation]
Amen./ [signature] B [catchword] As [THESE prayers and suffrages folowing, as set furth of most godly zeale for edifying and stirringe of devotion of all true faithfull christen hartes …]
[in gutter of spine] T[hat] …./ …we beseche the to / here us good lorde … /T[hat] …
[several lines below] /… we beseche / the to here us good lorde. … / T[hat] [several lines below] / … we beseche / the to here us good lorde… /T[hat] [several lines below] … we beseche / the to here us good lorde. …/T[hat] …
Second end leaf (facing cover), right column:
… we beseche / the to heare us good lord…/ T[hat] [several lines below] … we / beseche the to here us good lord. / T[hat] … [several lines below] / we beseche the to heare us good / lorde. / T[hat] [several lines below] / … we be. / seche the to here us good lord. /T[hat] / [catchword] we
- Joseph A. Dane, “An Early Red-Printed Correction Sheet in the Huntington Library,” in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, June 2016, vol.110, no. 2, 227-236
- Elizabeth Savage is conducting a census of red friskets, which is available here: https://bibsocamer.org/wp-content/uploads/v4-2017.04.01-ESavage-FrisketSheetSupplement.pdf. See also Elizabeth Savage (Upper), “New Evidence of Erhard Ratdolt’s Working Practices: The After-Life of Two Red Frisket-Sheets from the Missale speciale Constantiense (1505),” Journal of the Printing Historical Society, New Series 22 (Spring 2015), 81–97, and Elizabeth Savage (Upper), “Red Frisket Sheets, c. 1490-1700: The Earliest Artifacts of Color Printing in the West,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America December 2014, vol. 108, no. 4, 477-522.
- W.W. Gregg, “Notes on the Types, Borders, etc., Used by Thomas Berthelet,” The Library, vol. TBS-8, 1, 1906, 187–220
- See Gregg, pp 190 and 192. Gregg based his study of Berthelet’s type on copies of the books at the British Library (then the British Museum) and did not have the chance to examine variants located in other institutions.
- See Dane, p.233-234
- It will also be necessary to try to find information on an early owner of the book Edward Neel and transcribe their inscription on the blank verso of one of the red printed leaf.