The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: September 2020

Welcome back for another Crocodile post! As you face the new challenges Fall brings to us, take a few moments to breathe out, and take a look at this month’s mystery. What’s going on in this image? Where is it from, and what does it show?

Leave your guesses in the comments below and we’ll be back next week with more info!


  • Interesting crested bird – perhaps a cock-a- too – that you have there! I am guessing that it is a woodcut print with hand colored (watercolored) coloration. The reason I would guess that it is hand colored is the way the colors blend on the page rather than already blended as printed. The shapes are not blocked, but brushed on, and there is accuracy of the color fields! Printing color is not always that easy! (or at least for some of us it isn’t – ha!) Looking at the transparency of the inks or watercolors used, that the print was made and the color added later. Perhaps it is in a field guide, a show-off book or album of pages from a published account of an exotic discovery/collecting/scientific trip someone took. It is too realistic to be a figment of imagination – or some made up bird. I looked at it in the reverse and upside down to rule out any trick images..! It must be pretty small illustration as the grain of the paper seems large in the image. The paper is a soft white not modern bright white, so it has some age. Texture appears to be wove though rather than a laid or chain pattern. That is a puzzle – wove paper would suggest a later paper (mid 1700). That would make the woodcut option wonky, as the woodcut gave way to engraving on metals for prints… I am wondering about the derivation of the colors too – the red is not the orang-y red of the more common early reds (it could be vermillion or carmine though), and the blue looks almost like a greyish -Prussian blue which as an early synthetic, was used in the early part of 1700’s, It is too greyed to be smalt or ultramarine, and not green enough to be from azurite. The yellow looks a bit brighter than ochre especially on the warm paper because it is transparent it may be a Naples yellow which is usually less dense than some other yellows. The green area could be a color overlap of the blue and yellow rather than another tint – not seeing much of it – early greens are not very stable. It could be these tints were later metallic salts derived 18th c pigments rather than the earth colors. Cannot be sure of the computer light/color imaging of my screen as technology plays tricks with colors! But I am guessing that the woodcut was made earlier than 18th c and that the coloration was at least 17th if not 18th century addition. Whew! I am probably way off, but it is fun to wonder about this stuff – thanks for letting us think about what we see and inviting us to LOOK closely at something unfamiliar! Did not mean to send in a mini-dissertation! ha! thanks again!

  • Without seeing the rest of the picture, my guess is that it’s a sulphur crested cockatoo, like the cheeky gang who visit my balcony every morning in hope of biscuits and bird seed. I’d add a photo if I could. They are basically white with a yellow crest, but those flushes of pink are odd, though it depends on the light. Markings vary from bird to bird and probably from district to district, and they’ve probably evolved a bit since this was drawn though they are very long lived. This cartoon captures their personality well. Galahs are grey and pink, and Major Mitchells are white and pink with no yellow.
    Note that some colours used in the painting may not have been colourfast and may have changed over time, fading a Major Mitchell cockatoo into a Sulphur Crested cockatoo!

  • Well, it’s a cockatiel, definitely, so it’s probably 18th century? But woodcuts etc are nowhere near my field of expertise; I could be wrong. Certainly a cockatiel though.

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