Thanks for the excellent guesses on the identiy of the August Crocodile Mystery! If you’ll permit me to indulge myself, I’ll prolong the suspense a little longer by showing some examples of what it might have been, but isn’t (and if you won’t permit me, no one’s stopping you from scrolling down now to read the answer).
As several people pointed out, the tall and skinny binding is the sort of thing you’d expect for a ledger or some other kind of financial account book. For example, the “Household account book of William Pope, Earl of Downe, kept by Mary Petway” (Folger manuscript V.b.139) has similar proportions, and is designed to contain lists of items and expenses. Its binding measures approximately 44 x 18 cm (“approximately” because standard library cataloging rules say to round up to the nearest whole centimeter: if you’re trying to calculate a minimum height for your shelves, rounding to the nearest whole centimeter is only going to work about half the time).
The mystery binding also looks like it might hold long skinny highway maps, the kind where the top of the page is “direction I’m headed” rather than “north” (if you’re on your way home, you just turn the book upside down to keep it pointed in the right direction). The first published road atlas of this type appeared in 1675, with John Ogilby’s Britannia, volume the first. The strips were arranged side-by-side across double-page openings, though, not one after the other in a tall, skinny format.
Another Ogilby publication, Mr. Ogilby’s pocket book of roads, has the right proportions to be a road atlas of single-page strip maps. It measures approximately 21 x 9 cm, which is about the same size as the mystery binding:
As it happens, Mr. Ogilby’s pocket book of roads is all text, no maps, despite the promising title. Each page contains a two-column table of distances so that you can calculate how far it is from where you are to where you’re going, with the distances between each town on the way. After all, if you’re traveling on horseback in 1679, you’d just follow “the road” from town to town until you reached the town you wanted. It’s not as if you’d be in danger of getting stuck on the bypass and missing your exit if you didn’t have a map. You would, however, be in danger of not reaching a desirable inn before dark if you didn’t have a table of distances. That being said, though, the August 2020 Crocodile image is not a Pocket book of roads.
Ready for the big reveal?
Congratulations to everyone who guessed “maps” and to everyone who noticed the folds visible at the fore-edge. It is a collection of maps. It’s not a bound volume, though. It’s a leather folder (with clasps, now missing) that was designed to hold a set of folded maps known collectively as the “Quartermaster’s map.” It measures approximately 22 x 9 cm.
It was published in 1644, during the English Civil War, by Thomas Jenner (who favored the Parliamentary cause). Most of the etching was done by Wenceslaus Hollar (who favored the Royalist cause, but still had to make a living). The title page describes it as “The Kingdome of England & Principality of Wales, Exactly described with euery Sheere, & the small townes in euery one of them, in six Mappes. Portable for euery Mans Pocket… [long list of place names omitted here] …Vsefull for all Com[m]anders for Quarteringe of Souldiers, & all sorts of Persons, that would be informed, Where the Armies be; neuer so Commodiously drawne before this.” Later editions updated the ending for post-war use, making it “Vsefull for all Gentlemen and Travellors and all sorts of Persons that would be Informed of the Distance of Places” instead.1
This title page was once pasted to the inside front cover, hence the the creasing, discoloration, and missing bit on the right-hand edge.2 Folger conservators created a custom box for the map, with two side-by-side compartments: one holds the empty leather cover (with a piece of Ethafoam inside to keep its shape without stressing the joints) the other holds the stack of six folded maps. The separate title page, protected by Mylar, sits on top. When it’s closed, the box looks like a square-ish book, and it can live happily side-by-side other book-shaped objects. The box is even the same shade of brown as the leather cover.
Here are all six maps, arranged (in Photoshop) roughly how they’d be if they were pasted together (but not quite: there’s overlap in some places, and I didn’t want to cover anything up).
Visit our digital image collection if you want to export your own set of images to play around with. Hint: you can get them all to the same scale by remembering that they’re all folded to the same size. If the fold lines match up, they’re at the same scale.
I’d love to say more about the Folger’s set of six maps, which only has a “preliminary record” in Hamnet, but like many of the rest of you, I’m working from home because of COVID-19, and can’t get my hands on the reference books that I need. Folger staff were already prepared to be without access to the Folger’s physical collection thanks to the Building Renovation Project, but being without access to other libraries’ books, too, is an unexpected twist. Meanwhile, here’s one more tid-bit that I know without having to look it up…
See how the map of the south-west seems to be missing a large chunk along the left side, as if someone in need of scrap paper took a pair of scissors to it?
Now look more closely….
It’s not that a large piece paper is missing, it’s that a small piece of paper has been added. Instead of using a larger printing plate and larger sheet of paper to be able to include all of Cornwall, the far western tip was printed separately, and glued on afterwards.
- For example, the 1676 edition in the Royal Collection.
- The title page had already been removed from the cover when the Folger acquired it in 2010.