The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

“What manner o’thing is your crocodile?”: March 2021

We’ve come full circle—it’s (almost) March again. Or maybe it’s always been March? Instead of breaking your brain wondering how that can possibly be, here’s a new crocodile mystery to ponder: can you guess what happened to this binding and why there are cuts on it? Leave your guesses below and as always, we’ll be back next week with the answer.


  • I think the cuts are accidental. The unfortunate book became a surface for cutting something else, and the cuts went through the other material.

  • Marvel’s Wolverine got a little too excited about reading his seventeenth-century devotional?

    It almost looks like a lozenge incision in leather for a more elaborate bookbinding that was then repurposed for a simple binding. OR the book was simply used as a cutting board for a razor or knife. Can’t wait to see the reveal!

  • Um… Francis Walsingham was searching for a hidden message under the binding, when his sister Mary Mildmay came in and told him the letter fell out from between pages 4 and 5 two days ago, and young Humphrey used it to draw on… I feel a murder mystery coming on. Otherwise I subscribe to the cutting mat theory.

  • It is interesting that the angle deviation corresponds in both vertical and diagonal cuts, so someone was probably outlining a defined object/shape (or perchance practicing rhomboid geometry?:).

  • This is a book that Henry Folger successfully snatched from under then nose of a rival collector. If you think the binding looks bad, you should have seen the other Henry…

  • As you ask the question I am guessing that the answer is not ‘accidental’. Was the book merely an out of date edition or perhaps banned?

  • Whew! This looks like my desk top when I was a kid and used it as a cutting board – not thinking about the knife point having to go deeper than the material being cut… oops! (Mom and Dad were not happy – and I am still ashamed with my short sightedness even after all these years!) I am guessing that cutting mat idea that the others have mentioned is what happened? The cuts do not seem be deep enough to have relieved extra paste below the leather, or done anything to relieve a buckle in the leather… There were no black magic markers to indicate publisher overstocks, or seconds… did they use slashes instead? it iwll be interesting to hear the real reason! (as usual!)

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