The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

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

This month’s Crocodile Mystery comes from a 17th-century publication:

11 lines of type: fleurons and ems

What’s going on in this photo? Please speculate, elucidate, and/or procrastinate in the “Comments” section.

Also, in case you, like I, had misremembered the source of the catchphrase we use for our monthly WTF (“What-the-Folger”) post, “What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?” is a line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, act 2, scene 7. Lepidus asks what a crocodile looks like, and Antony unhelpfully explains that it’s crocodile-shaped, crocodile-sized, and the exact same color as a crocodile.1

Check back next week to find out more about the source of this photo, and to learn which Folger staff member forgot where the “Crocodile” quotation came from.

  1. Only he does it more poetically. See William Shakespeare. Antony and Cleopatra. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, Rebecca Niles, eds (Washington: Folger Shakespeare Library, n.d.).


  • A graphic representation of the graphic language the Queen used on the birth of the Prince of Wales (the intreague thereof detected, the whole design being set forth, with the way and manner of doing it : whereunto is annexed a map or survey engraven of St. James Palace, and the convent there : describing the place wherein it is supposed the true mother was delivered : with the particular doors and passages through which the child was convey’d to the queens bed-chamber.)

  • I think it is a fabric stamping sample, for testing appearance results prior to a run at a mill. Fabric looks to be either linen, cotton, lightweight wool or a combination.

  • Maybe a printer’s test-sheet, displaying a series of two ornate typographical elements (maybe woodcuts?); namely, 5 lines of a fleur-de-lis design, followed by 2 lines of another ornate design; followed by 3 1/2 lines of a lower-case “m” type. All of these 3 selections showing different impressions & inking. (?) (Just sayin’.)

  • Well, the compositor’s having fun, anyway. I’d say he’s testing out rows of type to see which pieces are getting worn and need replacing, and which have got clogged and need the fluffy bits dug out with a pin.
    (My father-in-law was a compositor for a newspaper and was kept on until retirement after computers were introduced because he was actually faster and more accurate.)

  • A paragraph about the James II’s wife giving birth (or not) has been cancelled – presumably because it was libellous? – but this is a special copy of the pamphlet, in which the offending paragraph hasn’t been overprinted, it’s just been omitted.

  • Reminiscent of etaoinshrdlu as keyed in by linotype operators when they wanted to fill space. Interesting that the first five lines each contain an italic colon to justify the setting.

  • PS: As far as I can work out (from images of other copies, obviously), the offending paragraph read:

    ‘And as they had this convenient place for her delivery, so
    there is as convenient a conveyance for the Child after it to the
    great Bed-chamber and other Rooms thereunto belonging ad-
    joyn to the Court, are near the Chamber, to which from the
    Chappel and Rooms there are several passages, there is like-
    wise a range of Dormitories exactly corresponding to the back
    of the Chamber, where the Queens pretended labour was,
    through which Dormitories belonging to the same Convent a
    Child might be brought through the Rooms between the
    Queens Chamber and the Dormitories, which Chambers, that
    they might be cleared, the King went to his own side,drew
    after him all the Company, and the Queen sent all hers away,
    so that there was not one soul but the Confederate Turini in or
    near such Chambers.’

    • I don’t know why there isn’t a way to preserve formatting in these comments, but I do know a work-around: if you follow up by emailing a formatted copy of your comment to a staff member who has the right password (me, for example) the staff member can go in and add html mark-up from the “admin” view. This works especially well when the staff member you contact has an unhealthy obsession with minutiae (me, for example).

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