The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

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

For folks on an academic calendar, we’d like to extend our best wishes and support for a safe, happy, and/or productive new year. For those who aren’t quite ready to come to grips with the fact that tomorrow is September already, we have here a nice distraction.

Rather than ponder the turning of the seasons, turn your thoughts to this mystery image and tell us, if you can, what on earth is going on with this 17th century engraved folded plate??

Leave your thoughts in the comments below and we’ll be back next week with some more information (we hope).


  • Is this St Ursula and her 11000 handmaidens heading off to meet their unfortunate end? Or perhaps a warning against going on a cheap cruise. On second thoughts ‘heading off’ may not be the best choice of words.

  • Well, the caption says “Forma delle galee del Re di Tum Kino” (shape of the galleys of the king of Tum Kino), so I’m guessing that the source text is anthropological in some way – is Tum Kino the same as Tonkin?

    If the question is “why is it covered in stamps,” I’ve got nothing. Nice fold-out, though.

  • Looks like someone tested out a silk screen print on “this old bit of scrap paper nobody wants, right?”

  • All women crew of a galley ship ferrying the sun (ship) across the heavens depicted as a sea? The captain deck seems to be populated by men (Hmmm?) And there is a dragon depicted above the heavy line that presumably has an anchor into the sea… are they trying to hold time back or slow it down? The women are presumably inmates destined to row this warship somewhere. The sails are tied up and not in use to help them along either. Picnic on the beach cannot be the destination, not enough food for everyone! Also Tumkino is in Russia.. not on the Mediterranean. I cannot figure out why someone would print this on a patterned fabric unless there was a shortage of paper? Perhaps it was easier to send it rolled up as fabric due to size? Well, this is certainly not an answer or a very good one! ha!

  • …sorry …oops, I should have said men on the bridge or poop deck instead of at the stern…(the deck OVER the stern) By the way one thing Shakespeare did not originate but from ship-lore talk: being “stern” is being captain – fiercely disciplinarian like a captain would be..

  • I am rather interested in the paper the image is printed on. It has a repeating pattern of paulownias in the Japanese fashion, printed in silver. Tinted paper with metallic decoration like this is still made in China and Japan. Also note that the engraving is abraded from the paper where the folds come from- something i have not seen elsewhere. The paper in question is thus probably not of European make, but either Japanese (or possibly Chinese). The image is thus a European copperplate printed on imported Asian paper.

    If we read Tum Qin as Tonkin, then this image represents a Vietnamese scene. If so, it would provide a motive for the European printer to print the paper on Asian paper (in addition to the beauty of the paper itself)

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