The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Different versions of a print, or different states?

When I began working on the March 1 Collation post about watchpapers, I saw right away I’d need to make a correction to the catalog record for Mr. Quin in the character of Sr. John Falstaff. Hamnet gave the publisher’s address as the Golden Buck “opposite Felter Lane.” My dissertation involved close study of mid-18th-century London print publishing, so I know there’s no such address. The Golden Buck was opposite Fetter Lane, not Felter Lane. It’s easy see how the original cataloger misread it, though.1

Detail of “Fetter Lane” from Folger ART File Q7.4 no.1

I thought this would be a quick fix, but trying to make a quick fix to a catalog record when you’re up against a publication deadline inevitably reveals that the story isn’t as simple as you thought.

A note in the Hamnet record said that Folger ART Vol. d94 no.126c is “another version of this print, colored, with different lettering.” At first glance, it did appear to be another version of James Quin in his iconic Falstaff pose and costume, this time with a beard.

Louis-Philippe Boitard, Mr. Quin in the character of Sr. John Falstaff. Sold at the Golden Buck opposite Fetter Lane (Folger ART Vol. d94 no.126c)

The fact that this one was also a watchpaper, and also sold at the Golden Buck opposite Fetter Lane, made me suspect it wasn’t another version of the print, but another state of the same print.2 That is, both pictures seem to have been made from the same printing plate, with some alterations to the plate between printings.

Two different states of L.P. Boitard’s “Mr. Quin in the character of Sr. John Falstaff” (Folger ART File Q7.4 no.1 and Folger ART Vol. d94 no.126c)

How can you tell if two pictures are different states of the same print, or if one is just a close copy of the other? You look for identical incidental details. Both prints have a pair of lines that just break the left edge of the shaded circle in the frame, with the seventh line below them also breaking the edge.

Detail of left edge of frame

Both prints have the same number of dots in the same arrangement on the edge of Falstaff’s left sleeve, though the red paint covers some of the dots in the colored print.

Detail of sleeve edge

Both prints have the same stippling on Falstaff’s hand, with a single line breaking frame immediately below.

Falstaff’s left hand, with detail of frame

Small flaws and incidental details could have been duplicated by a clever forger, but it’s safe to say that no one would bother forging a watchpaper. These are definitely two states of the same print.

The title, statement of responsibility, and imprint are identical (“Mr. Quin in the character of Sr. John Falstaff / L.P. Boitard sculp. Sold at the Golden Buck in Fetter Lane”) so I supplied edition statements to differentiate the basic bibliographic information:

  • [Earlier state, without beard]
  • [Later state, with beard]

I also went ahead and supplied place and date range for the imprint, since it’s known that the Golden Buck in Fetter Lane was in London, and that Robert Sayer sold prints at that address from 1747 to 1760. That’s information I had readily at hand thanks to my dissertation research, and supplying place (if known) and date (or best guess) are now required by rare materials cataloging rules. In other words, I should have stopped there. I couldn’t resist going a little bit further, though. Maybe James Quin’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says something about when he began to be depicted with a beard? No such luck. Oh well.

  1. Some would argue that rather than changing “Felter” to “Fetter” in the catalog, I should have changed it to “Felter [sic]” instead. In defence of “Fetter” I offer two logical arguments. First, if the word had been unfamiliar, accidentally mis-reading it as “Felter” would be possible, but Fetter Lane the printer’s address, and appears on almost every print. Second, if the word had been printed with moveable type, accidental use of a mis-distributed lower-case “L” would be possible, but this text is engraved, not letter press. I also offer a visual argument: there’s a teeny bit of a horizontal line just crossing the first “t” on the left side.
  2. For more about the term “state” in picture printing, and the different meaning that “state” has in book printing, see the Collation post “Two disciplines separated by a common language.”


  • As a theatre person, I’d suggest that Quin originally played the role beardless, and later he decided a beard would be better for the role, and the change in the print reflects this.

  • So the engraver added the beard and flattened the chin as the 2nd state? The direction of revision seems to be another difficult problem to resolve.

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