The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Posts Categorized: Art

The mysterious “Sem”

World, meet Sem. Sem, meet the World. Looks thrilled, doesn’t he? Well, you’d be a bit jaded, too, if you’d been hanging around the Folger for over 80 years, waiting for someone to finally notice you. It all began February 15, with a reference question from a colleague in London, “I am currently researching two volumes of drawings by an artist using the monogram SEM,” wrote Marcus Risdell, the curator at the Garrick Club.… Continue Reading

Filing, seventeenth-century style

When we think of filing today, we think of digital files and folders, and manilla folders, hanging files, and filing cabinets. But what did filing look like in early modern England? How did people deal with all their receipts and bills and letters when they wanted to keep them? What evidence of filing systems still survives?… Continue Reading

Peeking behind the locked door

Another sede vacante has come and gone. With the wall-to-wall coverage of contemporary media, this one made witnesses of us all. Or at least, the coverage let us witness the events outside the conclave and to share our speculation about what was happening behind the locked doors. For the Folger Institute, the recent happenings in St. Peter’s Square in Rome also sparked fond memories of our NEH Institute on Ritual and Ceremony, Late-Medieval Europe to Early America, directed by Claire Sponsler in 2010.  … Continue Reading

A Perfect Ten

American theater manager and playwright Augustin Daly (1838–1899) had a unique way of commemorating his productions. He collected illustrations, letters, and ephemera connected with the his staging, connected with historic productions of the play, and connected with the story of the play. However, instead of making a scrapbook from what he had gathered, he commissioned a professional inlayer to mount the material in paper “windows” and interleave them with similarly-mounted pages from his production’s printed acting edition.… Continue Reading

Myth-busting early modern book illustration, part two

The last round of book illustration myth-busting looked at how copper plates wear out (and how they don’t wear out). This time, I’d like to take a bucket of archival research and dump it on a related myth. How many acceptable impressions can you get from an engraved copper plate before it needs reworking? Conventional wisdom says “not too many,” or “not nearly as many as with woodcuts,” or “somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred.”… Continue Reading

Myth-busting early modern book illustration, part one

There’s a common core of misconceptions that many readers of this blog will be accustomed to dispelling thanks to their interest in Shakespeare and Early Modern Europe. “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” doesn’t mean “Where’d you go, Romeo?!” Historic window glass didn’t “flow” to become thicker at the bottom over time. The printing press didn’t destroy manuscript culture. But what about myths we propagate without knowing it?… Continue Reading

A Geek-Peek at Folger “ART File” and “ART Box” Classification

One of the most fascinating books I read while working on my dissertation had nothing to do with the topic as such: It’s the 189-page “user’s guide” to the British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings, published in 1987. In it, Antony Griffiths and Reginald Williams matter-of-factly explain the dozens of schemes their department had used over the years in attempts to store, organize, and index prints and drawings.… Continue Reading

The Return of the Prodigal Painting(s)

I’d guess that few people look at Appendix III in the back of William L. Pressly, Catalogue of Paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Library (Yale University Press, 1993). Appendix III is unillustrated, not very detailed, and rather depressing: it’s the list of paintings that are no longer part of the Folger collection. In all, sixty-three paintings were de-accessioned between 1961 and 1964.… Continue Reading

Elizabeth goes to New York

On September 5, two professional art handlers from Artex Fine Art Services loaded a great big wooden crate onto their climate-controlled box truck, strapped it securely into the rear cargo area, then strapped my little suitcase next to it. The three of us climbed into the cab and hit the road: the Folger’s “Sieve” portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was on her way to The Jewish Museum in New York for Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries.… Continue Reading

The material history of… ?

The phrase “history of the book” is commonly used as a catch-all for the history and study of the physical components and technology behind traditional printer’s-ink-on-folded-paper-in-a-binding books, whether or not the thing being studied is itself a traditional book or component of such a book. Studying papermaking and the physical properties of paper (for instance, “Learning to ‘read’ old paper“) is part of book history… unless  the paper’s theoretical destiny is to be drawn on.… Continue Reading