The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Posts Categorized: Cataloging

The mystery of the Shakespearian cartoons

I first encountered this book three years ago, in 2015. Intrigued by its sparse catalog record, which at that point consisted of a cataloger-supplied title (“[Cartoons based on quotes from Shakespeare]”), an estimated page count, and little more, I went down to the vault to retrieve it. It turned out to be a little volume of, well, cartoons based on quotations from Shakespeare, interpreted in settings humorously far-removed from their original contexts; almost square, with a plain leather binding and some small gilt embellishments bordering the front cover.… Continue Reading

Imagining an 18th century Jane Doe

A fake woman with fake initials and a fake seal? What is going on with these early 18th century affidavits? Curator of Manuscripts Heather Wolfe explores burials, bureaucracy, and "ritualized compliance" in this post about two recent acquisitions.

Time writing

Chronograms—literally, “time writing”—are dates embedded within text. As such, they are a form of hidden writing called steganography: the encoded characters maintain their own value, but are hidden within a larger text. Easily calculable to those who know what they’re looking for, they still excite the thrill of uncovering secret meaning. That thrill was experienced by this cataloger when, for the first time ever, she came across a chronogram that had been previously unremarked.… Continue Reading

A nineteenth-century family circus

A few months ago, I wrote about the process of creating brief catalog records for the Folger’s playbill collection. Since then, I’ve completed records for playbills from London and all of Scotland, and have begun working my way through playbills from the rest of England. Recently, I came across a playbill for a performance by Cooke’s Royal Circus in Birmingham. I thought the name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it until I checked our catalog and remembered that I had cataloged another playbill for Cooke’s Royal Circus over the summer.… Continue Reading

How to catalog 100,000 playbills (give or take a few thousand)

You’re probably aware that a significant amount of the Folger’s collection remains uncataloged; the majority of items have at least brief records in our online catalog Hamnet, but even today some collections are accessible only through the card catalog. We don’t like that any more than you do—we want all our materials to easily findable, in one place! However, we have so many materials and only a small staff, and we don’t want to put inaccurate information into the catalog just to have something there.… Continue Reading

Manuscripts in libraries: catalog versus finding aid

When searching for manuscripts at the Folger—or pretty much any special collections library—it helps to know that manuscripts often lead a double life. Many exist simultaneously as part of a library, and as part of an archive, and libraries and archives have different ways of collecting, organizing, and describing material. Libraries contain deliberately purchased items, and these items tend to be arranged in a human-devised order (“artificial arrangement” in Information Science jargon).… Continue Reading

A promptbook in disguise

It’s time to pull back the curtain on last week’s crocodile mystery: that weird woven material is a close-up photograph of the cover of a promptbook! Both commenters who took a guess last week came pretty close. This particular promptbook was used during an 1838 production of Woman’s wit, or, love’s disguises at the Tremont Theatre in Boston, probably by an actor named Thomas Barry, who performed in New York and Boston during the mid-19th century.… Continue Reading

Folger Tooltips: Making the most of Hamnet’s “Keyword Anywhere” search box

I used to hate Hamnet’s one-box “Basic Search”—the landing page you get when you click the “Search” tab at http://hamnet.folger.edu—but two things happened last Thursday to change this. What caused the change of heart? Read on. First, the Basic Search now defaults to “Keyword Anywhere*” instead of “Name Browse.” This means that even if you meant to select a different search option, you at least stand a chance of getting something useful if you just type something then hit “Enter” without thinking.… Continue Reading

Uncut, unopened, untrimmed, uh-oh

Do you despair when when you hear “decimate” used to describe a reduction of more than ten percent? Does seeing the caption “Big Ben” on a souvenir postcard showing a London clock tower rather than the largest bell within it make you cringe? If so, heed this warning: never use the phrase “uncut leaves” when describing a book. Even though you know that you’re using it with precision, and even though I know that you know, using it at all keeps a confusing phrase in circulation.… Continue Reading

An unfinished gold-tooled binding

July’s Crocodile mystery asked: why is this binding interesting? There are any number of answers, but the one I had in mind was: it’s unfinished. Last week’s picture shows the front cover of Folger call number STC 13051.3, the 1630 edition of A helpe to memory and discourse: with table-talke, as musicke to a banquet of wine. It’s 14 cm high, bound in dark blue goatskin, and has a strange-looking pattern of gold-tooled flowers and circles.… Continue Reading

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