What do you do if you’ve misprinted one of three propositions central to the 1599 Westminster conference? You print the corrected third proposition and paste it over the error—cheaper than reprinting the whole sheet (the whole book is only two sheets long) and easier than pasting in a canceled leaf.
Of course, for shorter errors, printers often included a list of errata—known mistakes in the book that users are invited to correct on their own. But what if your errata has errata? Paste in the correction, like the printer does for this 1660 Homer:
Augustine Vincent’s A discouerie of errours in the first edition of the catalogue of nobility (1622) is itself, notoriously, riddled with errors and corrections. Some of the errors focus on the coats of arms that is a primary focus on his discourse, although as you can see below, it’s not always easy to notice the slips:
Vincent’s work also includes slips over erroneous marginal notes:
The book also includes, in some copies, corrections made by overprinting, rather than cancel slips; in this case, the corrected line is printed below the last line of the page (and on top of the old catchword):
Cancel slips can be used for smaller bits of text as well, as in this from Samuel Harsnett’s A declaration of egregious popish impostures (1603):
Sometimes the correction is even smaller, as in this tiny slip in the title of this 1590 volume of Pomponius Mela’s works, changing “wohthy” to “worthy”:
If you work with early printed books, you come across these slips all the time. Most of the time, readers skim over them; usually what we’re interested in when we’re reading a book is the corrected text, not the mistakes. But if you look at multiple copies of the same book, you can see the different ways these errors were treated.
In Thomas James’s 1612 The Iesuits downefall, one of the marginal dates was erroneously printed as July 10. In one of the Folger’s two copies, there is a printed cancel slip pasted over the error; in the other, the printed date has been carefully scraped away and the correct date handwritten in:
The Folger has five copies of William Painter’s The second tome of the Palace of pleasures, giving me the opportunity to see a handful of examples of the same correction in different cancel slips—would they look the same? would we find anything interesting? The first copy of the book doesn’t have the slip, but it does show why the text was in need of correction: the gap between the bottom of the left-hand page and the top of the right-hand page indicate that some text was omitted from the printing. It also looks, from the spotting on the bottom of the page, like the cancel slip was once present, but has since fallen off or been taken off.
The second copy of the book is identified in Hamnet as having the slip cancel, but a closer look at the book shows that’s not quite right:
Part of the slip is there, but someone at some point tried to remove it. They did a pretty good job of not damaging the book when they did it, and at first glance I wasn’t sure quite what was going on, but light shining through the leaf clearly indicates where the slip was torn away.
The third copy of the book leads to success, at last! The cancel slip is there, but there’s also something weird going on, as the marginalia below the slip suggests. In this copy, this gathering has been misbound, and so an early reader of the book included notes at the bottom of the leaves indicating which leaf was next.
At last, the fourth copy shows us how the book would have looked once successfully corrected:
Oh, and the fifth copy? That one is missing these leaves altogether.
One of the things that struck me, in looking through lots of books with cancel slips—many more than I’ve shown you here!—is that pages have topographical variety. I know you know that paper isn’t flat. But looking at cancel slips gave me another way of experiencing the landscape of book pages.