link catchup

Hi all—I’ve been so busy writing elsewhere that I haven’t kept up here. *sorry* But some links to some of that book history goodness in case you missed out:

At The Collation I wrote a whole lot of posts, but there are two recent ones that are exactly the sort of thing I would have written about here if I wasn’t trying to shore up content over there. The first is “Learning from mistakes,” about how much I love finding printer’s errors in early books and what we can learn from their mistakes. Check out the comments, please, to help me understand what’s going on in the 1641 pamphlet that I end the post with and why Wing drives me nuts! The second post, just up a few hours ago, is “Correcting mistakes,” and it picks up from the previous post to consider how early modern printers tried to fix their errors and how readers didn’t always heed their corrections. Don’t tell those Collation people (especially that cranky editor SW) but I think there’s going to be a third in the series looking more closely at how readers respond to errors in books.

I also put together a course site for my Folger seminar on “Books and Early Modern Culture.” The syllabus is there, including the assignment descriptions. Only class members can access the readings themselves, but there’s also a page listing a whole lot of open-access resources for studying early modern book history. I even put together a list of all the books my students have studied over the years, and wrote about that collection at The Collation as well as a post about the experience of two students working with different copies of the same book.

pretty picture penance

It’s been much longer since I’ve written a proper post here than I meant for it to be. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy over at The Collation, running the show and writing my own contributions. There’s lots of good stuff over there, including a whole world of manuscript exploration that I don’t do here; check out Heather Wolfe’s and Nadia Seiler’s interesting posts if you like that sort of thing (and if you don’t think you do, browse anyway and you’ll learn that you do!). And if you’re looking for advice on using Folger digital resources, like searching Luna and the power of permanent URLs and Mike Poston’s new tool, Impos[i]tor, the tooltips series is for you.

In any case, this post isn’t meant to be an advertisement, but to do a pretty picture penance: sharing some great book images, even if I don’t have the time to talk in any detail about them. So . . .

Voila! This is a lovely blue and red penwork initial letter from an edition of Peter Lombard’s Sententiarum libri IV, printed in Basel in 1482. (Here’s your catalog record; all photos, through cell-phone crapola, can be clicked and embiggened.)

Here’s another initial, where you can see how delicate the penwork is. I love how the details drape down the column of text:

Not all the initials in the text are so fancy. Here’s a nice, albeit plain, red one:

But that’s not the most interesting detail in this photo. Look again. And then look at this one:

And this one:

You know what I’m talking about, right? They’re the impressions left behind by the finding tabs that were once there! If you look again at the three photos, you can see how they line up, each new section marked slightly below the previous one, so that the tabs stick out, all easy to find and to use to jump to the beginning of a section. Here’s a detail from the first tab:

And here’s the verso of that leaf:

You all know how I like it when I see details of physical features of books that are normally hidden:

Because the front board is loose, you can see some of the knots of the sewing structure holding the binding and the book together.

And what else do I love? Details that show something about the printing process:

At first glance, that looks simply like ink bleeding through from the other side of the leaf. But did you notice any bleedthrough on any of the other pages? That’s some heavy-duty paper. No, that isn’t bleedthrough, it’s offset! In the words of John Carter, offset is

The accidental transfer of ink from a printed page or illustration to an adjacent page. This may be caused either from the sheets having been folded, or the book bound, before the ink was properly dry, or from the book being subsequently exposed to damp. Offset from engraved or other plates on to text, and from text on to plates, is commoner, and also much more disfiguring, than offset from text on to text. Text offset occasionally provides valuable bibliographical evidence, since it usually derives from the very earliest stage in the assembly of the printed sheets into a book. And some of the neatest deductions have been made from the offset, not from one page to another of an individual copy, but from the offset on a page of one book from printed sheets belonging to another which happened to be stacked with it at the printer’s.

So there you go, a whole bunch of my favorite things, all in one book!

today’s post is brought to you by the letters k and e

screensaver from the newest generation Kindle

Do you ever get the feeling that something’s just not quite right, but you’re not sure what it is¿

If you’re curious what the other screensavers are on the new Kindle, scroll through the twenty I snapped. They’ve clearly moved on from the book illustrations and author themes they had in earlier models to writing implements. I’m not sure what larger message I’d want to draw from this, but they’re mostly very pretty. I just wish those turned letters didn’t bother me so much. Is it artsy or just wrong? I’m all for artsiness and playfulness. But I can’t help suspect it’s just wrong, or at least, less about art and more about a fear that people will fail to recognize the “kindle” embedded in the picture.

that thei they thnt

My students are in the process of choosing the books they’re going to work with this semester, so I’ve been looking at lots of books I haven’t seen before. One of them is an English translation of Nicholas Monardes’s Historia medicinal, a 1577 book with one of those glorious long titles: Ioyfull newes out of the newe founde worlde, wherein is declared the rare and singuler vertues of diuerse and sundrie hearbes, trees, oyles, plantes, and stones, with their aplications, aswell for phisicke as chirurgerie, the saied beyng well applied bryngeth suche present remedie for all deseases, as maie seme altogether incredible: notwithstandyng by practize founde out, to bee true: also the portrature of the saied hearbes, very aptly discribed: Englished by Ihon Frampton marchaunt. (Want more info? Check out the record on Hamnet.)

In doing her description of the book, my student noticed something funny about the headlines. They are set up to do something fairly typical: the book is divided into three parts, and the headlines tell you which part you are reading, as shown here:

“The first parte of the thynges that” is on the left-hand side of the opening, with the conclusion of the phrase on the other side of the gutter: “thei bryng from the West Indias.”

The fun part is what happens on the left. On most of the pages, this part of the phrase appears as you would expect:

But sometimes, it goes a bit askew:


or even:

All these mistakes happen only in the first part of the book (although there are other errors in the headlines in the second and third parts). “Thei” is obviously a slip from the phrase’s continuation and appears on signatures A1v, D1v, and F1v. “They” is a similar mistake; it appears on D3v and F3v. It’s not connected to “thei”–by which I mean, it’s not some sort of correction of “thei”, which wouldn’t make sense anyway, because “thei” is spelled perfectly acceptably according to early modern standards, as evidenced by the fact that it’s spelled that way on the other side of the gutter. No, I know it’s not a correction of “thei” because both mistakes appear on the outer formes of the D and the G gatherings: “thei” on D1v/G3v with “they” on D3v/G3v. In other words, they were both in use at the same time. (If this doesn’t make sense, go back and practice your quarto folding again.)

My favorite, though, is the last one–“thnt”–which appears with the greatest frequency, on signatures B2v, C1v, G2v, and H2v. What in the world is “thnt”? It’s “that” when someone has accidentally put an “n” in with the “a”s when he was redistributing the type. A good compositor would touch-set, just as a good typist touch-types. You don’t look at where your fingers are on the keyboard; you look at what it is you are typing. If you’re copying something (typing notes up from a book, for instance), you’re looking at the book, not at your fingers or your typewriter computer screen. When you’re grabbing type from the case and reading the manuscript that you’re setting, you’re not only not looking at each letter as you put it in the composing stick, even if you were to glance at it, it’d be a mirror image.

And that, my friends, is one of the reasons you proof your work.

the small joys of looking at books

Take a gander at this book I was looking at today:

Boyer’s The compleat French-master, 1699, Folger Shakespeare Library, Call Number: 263- 520q

Can you see what’s going on here? It looks at first glance like the top page has been folded back, revealing the text of the previous leaf. But that’s not it. You’re looking at the verso side of sig. H4 and nothing else.

Can you see now that it’s only one leaf?

Here’s an image of what this leaf looks like in other copies of this book:


And now do you see what’s happened? During printing, this leaf got folded over in the press, and the inside of the fold missed the type (that’s the blank streak) and the outer part of the fold was, once unfolded, misaligned. Print the image off and fold it to see for yourself!

Here’s the recto side of the leaf:

Boyer’s The compleat French-master, Folger Shakespeare Library, Call Number: 263- 520q

You can see the crease from the fold, but since this side was already printed, there’s no misalignment of the text.

I love this detail in this book. It’s not really significant, it’s just a tiny reminder that the book is a made objects, and that in making objects, things happen and sometimes leave their traces. It’s one of the tiny joys I find in looking at books–not reading them, but looking at them.

That’s it for my post. My new theory is to stick with the short and sweet. Now that the Folger allows readers (and staff) to snap their own photos, I’m determined to share more of the tidbits that I come across. I’ll still do the longer posts, but at least this way I won’t have such long periods of silence in between!

(A shout-out here to the cataloger who created the entry for this book. As with many items in the Folger’s collections, this has a wonderfully detailed record, including the information that this fold was to be found. You can see the record for yourself–you’ll notice that the book is full of other nice details. And the next time you encounter a cataloger, make sure you buy them a drink. Or chocolate. Or both.)

the primer in englishe and latine

Last year, at the start of each semester, I gave you something from a school book to celebrate the return of classes: in the fall it was Lily’s Latin grammar; in the spring, Comenius’s picture book. This semester, I think I’ll give you something slightly different to celebrate the return of students: a look at some of the books my students worked with last spring.

First up, this 1557 English book of hours:

The student who was working on this book was a theology major and chose it, I think, to have a chance to think about Catholic liturgy and print. There’s a lot to be learned about liturgy in studying it. The title of the book signals some of the basic issues at play: The primer in Englishe and Latine, set out along, after the use of Sa[rum]: with many godlie and devoute praiers: as it apeareth in the table. A brief history of primers in encapsulated in that title. There’s the reference to “Sarum use”, specifying this book of hours as following the Salisbury rite, the form that dominated England Catholic liturgy. Most notable is the identification that this includes a translation of the Latin prayers into English, an increasingly popular approach to the prayers after the Reformation, and one that was strictly regulated. That this is in both Latin and English links it to a specific historical moment. It wasn’t until after Henry VIII’s split with the Catholic Church that books of hours in English (usually referred to as “primers”) began to be published in England–and Henry, after 1545, promulgated his Royal Primer. With Mary’s reign, the Sarum rite again became the sanctioned form of the primer, though the popularity of English translations continued. The imprint of this book hints at the Sarum primer’s popularity: “Imprinted at London, by Jhon Kyngston, and Henry Sutton. 1557. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum.” You could assume correctly from the “cum privilegio” that printing primers was a lucrative business that was awarded to a specific printer. You could correctly assume, too, that we would see a rise of English Sarum primers printed during Mary’s reign.

That’s a brief outline of some of what we can learn from the title page–a sort of cultural/political/religious history that can be gathered from studying this book. But we can do something fun, too, with the mise-en-page of this book:

This opening is mostly fairly typical: there’s the English translation in the large columns closest to the gutter in a nice blackletter font, and the Latin text in the outer columns in a smaller font. The decorated initials are printed woodcuts (that is, not hand-rubricated or illuminated). And the running titles and other directive texts are printed in red ink to guide the reader. All of these details can lead you into a study of how this book was designed to be used.

But there’s something else we can learn from this book, too. Here’s a close-up showing the text in more detail, including my favorite moment:

Did you notice it? Take a look again.

What is the title given to this prayer, which begins “Rejoyce O virgine Christes mother deare”? Is it “Of the five corporall joyes of our Ladie.”? But why is “Ladie” printed in black? Look underneath–it was first printed “of our lorde.” Ooops. Well, anyone can make a mistake, right? At least they corrected it. And that’s what I love about this page. Here’s the thing–printers did not typically print red and black ink at the same time. Think about it–it would be pretty hard to dab black ink only on the black bits and red ink on the red bits. You wouldn’t be able to do it with your standard ink balls.

Instead, you’d follow a much more complicated series of steps. First, you’d set the type for the whole form (that is, not just one single page, but all the pages on that side of the sheet). Then you’d determine which words were to be printed in red, take those letters out and replace them with blanks. You’d ink the whole thing with black, using those ink balls that have been keeping nice and moist by soaking in urine, and run it through the press once with black ink. After you’d run through the entire run’s worth of copies of that form, it would be time to do the red ink. You’d cut a new frisket (the protective sheet that covers over what you don’t want to get inked) that would have holes for the red text but keep the black text covered. You’d replace the blanks with the red text, which has been raised slightly above the black text so that when you pull the press, only the raised type will print. And then you would run the entire set of sheets through the press again. If you’ve done it all right, the red text will print in the holes that were left behind after the black ink run. As you can see from this book, sometimes the red and black ink printed a bit more askew. (You can find a tidier example of two-color printing at this earlier blog post.)

So here’s where I really love this: the printers, after making this mistake, recognize it, and want, understandably, to fix it–which means running the entire thing through the press for a third time! Oh, the labor of it all!

That’s what I’m going to think of at the start of the fall: sometimes learning and teaching doesn’t happen on the first try, or even the second. But that’s no reason to stop working! This is also a good reminder of how much of what we do is serendipitous–looking up this book in the catalogue, there was no sign of this cool printing tidbit. It was only because Caitlin looked through every single page in this book with her eyes wide open that she found it. What a nice reward for her curiosity! And that feels like another excellent piece of advice for all of us: don’t forget to be curious along the way and to be open to discovering something new.

Happy learning!

(Want to read about printing with red ink in more detail? Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, as always, is your not-to-be-beat source about early printing; for the section on two-color printing, see pages 328-30. This lovely primer can be found in our catalogue here; a set of zoomable images from it are here.)