“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: October edition

Once again, given the vagaries of The Collation‘s schedule and upcoming federal holidays, I’m posting the next month’s crocodile mystery at the end of this month. So don’t worry about how quickly the year is flying by: it is still September for a few more days! Some of you will immediately recognize what category of object this is, so I invite additional speculations in the comments below about the nature of this object, its details, and what we might learn from studying it. All will be revealed in my post on Monday!

Early modern book history: it’s not just for English majors

Every seminar I teach on early modern book history, I like to start with a class asking what is book history? We read Robert Darnton’s essay, of course, along with pieces from D. F. McKenzie and Roger Chartier, along with some supplemental readings (this year, those included a piece on medieval books and some work from a pair of economic historians). One of the reasons I like to start the term this way is it warms up students and gets them thinking about methodological issues while they’re learning about book history and material texts so that they can be informed explorers of the field. The question is not simply “what is book history?” but “what are the disciplinary biases in studying books and where do I fit in?” ((My approach to this topic has been greatly influenced by Leslie Howsam’s Old Books and New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in…

“What manner o’ thing is your crocodile?”: September edition

Don’t panic—it’s still August, but rather than wait until the middle of September to share the new crocodile mystery,  I’m going to share it now and Heather will discuss it next week. At initial glance, it’s pretty clear what’s illustrated below: an address leaf of a letter, in this case a newly acquired letter from Thomas Cromwell to Nicholas Wotton, 8 November  [1539]. The question we’ve been asking ourselves, and now you, is, What is going on with the repair along the right side and upper half of the leaf? See that ghostly printing? Clicking on the picture will open it up in our digital image collection, where you’ll be able to zoom in to examine it in detail. We’ll look forward to any thoughts you have to share and Heather will discuss this more next week!

my syllabus is a quarto

As some of you know, I am the queen of folding exercises. ((I’m not really the queen of folding exercises. If I was, I’d do more than the easy formats. I’m more like the JV champion of folding, having mastered 4° and 8°. I still stumble over making my own 12°s and I aspire to 18°s. Then I’ll be the Empress of Folding.)) It’s the only way to understand early modern book formats, and I like puttering around coming up with better ways to demonstrate this to my students and even to my blog readers (see here and, most recently, here). Because it’s that time of year when I get my syllabus in order and because, thanks to my week at Rare Book School’s Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description, I have format on my brain, it suddenly dawned on me that instead of just handing out my one-sheet syllabus…

Deciphering signature marks

So, as those of you who have spent any time working with early modern printed books probably recognized, this month’s crocodile mystery focuses on signature marks. Below is the photo I posted last week, now with the signature mark circled in red: Signature marks are those letters, numbers, and sometimes symbols at the bottom of the first portion of gatherings to help binders assemble the sheets of a book into the right order. For those of you who’ve been reading along with our various earlier posts on impositions, you’ll remember that books in the handpress era were printed not as single leaves, but as sheets with varying numbers of pages per side. (It’s certainly much less labor- and material-intensive than printing one page at a time.) What this means is that one sheet of paper might contain, once properly folded, 2 leaves (a folio), 4 leaves (a quarto), 8 leaves…