Constructing volvelles

As Elizabeth Bruxer correctly identified within a few short hours of its posting, this month’s crocodile mystery showed the inner disc of an unconstructed volvelle from a copy of the 1591 edition of Giambattista della Porta’s De furtivis literarum  notis (STC 20118). The key to her identification lay in recognizing the image as being part of a volvelle and guessing that it was connected to ciphers. (Read her comment for a full elucidation of how she solved the mystery.) What I showed you last week was just one inner disc, although the “3” written below it might have clued you in that there were other similar objects. A view of the full page opening makes it more clear, I think, what we’re looking at: There, in the upper right-hand corner is our disc number 3, along with a nearly identical disc labeled “1” and at the bottom of the page, disc 2. Why…

The seven ages of man, rendered movingly

In my last post, I described this month’s crocodile mystery as more of a rhetorical device than a question to be answered: what does this box prompt us to imagine what might be? ((All images in this post can be viewed in larger sizes through the gallery at the end.)) And what does it contain? Both a stage and a book. But it’s not just any stage and not just any book. The Globe Theatre is the setting for a miniature book that picks up on all the possibilities of staging:  “Presenting the Seven Ages of Man / by Mr William Shakespeare / As Rendered Movingly by Mrs. Maryline Poole Adams.” 


As three of you immediately identified in your comments, last week’s crocodile mystery was the fastening in the center of a volvelle, holding the various layers in place and allowing them to turn: Volvelles are paper wheels that are fastened to a leaf so that the discs spin independently. Some of the earliest volvelles were used for prognostication; Ramon Llull is credited with bringing the volvelle to the West in the late thirteenth century for use in his Ars Magna.  Suzanne Karr describes the system of two discs of letters on top of a third layer as one that did not simply aid memory but produced new knowledge: