· 07 June 2020 ·
[A news-less First Folio auction update, and new manicules in a new book on my shelf]
It’s tough to keep my mind in the past when so many souls in the present are so stressed and distressed. The time is out of joint. Can’t even go to the playhouse for a couple of hours’ escape from care and the daily news.
I don’t write to a schedule, especially not in these days of distraction. Sign up for alerts by email (in the sidebar) if you want to be notified of anything new without having to come look. Of course you’re welcome to stop by anyway. I can always use the page-views.
No news is no news
A check-in at christies.com shows no rescheduled date for the auction of Mills College’s 1623 First Folio. The featured page for the book states “Offered in the Exceptional Sale on October at Christie’s in New York” [sic] but as yet the Exceptional Sale has not returned to the sales calendar. Christie’s NYC location remains closed. At this point I’d be surprised if the auction occurs before 2021. I’ll continue to keep an eye on it.
17 SEPTEMBER UPDATE: I’ve updated my original auction post with news of the rescheduled event, now set for 14 October 2020.
What’s old is new again
A First Folio in good condition may represent the ideal, but when that ideal has a price tag well into seven figures, even its author must settle for a more practical substitute. Fortunately, such a substitute exists.
For my 470th birthday in April, I was given my very own Big Red First Folio, henceforth the BRFF or red beast. It is more formally known as The Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare, Second Edition. They left out the hyphen.
The Chandos portrait that Stratford doesn’t like any more appears on the cumbersome slipcase, which I quickly stowed in an aft cargo hold, face down. The book’s cover is unadorned red. Droeshout’s intentional absurdity on the title page is ignorable. I already know the title.
You might think I’d have sprung for one of these before now, but I could never make a case for owning one until I began to write this blog. The BRFF doesn’t cost millions, but it’s still worth a small property, if not a manor. The blog costs me real money and makes none (I stick with what I know) so an expensive book is hard to justify when zero-cost alternatives are available. Online First Folios have been sufficient, most of the time.
But let me tell you: to browse, perchance to read; ay, there’s the nub. The ability to flip through the pages of my plays all in one volume, in the words I know best, as I could not do while I was alive, is an analog experience that’s impossible to digitise. The Bodleian’s First Folio has been my digital default, with transcribed textThe medial ſs were replaced, but the rest of the old orthography has been retained. as well as page images. As good as it is, it isn’t close. You think this doesn’t matter until you open the book, when you discover it does.
So I’m enjoying the beast, albeit it weighs more than an hundredweight of bricks. Only a slight exaggeration. Four kilos, just under nine pounds. 928 pages. Its dimensions (sans slipcase) are 24.6×36.4×5.5 cm, 9.75×14.25×2.25 in. It’s a labour of Herakles to hold it at a good reading angle on a desk or table. Laid flat, the top edge sits in the next county. Forget about propping it on your belly knees-up to read in bed: the barber-surgeon would soon be separating you from your gangrenous legs. What this book needs is its own lectern. Pride of place in the library. The correct author’s portrait on the slipcase.Being a facsimile, the BRFF contains photographic reproductions of the original pages at 100% scale, not reprinted type. I was curious to compare the beast with the 1623 First Folio I saw back in 2016. That one was trimmed very tightly when it was bound (or re-bound), leaving a margin only at the bottom. Overall dimensions of First Folios vary, but the size of the printed text area within its rectangular border does not. The facsimile is what the book would look like with untrimmed pages, the sheets folded only once, bound with the margins that came out of the press. I had to crop out most of the gutter (the inside margin where the pages meet) to get the text to line up in this little animation, but you get the idea.
I’ve covered my BRFF with grocery-sack paper,
temporarily. A waterproof plastic jacket is on order.
The 1623 FF is Folger’s number 44.
Manicules, old and new
Back in the day I used to draw little pointy-finger manicules in some of my books, to mark passages I wanted to return to later, to quote from or adapt or just for emphasis. Handy scribbles. The Geneva Bible that I purchased in 1570Right before my twentieth birthday, and so 450 years have elapsed between the Bible and the BRFF. and used for the rest of my life contains a handful of my manicules and other markings. Henry Folger got his hands on the Bible in 1925; it now resides in his eponymous library in Washington DC, alongside (though I doubt literally) his eighty-two First Folios.
Roger Stritmatter spent a lot of time studying my Bible. He earned his PhD in 2001 with a dissertation about these manuscript additions and their significance. Read it if you like. The Kindle version’s affordable.
I am reluctant to mark the red beast up in this inky fashion, so I’ve taken a different approach to manicules/pointers this time. Not as amusing as the hands, but more colourful, and they serve exactly the same purpose.
- Sources and Additional Reading
- • Conservation & Collection Care Case Studies: Arch. G c.7, Shakespeare’s First Folio [bodleian.ox.ac.uk]
The Bodleian’s First Folio has an interesting history, described here. It’s a rare and laudable case of one-that-got-away from Henry Folger. The page also offers an illustrated look at the details of this FF’s repair and conservation. Intervention has been kept to a minimum, as the ‘damage’ is seen as part of the volume’s life story. If you look through the digital archive it’s clear that some of the pages have seen better days. This can be said of most things owning 397 years.
- • Manicule/text example: Leaf AAA2 verso, my Bible, printed by John Crispin, Geneva, 1570 [luna.folger.edu]
- · Digital image file 32790, call number STC 2106, copy 1
- · Folger Digital Image Collection (Hamnet)
- · possessed by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, USA
- • Linked photo credit: Lectern made from an Elizabethan bedpost
- · Eastleach Martin Church, Gloucestershire [britainexpress.com]
- · photographed by David Ross