Shakespeare in 2016: podcasts of lectures in the Weston Library

Walter Colman, La danse machabre, or death's duell (1633) Bodleian Mal. 404

Four hundred years after his death, these talks by specialists revisit Shakespeare’s works, life, and times in the light of current research, as part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 festival and in connection with the Bodleian Libraries exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’.

Bart van Es, 1594: Shakespeare’s most important year

In the summer of 1594 William Shakespeare decided to invest around £50 to become a shareholder in a newly formed acting company: the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This lecture examines the consequences of this decision, unique in English theatrical history.

By examining the early modern theatrical marketplace and the artistic development of Shakespeare’s writing before and after this moment, it is hoped that this talk shows why 1594 was, by some measure, Shakespeare’s most important year.

Jonathan Bate, The Magic of Shakespeare

This lecture will celebrate Shakespeare’s immortality on the exact 400th anniversary of his burial. It will begin from Theseus’ famous speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the magical, transformative power of poetry.

It will argue that Shakespeare inherited from antiquity a fascination with the intimate association between erotic love, magic and the creative imagination, and that this is one of the keys to the enduring power of his plays.

Sir Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, is one of the world’s most renowned Shakespeare scholars, the author of, among many other works, Shakespeare and Ovid, The Genius of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age and (as co-editor) The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works. He co-curated Shakespeare Staging the World, the British Museum’s exhibition for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and he is the author of Being Shakespeare: A One-Man Play for Simon Callow, which has toured nationally and internationally and had three runs in the West End.

Steven Gunn, Everyday death in Shakespeare’s England

Coroners’ inquest reports into accidental deaths tell us about the hazards of everyday life in Shakespeare’s day. There were dangerous jobs, not just building, mining and farming, but also fetching water, and travel was perilous whether by cart, horse or boat. Even relaxation had its risks, from football and wrestling to maypole-dancing or a game of bowls on the frozen River Cherwell.

Peter McCullough, Donne to Death

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

Katherine Duncan Jones, Venus and Adonis

Professor Katherine Duncan Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Somerville College, gives a talk on Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis.

In 1592-93, with London playhouses closed because of plague, Shakespeare wrote his most technically perfect work. Venus and Adonis (1593) is a highly original ‘take’ on the ancient Greek myth of the doomed Adonis – presented here as a pubertal boy incapable of responding to the goddess’s amorous advances. It was a tearaway success with Elizabethan readers.

Emma Smith, Memorialising Shakespeare: the First Folio and other elegies

Ben Jonson wrote in 1623 that Shakespeare ‘art a Moniment, without a tombe/ And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live’: centuries later Jorge Luis Borges observed that ‘when writers die, they become books’, adding, ‘which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation’. This lecture considers Shakespeare’s First Folio as a literary memorial to Shakespeare, alongside other elegies, epitaphs, and responses to the playwright’s death.

Napoleonic ephemera in the Curzon Collection

This blog post comes to you from Adrian Kerrison, Senior Collections Support Assistant, who has been supervising the Weston Library re-ingest move since September 2014.

When I am not working on the Weston move I have been listing the contents of the Lord Curzon collection of Napoleonic ephemera, a fascinating project assigned to me by the Rare Books department. Among the hundreds of engravings, portraits and satirical prints is a treasure trove of numerous letters from figures of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. Notable figures include Letizia Ramolino (Napoleon’s mother), Pope Pius IV, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Maximilien Robespierre, Rouget de Lisle (author of the ‘La Marseillaise’, also known as the French national anthem), Henri Sanson (executioner of Marie Antoinette among many others) and Giuseppe Garibaldi (one of the founders of modern-day Italy).

Curzon b. 15(229)
Curzon b. 15(229)

And of course, there are a few letters from Mr. Bonaparte himself. Pictured is a military despatch written by a 25 year old Napoleon serving as Commander in Chief of Artillery for the Army of Italy, dated 14 October 1794 (the date in pencil is probably wrong). What is interesting about this document is not only that it was written by a young Napoleon early in his military career, but also that he does not omit the ‘u’ from his surname. Born Napoleone di Buonaparte to Corsican-Italian parents, he began to omit the ‘u’ from his surname sometime in the mid-1790’s to make it sound more French in an effort to propel himself in a country suspicious of foreigners.
If anyone would like to have a go at translating and transcribing his handwriting, please send me an email at and I will update this post!
More to come!

The delights of flower painting: making colours that survive the centuries

From Richard Mulholland

With the Chelsea flower show in full swing, it’s a good time to return to the subject of the great 18th century botanical painter, Ferdinand Bauer, his paintings for one of the most splendid illustrated Floras ever produced, and the mysterious colour code he used to produce his paintings. Bauer, along with his equally talented brother Franz, is considered to be amongst the greatest botanical painters, and his work for the Flora Graeca (published 1806-1840)  amongst the most impressive achievements in natural history painting.



Bauer, as we discovered in the last post , was John Sibthorp’s chosen travelling artist on his expedition to Greece and the Levant in 1786. Sibthorp’s desire was to document the flora of the Eastern Mediterranean, following in the footsteps of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, and updating Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, the 1st century medical treatise that had been a standard text on the subject for over 1600 years.

When he came to Oxford in 1787, Bauer spent six years painting almost 1500 life-size watercolour paintings of plants and animals with astonishing colour accuracy – over 960 of these for the Flora Graeca. He did not paint in colour in the field, and reproduced his sketches in colour in his studio in Oxford using for reference only his memory, the dried specimens he and Sibthorp had collected, and a series of brief pencil sketches annotated with numerical colour codes that may have referred to a painted colour chart.

The Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy at the Bodleian has all of Bauer’s original watercolour paintings, most of his field sketches and most of the original herbaria specimens from the expedition. However, although there is evidence of a very early colour chart that may have been used by Bauer, if a colour chart ever existed for the Sibthorp paintings, it has been lost. The Bodleian’s Heritage Science department are working on a significant research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust that aims to unravel Bauer’s code by looking closely at the materials and methods he used and try to understand how he was able to achieve such veracity of colour in his work.

Painting in watercolour in the 18th century was not as it is today. Although by the 1780s, a painter might purchase boxes of ready-made watercolour cakes (George Reeves introduced portable ‘moist’ watercolour cakes in 1766 that were a vast improvement on ‘dry’ cakes used previously), most painters still bought dry colour pigments in powder form from artists’ colourmen, druggists and apothecary shops, grinding them with plant gums and water to create their paints. The end product was usually dried and stored in mussel or oyster shells,  and could be reactivated with water as needed over the following few days.

“Reeves watercolour box c. 1772 taken on The Resolution by Isaac Smith” Museum of London 74.343/50. © Museum of London
Reeves watercolour box c. 1772 taken on The Resolution by Isaac Smith. Museum of London 74.343/50. © Museum of London

The Museum of London has a Reeves watercolour box that was in the possession of British naval officer Isaac Smith, who accompanied Captain Cook on both of his expeditions. Although the box was not taken on Cook’s first voyage on The Endeavour, Smith appears to have used  it on board The Resolution during the second voyage (1772-75), where the creation of surveys and maps were amongst his duties. There little evidence that professional travelling artists in the 18th century used commercial ready-made moist watercolours on their voyages, although they were popular amongst amateurs and professionals alike in the nineteenth century. The likely explanation may be that artists working in the 1770s and 80s would have learnt the art of preparing their own colours during a traditional apprenticeship and preferred to maintain their own quality control. However, the colours in this early box by Reeves are useful, as they are clearly labelled and therefore give us an insight into the watercolour pigments that were popular at the end of the 18th century, and a clue toward what we might expect Bauer to have used in his work.

The late eighteenth century also brought increased status to watercolour painting. Previously water based paints were generally used for either ‘washing’ (the hand colouring of prints and maps) or ‘limning’(the painting of portrait miniatures) or to ‘stain’ drawings. At the Royal Academy for example, watercolour was not considered in the same category as painting, watercolourists were regarded as ‘draughtsmen’, could only show their work in the lower ‘drawings’ chambers and were ineligible for full membership. In fact the Royal Academy did not admit watercolour painters as full exhibiting members until 1810.

Watercolour painting, as we think of it today however, had already emerged as a medium in its own right by the 1760s, and its status as an art form was cemented by the formation of the Society of Painters in Watercolour (now the Royal Watercolour Society) in 1804. With its newfound popularity, (especially amongst amateur painters from the nobility) from the mid-eighteenth century, numerous instructional manuals on watercolour painting were published, often concentrating on landscapes and flowers, and often containing lists of pigments recommended by the author for specific tasks.

‘The Delights of Flower Painting’ by John June, published in 1756 for example, contains a list of pigments, and instructions on how they should be prepared and used for painting flowers. With a few exceptions, most of these pigments are also contained in Isaac Smith’s watercolour box.

John June (1756) ‘The delights of flower-painting. In which is laid down the fundamental principles of that delightful art…’ D. Voisin, London. © British Library.
John June (1756) ‘The delights of flower-painting. In which is laid down the fundamental principles of that delightful art…’ D. Voisin, London. © British Library.

Such a selection of pigments would have been very familiar to Bauer, painting thirty years later, as there were few new pigments introduced to artists between the 1750s and the beginning of the 19th century. Using a number of analytical techniques, we are able to positively identify many pigments that Bauer used in his Flora Graeca paintings, and match them with his colour codes in order to ascertain whether certain numbers referred to specific pigments. The results show that Bauer’s code is certainly systematic, but also that he used a fairly traditional palette, considerably more like that of a 17th century miniaturist painter perhaps than a late 18th century watercolourist. Perhaps more surprisingly, he appears to have represented the myriad of colour seen across the Levant using only a small number of pigments in his palette.

We can pinpoint pigments by using very sensitive techniques such as Raman spectroscopy and XRF (X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy), but using another technique – hyperspectral imaging – we are also able to ‘map’ Bauer’s pigments across an entire painting. The following example is from Bauer’s little-known Fauna Graeca paintings, equally impressive as his paintings of flowers. The false colour hyperspectral image composite highlights certain areas of the painting where he has used blue pigments. In this case, the areas that show as red indicate areas where indigo was used and areas that show as purple indicate those where a copper-based blue such as azurite was used..

Original image (below), and Hyperspectral false colour composite image (above) of Naucratus Ductor (MS. Sherard 239: Pisces, F43) showing areas of indigo (red) and copper blue (purple)” © Bodleian Libraries.
Original image (below), and Hyperspectral false colour composite image (above) of Naucratus Ductor (MS. Sherard 239: Pisces, F43) showing areas of indigo (red) and copper blue (purple)” © Bodleian Libraries.

Identifying the ‘what’ of course is very useful, but it doesn’t tell us everything about how Bauer worked, and in particular why he chose to use certain pigments and not others. One way to address this question is through historical reproduction – the recreation of facsimile paintings using materials and methods close to those Bauer would have used. Although Bauer is unlikely to have made his own pigments, the dry pigments we can purchase today are ground and prepared using modern techniques and are often prepared differently from those that were available in the 18th century.

Grinding vermillion pigment with a glass muller
Grinding vermillion pigment with a glass muller

We can get around this in many cases by manufacturing our own pigments using 18th century recipes. We know through our analysis that Bauer made extensive use of a copper-based green in his paintings of plants. In the case below, we created a batch of the copper green pigment Verdigris by exposing copper sheeting to wine vinegar over a period of time. The acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the copper and forms an encrustation of green on the surface. This is scraped off regularly and then carefully ground into paint using a glass muller.


Making Verdigris pigment at the Bodleian
Making Verdigris pigment at the Bodleian

We know almost nothing about Ferdinand Bauer. There is no known portrait of him, very few letters, and almost no descriptions relating to his working procedures. However, this approach to art historical research provides an opportunity to gain an insight into his working life and perhaps a glimpse of his particular genius in creating these astonishing works of art.


Further information:


The Bodleian’s Head of Heritage Science David Howell will be speaking at a one-day conference on multispectral and hyperspectral imaging on 30 June. For more information and registration, visit:


On Saturday 25 June, members of the public can learn more about hyperspectral imaging by visiting the Bodleian’s Weston Library, where there will be demonstrations of this technique and Raman spectroscopy in Blackwell Hall. For more information, visit:


Language and politics in early modern France: Rebecca Kingston, Royal Bank of Canada Foundation Fellow

Rebecca Kingston’s research draws on materials in Bodleian Rare Books collections that illuminate emerging patterns of political language and political ideas in early modern Europe. Here are three of the titles she has consulted, and will discuss in her upcoming Royal Bank of Canada Foundation Lecture at the Weston Library, ‘Eloquence vault mieulx que force’: Vernacular Translations of Plutarch and Political Argument in Renaissance France. [26 May]

Alciatus, Emblems (1536)
Alciatus, Emblems (1536). Bodleian Douce A 132

The Roman historian Lucian described a Celtic god, Ogmios, as ‘the Gallic Hercules’. Alciatus’s Emblems portrays ‘l’Hercule gaulois’ in a way that emphasises that the strength of this god is not in youth or bodily vigour, but in eloquence. A chain passes from the tongue of Ogmios to the ears of his followers. In the French translation by Jean LeFevre, the accompanying verse is titled ‘Eloquence vault mieux que force,’ and draws attention to  ‘… ce qui la marqu[er] de si grand gloire / Que mener gens enchainez a sa langue / Entendre veult: qu’il feist tant bien harengue / Que les Francois pour ses ditz de merveilles’

Claude de Seyssel, La grant monarchie de France (1519)
Claude de Seyssel, La grant monarchie de France (1519) Bodleian (OC) 237 f.134

The cleric and diplomat Claude de Seyssel (1468-1540) translated Plutarch’s Lives of Antony and Demetrius into the French vernacular: these were individuals whose seeming virtues degenerated, in the changing context of their own times, into political vices. In acknowledging the dangers of kingship conceived as personal rule, Seyssel’s work of political advice to the French king Louis XII, La grant monarchie de France, differed from the writings of his contemporary Niccolo Machiavelli, in firmly placing the king within a necessary structure of the Church, laws, and administration.

Geoffroy Tory, Champfleury (1529)
Geoffroy Tory, Champ fleury (1529) Bodleian Douce T 281

Geoffroy Tory (born c. 1480) invoked the theme of ‘l’Hercule gaulois’ in his famous work Champ fleury (1529) as part of a broader defense of the beauty and force of the French vernacular. As official printer to King Francis I, and the translator of several classical works into French, including writings by Plutarch, Tory was also deemed to have been influential in the 1539 Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts wherein all legal acts and contracts had to be issued in French.

Rebecca Kingston is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. She works in the history of French political thought (1500-1800) and on the emotions in political theory. She is author of Montesquieu and the parlement of Bordeaux (1996), Public Passion (2011) and has edited a number of volumes in both of her areas of research. As RBC Bodleian Fellow she is working on a monograph looking at the changing conceptions of the ‘public’/ ‘la chose publique’ through vernacular translations of Plutarch and early modern French and English political theory. Her talk will explore the concept of la chose publique through the Plutarch translations and political reflections of early 16th century political thinkers in France.



Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Richard III

Bodleian Vet. A6 c.172/1
A bound volume of playbills from 1815-16 contains ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich III’

Two hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s birth/death day was marked by a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a pageant of characters from 16 of Shakespeare’s plays, and a recitation of the ‘Ode to Shakespeare’ written by David Garrick (1717-1779) for the Jubilee staged at Stratford in 1769.

A playbill for April 23, 1816, one in a bound volume [Vet. A6 c.172], shows that Mr Rae and Miss Grimani took the roles of the star-crossed lovers. The European Magazine was full of praise for Miss Grimani’s performance: of particular interest for the Bodleian’s exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead, is the description of Juliet’s death: “Her last anxious effort to stagger to the dead body of her lord, after stabbing herself, and the sudden arrest of death, which compelled her to fall backwards, were finely conceived and beautifully executed.”

The owner of the volume attached to the back of the previous item a souvenir of Garrick himself: a piece of cloth, with sequins and silver embroidery, labelled ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich. III’, a role for which the actor was famous, and in which he was famously portrayed in a painting by William Hogarth in 1745; though in the engraving by John Dixon from 1772 he wears a robe that more resembles the scrap preserved here.

Bodleian Master classes in 2015-16: retrospect

Auct M 3.14 fol. 12 r_watermarkThe master classes programme presents scholars discussing materials from Bodleian special collections. In 2015-16 the programme included discussions of the letter forms, musical notation, provenance, and artistic content of Bodleian manuscripts and printed books, including the ’12 millionth book’, acquired in 2015, Shelley’s Poetical Essay.

21 October 2015: Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard/Humanitas Visiting Professor) The rise and fall of Adam and Eve

18 January 2016: Irene Ceccherini (Bodleian Library/Lincoln College) The palaeography of the Latin classics in 14th-century Italy  

25 Jan 2016: Michael Rossington (Newcastle) Shelley’s Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: some manuscript contexts

1 February 2016: Elizabeth Solopova (Faculty of English/Brasenose College) The Wycliffite Bible: beloved but banned bestseller

8 February 2016: Jim McCue (independent) T.S. Eliot, Vivien and ‘F. M.’

15 February 2016: Daniela Mairhofer (University of Vienna) Manuscripts from German religious houses in the Bodleian

22 February 2016:  Benjamin Wardhaugh (All Souls, Music) Seventeenth-century musical manuscripts

29 February 2016: Eleanor Giraud (Faculty of Music/Lincoln College) Square chant notation: identifying and distinguishing scribes

7 March 2016: Deirdre Serjeantson (University of Essex, English)
Poetic miscellanies from the early modern period

Menaka PP Bora Performing the Treasures

On March 26, dancer Menaka PP Bora, Affiliated Artist at the Bodleian Libraries during 2015-16,  delivered a performance inspired by Bodleian collections and by the architecture of the Weston Library. Dancing high above the main public foyer of the building, Blackwell Hall, Dr Bora improvised a dance responding to the ‘floating gallery’, the reference area for the reading rooms on the library’s upper floors.

Descending to Blackwell Hall itself, Dr Bora performed dances inspired by one of the albums of Indian paintings, collected in the 19th century from Kolkata, which portrays Indian gods.Menaka Bora dancing MenakaPPBora_gallerymontage_sm

Bibliographical Press at the Bodleian

In September 2015, the Bodleian’s Bibliography Room re-opened in the Old Bodleian Library, after a move from temporary quarters in the Story Museum, Oxford. The workshop is now housed in a ground-floor room, the Schola Musicae, opening from the Old Schools Quadrangle. Inside are five free-standing iron presses (four Albions and a Columbian)*, a number of table-top presses, and several composing frames, including three seventeenth-century frames, with a quantity of wooden and metal type.

The room hosts classes in hand-printing for students from Oxford and other universities, and regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups. One group from a local school printed a sonnet by Shakespeare; seven children set two lines each while their classmate created a linocut of the school emblem.

Many former students and visitors from other universities will remember that Paul W. Nash expertly shepherded the room through its previous incarnations in the New Library (now refurbished as the Weston Library) and in the Story Museum. His successor as superintendent of the press is Richard Lawrence, who teaches printing to university students and visiting groups and also supervises open sessions, when experienced printers are welcome to use the workshop, on Thursday evenings during term-times. Several projects initiated by students are underway, including the printing of Luther’s 95 theses, catalyst for the Reformation, in time for the 500th anniversary in 2017. Courses in printing history, practical printing, and letterpress printing, open to the public, are offered in June 2016.

This year the Bibliographical Press hosts an effort to gather copies of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. A call for contributions of sonnets went out in January and was quickly answered by printers around the world. ( ) Though all 154 sonnets are now promised for the Bodleian Rare Books collection, anyone wishing to participate in the effort is invited to contact the Centre for the Study of the Book, e-mail; the CSB will endeavour to announce and display sonnets printed in 2016 by any technique of relief printing.

*A further note on the presses contained in the room. These were reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965:

“(1) Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835), from the Daniel Press” [This was the press used by C.H.O. Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, from 1880-1906 and presented to the library in 1919.]

Tamarin Norwood, printweeting
Tamarin Norwood, printweeting on the Albion serial number 2919

“(2) [now removed] Albion (royal), serial number 2919, (1853), from the Ashendene Press” [The Bodleian Library Record Vol. 5, No. 6, Oct. 1956, reported the gift of “An Ashendene Press.  Mr Michael Hornby has presented to the Bibliography Room the Ashendene Press, the Albion used by his father from 1900 onwards. We are most grateful for the gift of this historic machine. It is a Royal, and Mr Davis is already planning to print bigger and better books.” The press referred to by Gaskell,  is now at the Bridwell Library, Dallas Texas ,a  ‘Hopkinson & Cope Albion, serial number 2919, patent number 3325, 1853. This press belonged to Charles Harry St John Hornby and is referred to as the Bridwell-Ashendene Press‘.]

“(3) Albion (pot), serial number 4993, (1898), from the Moss Press”

To those recorded by Gaskell have been added more recently

(4) A Columbian, from the Samson Press

(5) An Albion, from the Gehenna Press

(6) A card-size Albion, maker Ullmer, number 2919

Sonnets 2016: the Bodleian Library collects 154 sonnets from presses around the world

Lucy Evans, Rare Books

From close to home and further afield, from Oxford to Moonshine Road, California, to New Delhi and Llandogo, hand-press printers across the world answered the call to print Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.

An enthusiastic response meant all 154 sonnets were quickly assigned. The UK and the USA are the most heavily represented countries with particularly strong showing from Oxford, California and Iowa. Submissions are also expected from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy , Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Spain.

The printers involved range from large scale operations to university departments, not for profit organisations, the Virginia Arts of the Book Center , individuals printing at home and an ex-librarian from Australia.

The project is now well underway and we eagerly await parcels winging their way to the Bodleian from across the world. Congratulations to the Kings Bookshop, Callander, who were the first to submit sonnet 92, translated into Scots!

Follow the links to see some of the presses and people involved in this effort.

Pictures of sonnets in type and on the press, as these are received from the printers, can be seen on our twitter feed @bodleiancsb, #154sonnets

Copycat Copiers? Frederick Folsch, Ralph Wedgwood, and the ‘’Improved Manifold Writer’’

Nora Wilkinson, Harvard University

When you click ‘’CC:’’ in your email window, you send a virtual ‘’carbon copy.’’ This abbreviation is a relic of a nearly-bygone era, as digital technologies eliminate the need for carbon paper. Indeed, there is only one remaining manufacturer of carbon paper in the United Kingdom. But with carbon paper on its way out, the Bodleian has an early copying technology on its way in.

The closed manifold writer. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
The closed manifold writer. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The Bodleian has just acquired what appears, at first glance, to be a beautiful green wallet of sorts; leather, with a Greek key design around its edges, and a metal lock and key. But upon opening it, we discover a range of tools housed in special slots in the red morocco lining. The label on the book of blank paper identifies the kit as an ‘’improved manifold writer’’ made by ‘’F. Folsch’’ of ‘’327 oxford Street, London.’’ The contents of the wallet, pictured below, include a volume of blank paper, a metal ‘’tablet’’ and ‘’piece of flat wood’’, and a variety of tools: a cylindrical wooden container, a bone folder, several styli, and a dipping pen with a second nib attached. The nib is labelled ‘’William Mitchell No. 2.’’ (William Mitchell began making pen nibs in the 1820s, and the business that be began continues to manufacture them to this day.)

The manifold writer, including several styli and a notebook. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
The manifold writer, including several styli and a notebook. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.

The pen included in the manifold writer set. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.
The pen included in the manifold writer set. Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

Its purpose is explained in the January 1809, issue of The Tradesman, which published a list of recently acquired patents. The magazine listed ‘’a Machine, Instrument, or Pen for facility in writing,’’ patented by Frederick Bartholemew Folsch and William Howard. In the patent itself, having explained the new forms of pen and paper, the inventors laid out the innovative effect of their combination:

The object to be attained by the use of the above inventions (when used together) is, to produce two or more impressions by one effort in writing, which is thus performed: Take a plate made of tin (called a tablet) or other hard thin substance, the full size of, and place it under, the writing paper; then place a sheet of the inked paper or composition between every sheet of paper to be written or impressed on, observing to place that side downwards which has been smeared over; then place a small plane or piece of flat wood upon the whole, for the purpose of resting the hand on, and which will confine the papers in their proper situations, and prevent the under papers from receiving improper marks. A sufficient quantity of common writing ink being put into the cavity or tube of the pen, proceed to write, and the ink flowing from the point of the tube, will give one impression, and the other impression or impressions will be formed on the under sheet or sheets from the inked paper or composition. The impression on the under sheet or sheets are clearest and best made on thin wove writing paper, and by a hard pressure of the instrument or pen.

The label on the copying book in the Bodleian’s new acquisition may mark this as a slightly later version of Folsch and Howard’s technology.

Manifold Writers

Folsch and Howard seemed confident that their tool would ‘’produce two or more impressions by one effort in writing,’’ but writers at The Tradesman were not totally convinced:

This method of taking copies by the means of blackened paper has long been noticed, and we think that more than one impression at a time will be hardly legible.

”Long’’ is a relative term, but the ‘’blackened paper’’ method of taking copies – the earliest version of carbon paper – did indeed precede Folsch and Howard’s 1809 patent. In fact, the invention of carbon paper is typically attributed to Ralph Wedgwood, who patented his ‘’apparatus for producing duplicates of writing’’ in 1806. Also known as a ‘’Noctograph’’, or a ‘’Manifold Stylographic Writer’’, Wedgwood’s device was invented to aid the blind in writing. Wedgwood’s basic technique involved sandwiching ‘’carbonated’’ paper (made by soaking paper in printer’s ink) between writing paper (on the bottom) and thin ‘’duplicate paper’’ (on the top). When a stylus was used to write on the top layer, the text was impressed on the regular paper and on the duplicate paper in reverse. Because the duplicate paper was particularly thin, the text could be read through it. Wedgwood claimed that up to 6 impressions could be made at once, if the technique was properly applied.

Wedgwood’s invention was not an immediate success. Still, the technology made £10,000 in its first seven years – paying back his nephew Josiah Wedgwood II’s investment of £200 – and even made its way across the Atlantic. William Lyman, American consul to Great Britain, introduced both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to Wedgwood’s manifold writer. In a letter to Madison from 1807, Lyman wrote:

The Advantages of R. Wedgewood’s improved Stylographic manifold Writer, or as it is commonly called Copying Machine have been found so much beyond as entirely to Supersede all the former Improvements of that kind. It is used now in most public Offices but particularly in the Office of State for foreign Affairs where as you must so well know the utmost secrecy is often indispensable.

Jefferson did not share Lyman’s enthusiasm for the copying machine. He wrote to Charles Willson Peale, co-inventor of the polygraph, in October 1807:

the method is so new to me that I am as yet awkward with it. it is not pleasant in it’s use, and I think will not take the place of the Polygraph. where I want but one copy, which is 99 times in an hundred, I shall use the Polygraph, & reserve the Stylograph for cases where more than one copy is wanting, tho’ I have not yet tried it in that way.

In another letter to Peale, Jefferson is even more critical:

further trial of the Stylograph convinces me it can never take the place of the Polygraph but with travellers, as it is so much more portable. the fetid smell of the copying paper would render a room pestiferous, if filled with presses of such papers.

(The smell to which Jefferson refers may be a result of the oil used to make the carbonated paper. Folsch and Howard’s patent detailed the creation of a mixture of ‘’Frankfort black and butter’’ that is smeared over the paper. Wedgwood’s recipe called for any kind of oil that would not spoil easily.)

In contrast, poet Robert Southey received the invention more positively:

You will have perceived that I have been writing in the dark, – & if you look close enough may see that I am not using pen & ink, – but a very excellent contrivance called the double writer, which is liable to no other inconvenience than that of the paper shifting, – as I see this has done in the last page.

Despite its high-profile users, the manifold writer did not achieve wide popularity for many years after its invention. Though it sold well, it was not adopted for business use, largely because the technology could not be used with a metal-nibbed pen or quill, ruling it out for official correspondence that needed to be in ink. Folsch addressed this issue in 1809 with the pen described in his patent:

The machine, instrument, or pen, is made of glass, enamel, or any sort of stone, or metal, through which a hold can be made or formed. The tube or hole at the point of the instrument or pen is very small, but becomes larger a trifling distance therefrom, and is calculated to contain a much greater quantity of ink than common writing pens: the instrument or pen is polished at the point in the usual way.

But despite Folsch’s embrace of ink, and manufacturers’ emphasis on portability and secrecy, manifold copiers – which is to say the carbon paper process – was slow to catch on. The Associated Press was among early adopters, using carbon paper for reporting as early as the 1820s. But the carbon-copy approach didn’t take off until the 1870s, with the invention of typewriters (and a far less messy carbon paper-making process).

The Bodleian’s Manifold Writer

With this history of manifold writers in mind, and given that the book of blank paper is labelled ‘’F. Folsch, Inventor and Patentee of Improved Manifold Writers, 327 Oxford Street, London,” it’s reasonable to conclude that the artefact just acquired by the Bodleian is a Folsch product.

Notably missing from the case, however, is the pen described above. The pen that Folsch patented in 1809 is considered one of the first examples of the fountain pen. There had been previous efforts to create pens with their own ink supplies, even as early as the seventeenth century, as we can see in the diary of Samuel Pepys, in which he mentions a ‘’Silver pen[…] to carry inke in.’’ But fountain pens were not made in any large numbers until the end of the nineteenth century, when a reliable construction was patented by L.E. Waterman. The metal pen with the Mitchell nib may be a later substitution for the Folsch pen.

On the other hand, it may be a sign that the manifold writer has a slightly more complicated history. Indeed, further questions were raised when we discovered another manifold writer c. 1820 that looks remarkably similar to the one now owned by the Bodleian. This second manifold writer has the same green binding, Greek key decoration, red morocco interior, and key lock. The insert with slots for tools is missing, as are the tools themselves; otherwise the two manifold writers seem clearly to be siblings—except for one thing: instead of a notebook with Folsch’s information on it, this manifold writer includes papers attributing it to Ralph Wedgwood of ‘’328 Oxford Street.’’ W.B. Proudfoot’s description of Wedgwood’s manifold writer lines up with these details: two books of special papers (transparent papers and carbon papers) were ‘’housed in a handsome folder containing several styles or styli (some agate tipped), a black lacquered metal writing plate, and some good-quality writing paper’’ (26).

This left us with two very similar manifold writers, and two consecutive addresses on Oxford Street. The Folsch notebook locates him at 327 Oxford Street, while Ralph Wedgwood made and sold his ‘’Improved Manifold Writers & Penna-Polygraphs’’ at 328 Oxford Street.

Were they neighbours? On 16 September 1816, the London Star published the following:

The New Street—On Friday a Special Jury was summoned upon a Warrant of Inquiry before William Toort, Esq. the Deputy High Bailiff for the City and Liberty of Westminster, in the Guildhall, to assess what damages should be awarded to Mr. Frederick Bartholomew Folsch, for the loss of his premises, Nos. 327 and 328,’Oxford-street. Mr, Serjeant Pell, on behalf of the claimant, stated his case at some length, and called several witnesses to prove the value of the premises. Mr. Harrison addressed the Jury in a very long, able, and eloquent speech, against the demand which the claimant made, which was jG 10, 078. The Deputy High Bailiff recapitulated the evidence and the Jury found for the claimant—Damages, £1400.

This suggests that in 1816, Folsch owned both 327 and 328 Oxford Street. Had he gone into business with Wedgwood, or perhaps acquired the property from him?

The similar designs of the manifold writers suggest several possibilities:

1) Wedgwood and Folsch were working together. Both men patented versions of the manifold writer in quick succession, and if they were indeed working in such close proximity they may have collaborated.

2) The Bodleian has acquired a Wedgwood manifold writer with a Folsch notebook inside of it. The notebook is not attached to the manifold writer, and may have been added to it. This would mean that the set is in fact composed of part from two separate manifold writers.

3) Folsch copied Wedgwood’s design. An 1836 issue of The Quarterly Review includes the following note:
Caution: The Nobility, Gentry, and Public, are respectfully cautioned against spurious Imitations, which being made by persons totally unacquainted with the chemical properties of the Ink used in this Invention, and also of the proper mode of preparing the Copying Paper, will be found to dry up and become quite useless in a very short time, and particularly in warm climates. Ask for ‘’Wedgwood’s Improved Manifold Writer.’’

These few options by no means exhaust the possibilities, and we are continuing our research into the origins of this fascinating artefact.

The closed manifold writer, seen from the side. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.
The closed manifold writer, seen from the side. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University.

This investigation is part of a larger thought-project exploring the legacy of ‘’copying’’ at the Bodleian. Related objects in the Bodleian’s Special Collections include William Godwin’s ‘’wet transfer’’ copies, made using James Watts’ letter press technology.

Sources / Further Reading:
Proudfoot, W.B. The Origin of Stencil Duplicating. London: Century Benham, 1972. Print.

Rhodes, Barbara, and William Wells Streeter. Before Photocopying: The Art & History of Mechanical copying, 1780-1938. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; Northampton, MA: Herald Bindery, 1999. Print.