‘I dare say will please you when you see them’ – more ‘new’ wood-blocks of an old grotesque alphabet.

Andrew Honey (Bodleian and English Faculty, Oxford)

An earlier blogpost introduced a newly acquired wood-block, a 19th-century copy made of the letter K from a woodcut alphabet – the original ‘K’ being one of 23 letters from a Netherlandish woodcut grotesque alphabet of 1464 that is now at the British Museum. The facsimile copy was used in 1839 to print Treatise on Wood-engraving. In the last post we saw that the popularity of the original grotesque alphabet resulted in 15th and 16th century printed and manuscript copies, and we also saw that the facsimile was printed in 1839 using brown ink to convey the materiality of its water-based printing ink. This relates the interest in this alphabet to the curiosity about the printing of blockbooks, a lasting subject of fascination for historians of printing.

Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19
Figure 5: Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19.

This desire to convey the materiality of early water-based printing inks was shared a century earlier by Thomas Hearne (1678-1735). In his 1714 essay on early printing ink the Oxford antiquarian and sub-librarian at the Bodleian Library discussed the colour and texture of the ink used for some blockbooks and early woodcuts, while discussing their place in the history of printing.

“any one that will give himself the trouble of considering the first Specimens of Printing that we have in the Bodlejan Library, being two thin folio Books containing odd Pictures (from wooden cuts) […] will afford to a curious observer many Speculations. But because those Books cannot be conveyed out of the Library […] to give him a better Idea of the nature of them I shall here subjoyn the Speciment of a Fragment of another Book […] that was communicated to me by Mr. Bagford.”

To illustrate his point he pasted a fragment of a German blockbook Biblia pauperum c.1462-8 (Bod-Inc BB-5) into his diary, a fragment given to him by John Bagford (1650-1716) the antiquary and bookseller.

The Treatise tells us more about the interest shown in the 15th century grotesque alphabet when it was rediscovered. On the 27 May 1819 the antiquary Samuel Lysons (1763-1819) wrote to Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827), the then owner of the grotesque alphabet:

“I return herewith your curious volume of ancient cuts. I showed it yesterday to Mr. Douce, who agrees with me that it is a great curiosity. He thinks the blocks were executed at Harlem, and are some of the earliest productions of that place. He has in his possession most of the letters executed in copper, but very inferior to the original cuts.”

Francis Douce (1757-1834), an antiquarian and collector, had been a Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts at the British Museum between 1807-11. The ‘letters executed in copper’ are probably the early copy of the grotesque alphabet by the Master of the Banderoles. Douce would visit the Bodleian in July 1830 where he studied the three complete blockbooks then in the Bodleian’s collection. In 1834 he bequeathed his enormous collection to the Bodleian which included two blockbooks and three wood-blocks.

Woodcut of letters X and Y
Figure 6: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.1
Woodcut of letter Z
Figure 7: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.2

These two blocks shown above are facsimiles of the letters X, Y & Z from the same grotesque alphabet. Their existence in the Douce collection was first mentioned in 1897 by the incunabulist Robert Proctor who demonstrated that they had been made for John Bagford in the early eighteenth century for a projected history of printing. Recent work by Whitney Trettien and Edward Potten has linked our two blocks with a block for the letters K & L at the British Museum. These three alphabet blocks and our third Douce block join two others, one at the John Rylands Library and one at the British Library, to form a group of six surviving blocks for Bagford’s history of printing.

Impressions of woodcuts of letters X, Y, Z formed from grotesque figures
Figure 8: Impressions of wood-blocks for John Bagford’s projected History of Printing given to Thomas Hearne. Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. D. 384, fol. 38r.

We also have prints of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, X, Y & Z from the Bagford blocks in Hearne’s collection (now part of MS. Rawl. D. 384). A note on the back of X, Y & Z states “These are figures of odd letters wch I had from Mr Bagford. I have an Account of them from his own mouth in one of my Diary Books”.

In a letter to Hearne from Bagford dated 6 February 1708 we learn that:

“Mr Wanley hath lately hapined on some very ould Alphibets antiqe of yt Sorte of printing, cut on wood which I shall exhebite in my Booke, as sone as I have got them cut I shall send you a specement of them, and I dare say will please you when you se them.”

Later that year on 8 October Hearne gives a fuller account, presumably after he received the prints.

“Mr. Bagford has had a German printed Book of the Alphabet drawn exactly. It contains nothing more yn the Alphabet, only here and there a sentence in German inserted in ye Letters. They are all of a very large size for ye use of ye Illuminators, & are made up of several figures, as heads of Men, &c. The Z is made [backward z], […] He has another Alphabet, the letters of a stranger form. They are made up in Knotts with scroles of parchment.”

Just like our newly-acquired 19th-century facsimile wood-block linked Douce, Lysons and Beaumont, these prints of Bagford’s earlier facsimile blocks link these 18th-century printing historians to a specific copy of the 15th-century grotesque alphabet. This copy  was owned by the antiquarian and librarian Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), and is the second surviving copy, given to the British Museum in 1947.

Further reading

C.E. Doble, (ed.), ‘Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne: Vol. II (20 March 1707–22 March 1710)’, Oxford Historical Society 13 (Oxford, 1889).

Campbell Dodgson, ‘Two woodcut alphabets of the fifteenth century’, Burlington Magazine 17:90 (September 1910), pp. 362-5.

Edward Potten, ‘Dating the Rylands Apocalypse wood-block: John Bagford and the earliest facsimiles of blockbooks’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society TS 3 (2022), pp, 14-46.

Robert Proctor, ‘On two plates in Sotheby’s ‘Principia Typographica’’, Bibliographica 3 (1897) pp. 192-6.

Whitney Trettien, Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the history of bookwork (Minneapolis, 2021).

Shakespeare’s Sonnets 78 to 98

This series is called, ‘Figures of delight,’ after the title given to Sonnet 98 by Ken Burnley, Silver Birch Press. NOTE – missing sonnets will be supplied in the correct place as soon as photos are made!

Gazing on the moon

from Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections

‘We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.’
Bodleian Libraries, Hopkins Mss
This note is written on the manuscript of a poem recently acquired by the Bodleian. Its author is Manley Hopkins and its subject his infant son, Gerard, who sadly saw little in print during his own short life but is now celebrated as one of our greatest poets. The poem was first published in 2010 in a special issue of the Hopkins Quarterly when the manuscript was still in private hands. It is now available for study along with another poem mourning the death in 1854 of Manley’s fourth son Felix and a letter of 1840 from Kate Smith (later his wife) to a member of their family. The manuscripts join the Bodleian’s extensive collection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetical manuscripts.

Manley was at this time a prosperous twenty six year old, well established in insurance and fervidly developing his lack of formal education through reading, writing and music. His poetry is not technically distinguished but I find this hymn to his son moving in its mixture of fear, joy and humility. As it closes, the child becomes, rather recalling Wordsworth, a father to the man, thrilling his father’s soul with the purity of his devotion to light. The idea carries poignancy from where we stand, knowing that the son would die long before his parents, having blazed far beyond them in religious intensity and scintillating expression. The scene also curiously brings to mind Coleridge’s account of his son Hartley, hurt from a fall: ‘I caught him up crying & screaming—& ran out of doors with him.—The Moon caught his eye—he ceased crying immediately—& his eyes & the tears in them, how they glittered in the Moonlight!”

Manley’s verses of course bring to mind one of Gerard’s most ecstatic poems, sent as a present to his mother on her birthday in spring of 1877 when he was at his happiest, studying to become a priest at Beuno in Wales. That poem is ‘Starlight Night’. Was the son thinking of his father’s tender tribute, so carefully preserved in the manuscript?


To my child, Gerard Manley.
Christmas Eve 1844

Hail! Little worshipper of Light!
Most sunny is thy sunny face at noon:-
Why dost thou fix so earnestly thy gaze
Upon the wandering Moon, –
And thy young eyes upraise
Adoringly to her that melts the night? – *
Why do thine impotent hands
Seek, – seek for ever
To clasp the lamp-flame bright
And everything that flings thee lucent rays?
Why if it chance in darkness thou awaken
Utter thy earnest, plaintive cry
As tho’ the fateful bands
Of thy imprisoning gloom to sever, –
While fancy gives thee words – ‘Mother, I die
By light, and thee forsaken!’

Does thy quick-beating heart
Back with an instinct start,
And own the tyrant fear –
Lest life, whose tenure is so frail and new, –
With nothingness so near –
Has snapped beneath thy tiny weight,
And thou relapsed into thy former state,
Like a young flower
Snatched in its opening hour
From where, upon its stem, so joyously it grew? –

Or, is it, child, that beauty and that light
Are infancy’s true nourishment? – its eyes
As steel unto the lode-rock bend their sight
In sympathy , to all of pure and bright; –
That clouds are afterthoughts; – darkness a blot
That in creation is, – yet should be not.
And childhood, like the Huma, has no feet
To settle mid the shadows of the earth,
But hovering o’er it, still drinks in the dew
Of heaven, its land of birth;
While its wings catch the all-surrounding hue
Of liquid sapphire, where they ever beat?

If so, then worship on. No Gebir’s best wrong creed
Stains thee with error. Drink of light thy fill:
And tho’ thy feet in after-life may bleed
As whose do not? – upon Time’s stoney way,
The first warm impulse of thy heart obey,
And love it still!
Yes! Love it as it rises o’er the East,
Love it in all the glowing hues of Even
Love it reflected over Earth’s wide breast,
And trembling in the starry lamps of Heaven.
Seek it in gemmy caves, and snowy mountain tips,
In Friendship’s eyes, on sweet Affection’s lips.
Thou’lt often find it where thou dreamest not, deep hid
‘Neath surging waves, in mines, – in human hearts.
And many a ray
Will meet thee on thy way
Cherished in bosoms that the world has chid, –
And which that chiding world has mainly turned astray.

Oh worship on! See yonder orient gates
Whose half-oped leaves the streaky dawn disclose;
Where soft, diffusive light impatient waits,
And on the verge, with tender lustre glows.
Behold! The Light of Light – the Righteous Sun upsprings
With balmy healing dripping from his wings!
Before His beams, all other radiance pales.
Fountain and Source of light, and heat and love
The dim horizon lift thyself above,
And haste to our dark world, that thy bright Coming hails!

Gaze on, my child, thy fill.
Yet stay! – an instant turn on me thy innocent sight,
Pour thro’ thine eyes my heart full of delight,
And all my being thrill –
Thou Worshipper of Light!

*We have watched this babe of four or five months, gazing on the moon with all the fixedness of attention belonging to an astronomer.

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! – What? – Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

Who were ‘The Troops’? An illustrated childhood Idyll

Bodleian Rec. e.465from Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections

“A little townlet on the coast under the lee of the Sussex Downs – this was Littlehampton. With its old-fashioned Harbour, its irregular network of streets, its quiet, conservative atmosphere, it represented to us at the time a miniature Paradise. Long stretches of sandy beach, sandhills and the surrounding Downs, all added to the charm of the place in which we lived and about which I have attempted to write.”

So begins ‘The Troops’, the Bodleian’s latest acquisition, hooked from the book trade. The book is a private production of June 1935. No other copy has yet been identified, though I suspect it was distributed to the seventeen or so childhood friends whose blissful existence it celebrates between 1923 and 1929. Crudely but lovingly produced, with no pagination or publisher’s imprint (unless one counts the embossed address, Warwick House, Littlehampton), it includes pasted in photographs of ‘the troops’ and provides a charming and moving narrative of their journey through childhood, from the ages of about ten to the late teens.

Bodleian Rec. e.465

The author, looking back in his early twenties, traces out the activities of the expanding ‘gang’ during Prep school holidays. They start as kids playing with mud pies, eating ‘sticky sweets’ and puzzling out Meccano before establishing a cycling club, organising races on the beaches and through the town: ‘bicycles and nothing but bicycles, with a concentration of which only children are capable.’ Then it’s hockey, followed by theatrical performances and even a cine film before grownups, interspersed with tennis, swimming, picnics and meetings in a club house, all enabled through the kindness and financial support of one parent in particular, ‘Mrs Mitchell (Treasurer and general big-noise).’ The personality of various members emerges sweetly. ‘Evan Hayes and Podge Porter were the mad men’, Austin Harmer is the sensible time-keeper, Jeffrey Quill turns out to be a natural actor and ‘Jane always insisted on being barmaid – this sounds awfully naughty but it was only Orange crush and cider.’ The poignancy of such innocent fun is sharpened when we realise that real troops  – those of the marines – would later use the beach at Littlehampton to train for D Day landings.
Bodleian Rec. e.465

An elegiac note develops towards the end: ‘we were growing up without realising it – awful business that growing up – the big cry was £s. d., and at that age the demand was greater than the supply.’ The author, I think one Tom Murphy, ‘started clerking it in London’ at the end of 1929 after a final dinner together. ‘I suppose’, he reflects with melancholy wisdom, ‘thousands of others have spent, and will spend, their youth in a similar way – similar but not quite the same – nobody could be happier than I was during that time.’ The group had agreed, earlier that year, to meet again on the 1 January 1939 with the proviso that ‘anybody bringing along a husband or wife should pay a fine towards the champagne.’ Our author notes, ‘at the time of writing that dinner is still four years away, and it looks as though there is going to be plenty of champagne.’

Bodleian Rec. e.465

That reunion seems to have happened. A sheet of paper enclosed with the book features a poem dedicated to Jane and signed by various members. The book is also inscribed to her and must have been her copy:

The Troops are gathered once again
To celebrate – but where is Jane?
While nursing someone else’s mumps
Herself has caught the horrid lumps,
Which proves, alas, that those who serve
Don’t always get what they deserve.
We’ll think of you and drink your health
Wishing you happiness and wealth,
And all hope you’re not feeling rotten
Assuring you you’re not forgotten.

Who were these troops who shared such lucky times together? One or two I think I have identified. Podge Porter, may have become head of French at Magdalen College School Oxford (and a friend to the author John Fowles and Marxist to boot). Jeffrey Quiller turned out one of our most celebrated test pilots of Spitfires – all that speed on the beach! But of the others, what trace? I list the names I have identified below. We’d love to know more.

Mrs Mitchell, Hon. Treasurer
Phillip Mitchell
Jane Mitchell
Stella Mitchell
Phyllis Mitchell
Stephen Clarkson
Jeffrey Quill
Austin Harmer
Stephen Harmer
Podge Porter
Clyde Barber
Biddy Barber
Sheila Murphy
Tom Murphy
Sheila Butt
Tony Bee
David Lea

General Gordon’s map

reblogged from The Bodleian’s Map Room Blog [16 July]

An unexpected phone call through to the Map Department recently proved to be the start of a little adventure that had a wonderful outcome….

… the original map of General Gordon’s journey from Suakim to Khartoum, 1874, a donation now at (MS) E4:1 (19).

Read the story of how this map came into the Bodleian collections here.

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.

Girolamo Schola

Capituli di M. Girolamo Schola sopra varii suggetti, Girolamo Schola, [1540?]
Lawn f.44

A collection of Italian verses on a variety of subjects, including: the hat, gypsies, the goose, the horse, mustard, the cap, and sausages. The date, suggested by the British Museum’s Short-title catalogue of books printed in Italy, is supported by an early manuscript note in this Bodleian copy, which includes the date 1545.

Capituli di M. Girolamo Schola sopra varii suggetti, Girolamo Schola, [1540?], Bodleian Library Lawn f.44

A guide for confessors

Speculum confessorum et lumen conscientie, Mateo Corradone, Venice, 1538, Bodleian Library Lawn F.42
Speculum confessorum et lumen conscientie, Mateo Corradone, Venice, 1538 Bodleian Library, Lawn F.42

This Italian text serves as a guide for confessors, providing them with questions to put to those who come for confession. Each question, or set of questions, for example, “Have you cursed the sky and the stars, sun, and moon?”, is followed either by an instruction – “You have to ask how many times: ten or a hundred, etc., or more or less, etc.” – or by a statement of the seriousness of the sin (for example, “mortal”), together with references to autoritative texts on the matter. The book is held in a re-used Parchment wrapper containing a manuscript document apparently from a widow to her confessor. She asks the confessor to intercede with the bishop on her behalf, in connection with her desire to enter religion.

Avancini: 17th-century embroidered binding, on a rare meditation on the life and doctrines of Christ

The author, Nicola Avancini, was a Jesuit, and Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy at Gratz, then of Theology at Vienna. This work, originally written in Latin, appears to have been his most enduring. It was translated into several European languages, including English in 1875. This edition of the Italian translation is unrecorded elsewhere. The binding is red silk/satin with large embroidered foliage in silver, yellow and white threads, and with gilt and gauffered edges. A child’s hand has written “magister meus et unus est Christus

Vita, e dottrina di Gesu Cristo raccolta da’quattro evangelisti, Nicola Avancini. Parma: Galeazzo Rosati, 1686. Bodleian Library Vet. F3 f.128.