Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles: Facsimile "witchery"
Title banner for Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles

"There is a sort of witchery in his process.... At the wave of his wand, Caxton seems to take on perpetual youth."

T.F. Dibdin, Bibliographical Decameron, London, 1817
Every book begins to deteriorate once it leaves the hands of the printer and has its pages turned by eager readers. Storage, use, the passage of time, and the quality of the paper, ink, and binding materials determine the extent of the deterioration. Enter the talented conservator who can repair damage without altering the character of the volume. But how far should the process go? Is it acceptable to practice the sort of "witchery" that Dibdin refers to, supplying missing parts in facsimile to create a volume "so perfected, that the deficiencies cannot be discovered?"

Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400)
[Canterbury Tales]
[Westminster: William Caxton, 1477]

The book on the right is the first substantial volume printed in England. Most surviving copies are incomplete and like this one have been "perfected." The sixteen facsimile leaves in this volume were probably supplied by the nineteenth century printer and bibliographer William Blades, who carefully studied Caxton's typefaces.

Caxton's 1477 edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Caxton's 1477 edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales


Title page from Merchant of Venice, 1637

Title page from Merchant of Venice, 1637

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice
London: by M.P. for Laurence Hayes, 1637

The beginning and ending leaves of a book are the ones most likely to be damaged over time. The upper right corner of this title page has been repaired, and the letters n and t in the word excellent have been supplied in pen and ink facsimile. We don't know who owned the book before Mr. Folger puchased it from Bernard Quaritch in 1911, but we have Quaritch's catalogue accurately describing the repairs. They may have been made by Riviere & Son, who bound the volume.


William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies
London: by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blound, 1623

The final page of text in this First Folio is a pen facsimile by John Harris on old paper that closely matches that in the rest of the volume. In the first half of the nineteenth century, members of the Harris familiy, notably John Harris II, became extremely skillful at producing pen and ink facsimile leaves to complete defective books. John Harris began by tracing an original leaf. He then transferred the tracing to the paper that would become the facsimile leaf. Even though Harris signed his work ("by I. H. jun.r"), it has fooled some scholars at first glance.

Pen facsimile from a Shakespeare First Folio

Pen facsimile from a Shakespeare First Folio


Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles Exhibition Highlights

Can you spot the fake? | Original copies | Facsimile "witchery" | Famous owners? | False imprints | The Headless Horseman | William Henry Ireland | John Payne Collier | Shakespeare's Mulberry Tree |

Exhibition Intro | Visiting the Folger



This page updated January 26, 2004