Fakes, Forgeries & Facsimiles: Facsimile "witchery"
"There is a
sort of witchery in his process.... At the wave of his wand, Caxton
seems to take on perpetual youth."
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?"
Chaucer (d. 1400)
[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.
1477 edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ©
Title page from
Merchant of Venice, 1637 ©
William Shakespeare (15641616)
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.
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.
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
This page updated January 26, 2004