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The Collation

A book's fingerprints

Last week’s crocodile mystery may have been a bit too mysterious, but I hope that today’s post will inspire you to look for similar mysteries on your own. Here’s a close-up detail of what I was asking about:

Folger STC 17436, sig. H2r

As with nearly all photographs shared on this blog, if you click the image, a larger version will open in a new window. What might have looked like a smudge if you hadn’t enlarged the image, is now clearly a smudge worth paying attention to!  More specifically, it’s a smudge made up of individual lines and whorls, a smudge made by an inky printer’s fingers. 

  1. Moxon, vol 2, page 373
  2. The text of Faustus exists in two different versions: the A-text, which is shorter, and the B-text, which contains additions from other writers. This printing of the play is of the B-text, and this scene is one of those additions.


Quick question. Since I can’t tell from the image, is any portion of the print found on the conjugate leaf? I ask since this fingerprint appears to run into the gutter and therefore might appear on the other leaf.
Talking of fingers, do not forget Thumbs Hendleman (my christening), the fellow whose thumbs and fingers appear at the edges of image after image in the STC microfilm and in some of the images in EEBO. However, that is another matter entirely!

William Proctor Williams — May 15, 2012

I haven’t been lucky enough to encounter a printer’s fingerprints, but I did come across a fingerprint in an Islamic manuscript that we were preparing for digitization here at the University of Michigan a few years ago (unfortunately it was one of hundreds, and I’d never be able to find it again). At the time I felt it belonged to a copyist or illuminator, rather than a reader, but can’t remember now if I had good reason to think that (color of the print, maybe?) or if I just liked the idea.

There is something really special about it! I think it’s the tension having what we think of as absolute, specific, unique evidence of a an individual, and yet knowing at the same time that we’ll never (??) have anything to match it against that will let us identify the person.

Rebecca W. — May 16, 2012