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The Collation

The evolution of collection practices: a case study

There is nothing quite as exciting in archival research as stumbling upon an unexpected connection between two objects. When I called up L852 copy 3 and D2292, I had not realized that they shared a Folger case file number (indicating that they were both purchased by Henry and Emily Folger, likely around the same time); but even that information would not have told me that the two volumes, both sammelbands of Restoration-era drama, were part of a four-volume set. Though the bindings were somewhat damaged, the words “Miscellany of Old Plays” were clearly visible on both spines. This find made me even more curious: I had volumes II and IV, so where were the others, and how many were in the set? With the help of Research and Reference Librarian Abbie Weinberg, I was able to eventually locate the missing volumes, or, at least, what remained of them at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In researching this collection, not only was I able to explore the collecting practices of a nineteenth-century antiquarian, but also I had the opportunity to trace the Folger’s own collection and archival criteria throughout their evolution.

The sammelband collection includes four volumes, all containing quarto copies of Jacobean and Restoration plays printed between 1670 (John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour and Tyrannick Love) and 1718 (Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Wit Without Money). There is no clear organizational scheme, though the first volume is dedicated entirely to plays by Dryden. Plays occasionally repeat across volumes (or, in the cases of Tyrannick Love and The Indian Emperour, within the same volume), although the duplicate titles are usually different editions.1 The collection spans all genres and includes works from most of the major Restoration-era dramatists, including the aforementioned Dryden, Aphra Behn, Nathaniel Lee, Thomas Otway, Thomas Shadwell, and Nahum Tate.

Although the order in which the plays appear seems somewhat arbitrary, there is a clear guiding principle to the kinds of plays which were collected. Like other nineteenth-century antiquarians, the compiler seems to have been fascinated with the “firstness” of print and was attempting to gather the earliest possible printings of plays first performed or repopularized during the Restoration. Several of the title pages of plays in the collection include notations of first-edition dates. These manuscript notes suggest that the compiler was chiefly interested in collecting first editions of plays performed in the Restoration. This also explains the presence of multiple copies of the same play, and the close proximity of two of the repeated titles suggests that the compiler may have been interested in comparing the texts. Furthermore, the compiler wrote notes in the back flyleaves of the first volume that describe the original performances and publications of the preceding texts as they were documented in Gerard Langbaine’s An Account of the English Dramatic Poets (1691) and Sir Walter Scott’s The Life of Dryden (1821).

While there is no clear indication of who this compiler might have been, the initials [?]. S. F. are legible on at the end of these notes on the final flyleaf of D2393

These dates allow us to have a fairly clear idea of when the volumes were created, especially since the handwriting in these endnotes matches that on the title pages. Like many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquarians, then, the compiler seems to have been primarily interested in the significance of first editions to establish textual history.

Evidence of nineteenth-century second-hand book market practices is also present in this collection. Although the compiler seems to have had a preference for clean copies of each play, this was not always possible, especially for rarer texts and first editions. While several of the plays are free of any marginal notes, marks of ownership, or commonplace markers, others demonstrate a wide range of the ways that readers interact with their texts.

Commonplace markers in Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe

Discrete commonplace markers appear in Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe, Otway’s Venice Preserv’d, and John Banks’s Vertue Betray’d; or, Anna Bullen. A copy of Shadwell’s The Squire of Alsatia appears to have once been used as a performance script: many of the entrances are marked, though these marks do not seem to be following any particular role. Marginal notes in the 1670 copy of Dryden’s The Indian Emperour suggest that this copy was once owned by a Christopher Woodburn in 1762, though trimming the play down for inclusion in the volume has damaged some of the signatures and poetry he left behind. Together, these annotations paint a vivid picture of the many kinds of copies of Restoration plays that were available in the nineteenth-century.

Signatures and poetry in the 1670 copy of Dryden’s The Indian Emperour (click to enlarge)

All of this gives us a fairly clear picture of how the volumes were initially created, but how did they get to the Folger? In 1921, Henry Folger purchased the four volume sammelband collection—afterward assigned case file number cs968—from W. A. Gough. Based on the collection’s poor condition and sparse Shakespearean content, he paid only $200.2

The letter from Henry Folger to W. A. Gough in which he agrees to purchase the collection

Only two of Shakespeare’s plays are included in the four volumes, both in Volume III: a 1681 printing of Othello,3 and an undated copy of Julius Caesar. This latter play is particularly interesting, since, as Hamnet notes, it is “An 18th-century edition masquerading as another of the undated quartos of ‘Julius Caesar’ printed by Henry Hills, Jr., ca. 1695-1700. A deliberate forgery by an editor ‘concerned to pass the fruit of his labor off as a Restoration players’ quarto.’” It is unclear if Henry Folger knew that this copy was a forgery when he purchased the sammelbands, but this play seems to have guided the fate of the rest of the third volume.

While Volumes I, II, and IV are still at the Folger in their original bindings, Volume III was disbound, most likely sometime in the 1960s.

These are the three volumes that are still intact

Only the forged Julius Caesar has been rebound, and a note on one of the final flyleaves dates the rebinding to 3 October 1967 and notes that it “was unbound, having, however, been formerly bound, probably with other play quartos.”

These are the plays in the third volume that remain at the Folger

Sometime in the forty years since the initial purchase, the four volumes had become dissociated from one another, and, in the case of the disbound third volume, even from itself. Of this third volume, three of the original eight plays—the forged Julius Caesar, the 1681 Othello, and a 1694 printing of William Wycherly’s Love in a Wood4—are still housed at the Folger under their original case file number. A fourth, a 1717 edition of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,5 has become dissociated from the case number, but bibliographic cards from the 1930s confirm that this copy was part of the disbound volume.

The Folger no longer possesses the other four plays in the volume: Beaumont and Fletcher’s Wit Without Money (1718) and The Maid’s Tragedy (1704), Nathaniel Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus (1708), and Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso (1704).6 Unfortunately, this is where the story ends. The disbound copies of The Maid’s Tragedy, Lucius Junius Brutus, and The Virtuoso were sold by the Folger through Sotheby’s during a purge of duplicate editions in 1964 and 1965. Because the plays were loose, not necessarily in good condition, and not particularly rare editions, they were not interesting enough to get their own entries in the sale catalogue and were instead sold as part of one or more lots of unlisted plays. The 1718 Wit Without Money is still unaccounted for, but it was likely sold alongside the others.

So, what does this tell us about the evolution of archival practices at the Folger? The sammelbands were not an immediately clear fit for the Folger’s original tightly-focused Shakespeare-centric collection practices. Indeed, the inclusion of the two Shakespeare plays in the fourth volume seems somewhat unusual in light of the rest of the collection’s focus on Restoration drama. However, these two editions were not yet part of the Folger’s collection, and even today the forged Julius Caesar from the disbound third volume is the only copy of this edition housed there. Henry Folger may have purchased these volumes for these two Shakespeare plays alone, with intentions of culling them from the collection. The central problem with this claim, though, is that the plays were not disbound until nearly 40 years later. By this time, the Folger had duplicate copies of not only the Restoration-era Othello, but also of several of the non-Shakespearean plays in the disbound third volume, leading to their eventual sale. Only the Julius Caesar was unique enough to warrant immediate rebinding.

The disbound Othello

In addition to hoping to preserve this unique copy, the unbinding of the third volume may have been seen as necessary, though modern curatorial practices would likely have erred toward preservation rather than disassembly. The remaining three volumes are in somewhat fragile condition, and each time I have viewed them, the curators have noted that the books will soon need repair. The unbound plays are, arguably, in even worse shape, with the copy of Othello being particularly beset by frayed and mutilated pages. This suggests that the unbinding of the volume may initially have been meant to protect the plays from further damage.

Ultimately, researching this volume did not provide me with the answers I was looking for. Where I had hoped to find insightful marginalia, commonplace markings, records of ownership and use, or even a clear argument about the usefulness of these texts as a collection, I instead found only more questions. What I learned, however, was that the practice of collecting texts doesn’t stop with the initial purchaser or reader, that even archives have their own histories.

I would like to thank Folger Research and Reference librarian Abbie Weinberg for her assistance in locating the Folger’s internal correspondence and documentation regarding this collection.

  1. The duplicates are as follows: Dryden’s Tyrannick Love (1670 and 1672, both in Volume I), Nathaniel Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus (1681 in Volume II; 1708 in Volume III), Dryden’s The Indian Emperour (1681 and 1670, both in Volume IV), and Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso (two copies from 1704, one in Volume III and one in Volume IV).
  2. This is roughly equivalent to $2,800 today.
  3. S2940 copy 6
  4. W3748 copy 2
  5. PR2508.R7 1717 Cage
  6. While Volume IV contains a copy of this same printing of The Virtuoso, the initial purchase records suggest that the collection included two copies of the same play, with the other being part of Volume III.

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