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The Collation

Spectral Imaging of Shakespeare's "Seventh Signature"

One of the many treasures at the Folger Shakespeare Library is a copy of William Lambarde’s Archaionomia, a book on Anglo-Saxon law published in 1568 and acquired by the Library in 1938. Buried amidst the decorative border of the title page is a faded signature that has been judged by several authorities to be from the Bard himself. (All images in this post are taken by the Lazarus team; a digital reproduction of the entire volume is part of the Folger’s digital image collection.)

Visual appearance of f. 1 Recto of Lambarde’s Archaionomia, with detail showing signature


This brings to mind the ongoing problems caused by the Collier forgeries, and the Ireland forgeries before them.

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — March 19, 2012

Dr. Waugaman, that is exactly what came to my mind when I read this.

Blair — April 17, 2012

So, did Shakespeare own this book? Some books said to be owned by his contemporaries are signed in this way.

Benjamin L Clark — March 29, 2012

Multi-spectral imaging has many potential research uses beyond the study of Shakespeare’s signature–the Lazarus Project team thought this might be an interesting first foray for them into the early modern period. We’re hoping to use the technology to decipher ownership marks and passages that have been obliterated by later owners, among other things.

There are many things that are strange about the Archaionomia signature, including its location on a decorative border, the fact that the ink seeped through the paper and is more visible from the back than the front, and the awkward formation of some of the letter-forms. We certainly shouldn’t rule out the intervention of W.H. Ireland or John Payne Collier! In fact, the Lazarus Project is returning at the end of next week to take images of some of our Ireland forgeries, in order to compare “spectral fingerprints.” So the goal of their project (in my mind) is not to authenticate the signature, but to learn more about how this technology can be used to “reveal” text that has been intentionally or unintentionally obscured over the years.

Heather Wolfe — March 29, 2012

In the late 1990s while still a graduate student, I attempted to persuade the Folger to participate in ink tests on the de Vere Geneva Bible, as well as possibly employ photographic techniques (ultraviolet?) that might help faded inks to show better in reproduction.

At the time, George Anderson, a chemist, even prepared protocols and was ready to raise funds for non-destructive ink testing. The answer from the Folger was an emphatic “We will not do that.” I’m just curious why certain books receive the special privilege of high tech treatment, even when they seem likely to be forgeries, while others that are clearly not forgeries are ruled off limits for any kind of special conservation or documentation procedures. I should think that the Folger would wish to confirm that the inks in the de Vere Geneva Bible are authentically 16th century in origin.

psi — November 15, 2012

When I start stumbling around the internet by clicking whatever links catch my eye, I never know where I’ll wind up.

Today I had the good fortune to land on this fascinating article.

It seems likely this site attracts a rather scholarly crowd. But how fortunate that those of us who snuck out of high school with a C-average can learn from it as well !

Thanks for providing an online oasis in the desert of my dim-wittedness.

Stumblynn — March 29, 2012

Not much mention of the words written above signature. Any clue what they say?

The signature very much resembles the Shakespeare signatures found on the famous Northumberland Manuscript.

As a resident of Oxford, MS, I’m proud to see the local university involved in such a fascinating project.

Lee Durkee — April 5, 2012

No one has quite worked out what this says, as far as I know. One of the middle words is entirely obliterated due to damage, which makes it even more difficult. The sentence reads something like: “This to be kept for the Impression is [——-] nor [like to] be [renewed?].” I’m particularly skeptical about that last word, so if anyone else has other suggestions, do let the Folger know! One theory is that this sentence has something to do with the many variant states of this edition, and was added by a later collector. The hand seems fairly early though. Even though Lambarde is known to have made corrections to other surviving copies of it, the hand does not appear to be his.

Heather Wolfe — May 12, 2012

I have heard a rumor that this book contains quite a number of annotations in an italic hand. Is that correct, or have I been misinformed? If so, would it be possible to post some photos of those annotations? Thanks for your assistance.

psi — November 15, 2012

Yes, it does contain some annotations in an italic hand. The book has been fully digitized, available at See the image for sig. C2v, for example (you can go straight to it by searching for digital image filenmae 53324). So sorry for the delay in answering your question!

Heather Wolfe — April 8, 2013

Just discovered a great old #Collation entry on using spectral imaging to authenticate a possible Shax signature

@katieshax — April 5, 2013

I would love to know the outcome of the examination of this book and signature. Has it provided proof that he did indeed live in Westminster?

Neville James Grant — November 17, 2021