How do you find a book? There are times when not just any copy will do, when you need to locate one exact copy of a book with a certain history. While gathering information for the Folger’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama, one of my tasks has been to locate—in physical space—the books that are the basis for our electronic editions.
Our project is based on transcriptions produced by the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership, which in turn are transcribed from images in ProQuest’s Early English Books Online (EEBO) database. There is a full history of the imaging and digitization of these books on Folgerpedia, but the short version is that in the mid-twentieth century, University Microfilms International (UMI) ran a project to photograph one copy of each item in the Short-Title Catalogue in an effort to make early modern books more accessible to those who could not travel to the libraries which held them. These microfilms, in turn, were then digitized to become what is now known as EEBO.
In working with the digital files that came from these images, we wanted to be sure that we both gave the holding library a nod, and that researchers who wanted to consult the original work could find it. But first, we had to find them.
For the vast majority of these books, this was easy. When UMI imaged a book, they also photographed a small card, which typically included the book’s identifying information including the library it came from. Some cards were more detailed than others—cards from the Huntington included the call number, for example, while other libraries used a card with the only library’s name for all their imaged books. Guides to the UMI microfilms reproduced this information at the library level, and when the microfilm was digitized by ProQuest in the 1990s, the information was transferred as well, appearing in three different places: in the search results, in the record, and beneath the digitized images.
As with any major data-entry project, not all the information made it. Most missing information was simple to fill in. James Shirley’s The Gamester (London: Iohn Norton, for Andrew Crooke, and William Cooke, 1637), for example, didn’t come up in a ProQuest search for the Folger’s holdings.
But the first image has a handy “Folger Library” ruler on the verso of the flyleaf. A quick check of the UMI microfilm reveals the Folger listed on the UMI index card before the work (DFo) and we’re also listed in the guide.
Other items were more difficult to track down. John Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice (London: Printed by I[ohn] B[eale] for Hugh Beeston, dwelling next the Castle in Cornhill, 1633) initially stumped us.
The records in EEBO were each missing the “Copy from” information, and no handy ruler or penciled-in shelfmark (as often occurs in Huntington copies) appeared in the images to clue us in. I checked the microfilm, and the card which normally identifies the library was nearly completely white. It had been over-exposed during photography, and if you squint, you can barely make out the Short-Title Catalogue number and part of the title that identify this book as the one you really wanted to find—but not where it is.
The microfilm did contain a clue that wasn’t in EEBO’s images. When UMI originally photographed the book, they snapped a picture of the interior of the front cover. Not being part of the early modern play, that page wasn’t digitized.
This distinctive bookplate belonged Sir Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1834 – 1925), an author and critic who wrote biographies of the Shakespearean actor David Garrick, among others. Searching for Fitzgerald in major repositories turned up a cache of his former library at Harvard (114 items), but no Love’s Sacrifice.
Knowing the book had belonged to Fitzgerald at one point, I set out to find when his library was sold. Luckily, the Folger bought several items from the sale in July of 1907, and we keep everything. From that sale catalog, I discovered Lot 103: “Ford (John) ‘Tis Pitty Shee’s a Whore, several leaves wormed, 1633 – Love’s Sacrifice, a Tragedie, title mended, headlines cut into, rare, 1633; First Editions, morocco; the lot sold not subject to return sm 4to.” The lot had sold prior to the auction, and I was back to square one, as I didn’t know who had bought it. I tried my searches again for the far more famous ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Fitzgerald’s name, but no luck. So I put a pin in 1907 and went back to the microfilm.
I next wondered if reel position mattered in UMI’s filming. Love’s Sacrifice is STC Reel 887:11. Here I made a fortuitous mistake—I searched 887:10 and 887:12 in EEBO’s Advance Search, but didn’t specify which microfilm set, the STC or Wing series. These positions in Wing (note: the wrong reel) are both at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A quick search there turned up first editions of both Love’s Sacrifice and ‘Tis Pity. Eureka! Except that an inquiry with librarians at UIUC revealed that while their copy of ‘Tis Pity was actually Fitzgerald’s copy, their copy of Love’s Sacrifice was not. I had found half of Lot 103 by pure chance, but not the half I needed.
So I asked for help. Thanks to a request to several listservs, several librarians checked their holdings and confirmed they did not have the copy. One of our readers, David Gants, suggested that I check W.W. Greg, A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration, 4 vols. (London: Bibliographical Society, 1939-59).
Compiled in the mid-twentieth century, Greg’s thorough bibliographical work included a list of holding libraries for each of the plays he described. His entry for Love’s Sacrifice noted sixteen repositories with a total of at least twenty-two copies. I was able to eliminate repositories through librarian help (Harvard), through catalog description of provenance (University of Texas at Austin, the Pierpont Morgan Library, The Huntington Library, and more) and by records which indicated the work was part of a bound collection, which Fitzgerald’s wasn’t (Eton, British Library, and more). I eliminated fourteen copies before I got to Williams College, whose catalog simply stated “Percy FitzGerald copy.”
Wayne Hammond, the Chapin Librarian at Williams, was able to confirm the provenance, explaining that Alfred Clark Chapin bought the book on 16 May 1916, from the New York Bookseller James F. Drake for $10. Hammond also pointed out that although it’s not clear from the microfilm or EEBO images, the title page is inserted from another copy. For the record, the Williams copy was not recorded in the ESTC (but there are plans to have it added soon).
Now that we’ve located Fitzgerald’s copy, we’ll be able not only to point users to the physical copy of Ford’s play that is transcribed in our corpus, but also be able to alert them to the added title page. All because we asked the deceptively simple question “Where is this book?”
The Folger’s Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama is an NEH-funded project that explores the complex nature of early modern play texts.
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In your second paragraph you say you are giving a short version, but it would probably be worth mentioning that the STC microfilm project actually began as an effort to save British collections from the assaults of the German air force in WWII and the early filming was done under less than ideal conditions. This is spelled out (in short form!) in my “Maidenhead Lost in the Digital Age.” Notes & Queries 62 (2015). 251-253. Things were not quite so desperate in the filming of the Wing period books.
William Proctor Williams — March 17, 2016
Thanks for the heads up, we will want to add a citation to that to our History of EEBO page on Folgerpedia. One of the quirks about looking at the UMI microfilms is that they can also be used as a rough estimate of when an item was photographed, which helped set some parameters on locating this — in this case, 887 was imaged in 1961. The guides are by year, and I think there’s something to be said about priorities and access to specific copies by year, although I’d love to know more about how items were chosen for arrangement by reel!
Meaghan J. Brown — March 17, 2016
As I understand it the first filming was done at the very end of the 1930s on into the 1940s, in other words, before and during The Blitz and were simply done as the books were brought to the cameraman. That’s why the early reel guides are such a confusing jumble. The idea of selling the microfilms to US libraries to pay for the costs of filming was in the system from the start. Mind you, since Eugene Power had invented the camera which allowed him to film the books the way he did, he did have a corner on the market.
William Proctor Williams — March 17, 2016
Thank you for describing this fascinating and worthwhile bit of detective work, Meaghan! Congratulations!
Mary Person — March 17, 2016