Journal/Blog‎ > ‎

The day I got to tour the vault at the Folger.

posted Mar 3, 2012, 7:51 PM by Sarah Wingo   [ updated Mar 3, 2012, 8:06 PM ]

Our last two days at the Folger were packed with activity and I will try to do justice to all of the amazing things we saw and people we met.  


Lets dive right in…


On Thursday we took a break from our projects around 11am to take a tour of the Folger’s photography and digital imaging lab.  The photography and digital imaging lab preforms a variety of responsibilities for the Folger. They create prints for in house exhibitions and publications, create digital images of requested items for researchers and create digital images of requested items for commercial and publication purposes. Additionally they create digital images of their collections for access purposes, the Folger has a large collection of digitized materials available for viewing online from individual playbills and pieces of art to entire books that you can page through digitally.


The lab has staff photographers as well as a contract photographer who works about 20 hours a week depending on the project he is given.  On the day that we were touring the lab Tom Wachs one of the lab photographers was working on digitizing an 1832 book of Shakespeare’s plays (shown below) the edition itself is not particularly valuable. However, George Eliot owned this particular copy and it has hand written annotations in it by Eliot and her partner George Henry Lewes, which makes it very valuable.  The device it is being imaged on is called a Conservation Copy Stand.


William Davis another staff member was working on digitizing an account book containing personal, household and estate related accounts. The account book contains records for a large estate from 1520-1600. In the images below you can see the account book on the Kaiser Copy Stand, with Betterlight 4 x 5 scan backs, as well as the image as it is rendered on William’s computer screen once it has been scanned.


Account Book on scanner bed

Scanned image on computer

Now begins our tour of the vault. Photography is strictly prohibited in the vault and were it not for the work of the photography and digital imaging lab, the below image of the vault door would be the only visual I could provide to illustrate the experience.  However, due to the Folgers efforts to digitize their collection I am able to share with you links to images of all of the specific items that we were able to see and touch in the vault. 


We started out tour in The Folio Room, which is the room where they keep all of their folio sized texts. We call the first book printed with nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays in it The First Folio, but folio is simply a term used to describe a book printed on sheets of paper folded in half along the center to create four pages of text two on each side.  Shakespeare’s first folio, printed in 1623, is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is that without it we would not have copies of about 20 of his 38 his plays because there are no surviving individual quarto copies.   It is thought that around 750 copies of the first folio were printed, of those we know of approximately 238 still in existence today. The Folger holds 83 copies of the first folio, the largest single collection in the world.


This is the Hamnet link to information about the copy that we got to see AND touch:

And this is a link to images:


Before the tour Jim had asked if there were any items in particular we would like to see. I had requested to see a copy of Ben Johnson’s Folio, printed in 1616, thus setting the president which likely lead to Shakespeare’s works being printed in folio.  Up this this point folio texts were for bibles and important historical texts, not mere plays. 




I also asked if we could see a copy of the John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi because it is one of the plays that I wrote about in my M.A. thesis. 



We got to look at a third quarto edition of Hamlet from 1611. A quarto is smaller than a folio, quarto describes a book made from sheets of paper folded twice to create 8 pages of text 4 to each side of the original sheet.  Hamlet is interesting because there are three fairly different version of the play, and although the Folio version tends to carry the most authority there is a quarto version, perhaps an earlier edition, and a “bad quarto” version which some believe may have been a reconstruction done by memory by an actor who performed in it.





Want to compare it with other pre-folio editions of Hamlet? Check out the Shakespeare Quartos Archive online at where you can view full cover-to-cover digital reproductions and transcriptions of thirty-two copies of the five earliest editions of the play Hamlet. You can view quartos separately, or alongside any number of copies. You can search, annotate, make public or private sets of annotations, create exhibits or character cue line lists, and download and print text and images.


For the sake of space I’ll be a bit briefer and just provide the list that Jim sent us after the tour of the rest of the items we saw. Links are included if you want to further investigate. Also don't hesitate if you have any questions for me about individual items we saw or the experience in general.

Bible in English, 1573.

· We looked at STC 2108 (

·  Images of this book binding, with gauffered edges and a vellum cover inlay containing the arms of  Queen Elizabeth: (note that you'll be prompted to log in; un/pw = bindings guest/bindings).

 Visscher's View of London, ca. 1625, hanging in the STC vault. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet, but digitized.

·  Here's a link to the digital images:;

· Here's a link to a brief description of the engraving on our website:

·         For something completely different, here's a 3D modeling of this view, based on a 1616 version of the engraving:

  An incunable in a chained binding. We saw INC T320: And here's an image of the ca. 1495 front cover and chain:

A hidden fore-edge painting. We saw the painting on the text block of PR2752 1797a Sh.Col. vol.2 copy 1. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet, but digitized.

· Here's a link to an image of the fore-edge (login required):

·  And here's an image of the front cover of vol.4 of that set:

· For more on fore-edge painting, check out this web history:; or take a look at a recent book on the topic:

An early atlas depicting the Americas: G159.B8 pt.5 1595 Cage folio. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet or digitized.

·  LC has a copy and they've cataloged theirs:

· On the topic of atlases, we recently fully digitized a copy of our 1608 English translation of important atlas by Ortelius: Follow the hyperlink in that Hamnet record to see the digital surrogate.

 A bound volume of playbills, Bill Vol. G2 C85 1753-66. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet or digitized. Here's an example of an EAD finding aid showing how we have dealt with providing access to playbills in the past:

The Blackfriar's deed, L.b.357. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet, but digitized.

· Image:

·  About it:

· And read about the City of London's corresponding copy of the deed here:

An order dated 30 Jan 1617, releasing Sir Walter Raleigh from the Tower, L.b.358. Not yet cataloged in Hamnet, but digitized.

·  Images:

· About it:

 Letters patent from Elizabeth to Dudley, Z.e.5: Not yet digitized.

·  Here's one we didn't see, but Jim included because he thought we'd be interested: a mss proclamation against seditious books!, and follow the hyperlink to see it in all its censorious glory, signed by Elizabeth.