University of Virginia Library

While the numerous textual variants found in the Jonson Folio of 1616 have drawn a good deal of critical attention, the equally intriguing assortment of paper stocks used by William Stansby during the volume's printing has been largely ignored.[1] When the question of paper does arise, comment is usually restricted to the observation that the Folio exists on both "regular paper" and "large paper" stocks, although the basis for distinguishing between those forms is not always clear. The bookseller H. L. Ford is typical in differentiating them according to their current dimensions rather than original size or other characteristics. Ford suggested a more productive line of inquiry when he observed that "An examination of the sheets used in the copies under review discloses over forty differing water-marks, many of them appearing on identical leaves in each volume."[2] He went on, however, only to note that the paper is overwhelmingly watermarked with pots and that paper featuring a "bunch of often found in the engraved title, but not in evidence in any other portion" (3).

The main challenge to booksellers like Ford and to scholars interested in paper has been a practical one: how to obtain precise images and measurements of watermarked paper easily, inexpensively, and in sufficient quantities so that they can be conveniently studied. The first of a series of important technical breakthroughs occurred in the late 1950s, when Soviet researchers began using beta radiography to obtain sharp images of the physical features of paper. A sheet of paper was placed between x-ray film and a beta source; the rays passed through in proportion to the thickness of the intervening paper, producing a negative image of the sheet when the film was developed. In the 1970s Robin Alston developed the "Ilkley Method," similar in basic procedures except that it substituted incandescent light and common photographic film for beta rays and x-ray film.[3] Also in the 1970s, Thomas Gravell


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began experimenting with bibliographical applications of Dylux, a pH neutral, photosensitive paper developed by DuPont for proofing photographic negatives.[4] Like beta radiography and the Ilkley Method, a contact print is created by placing the Dylux beneath a sheet of paper; here, however, the energy source is fluorescent light, whose spectrum includes the visible but not the ultraviolet. Each method has its own peculiar advantages, although beta radiography and the Ilkley Method must be used under laboratory or darkroom conditions.

My own study of paper in Jonson's 1616 Folio has relied on beta radiography, because of the unparalleled clarity of images it produces, and Dylux, on account of its speed, convenience, and low cost. Through the offices of the Huntington Library, and from James Riddell's large private holdings, I acquired beta radiograph images of watermarks found in most of the paper groups used in the Folio.[5] For those watermarks not present in Huntington or Riddell copies, and for the numerous variant states that occurred in many of the paper groups, I used Dylux to capture examples from the holdings in the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia Library, and from my own copies. To exploit fully the information held in the Dylux images I needed to develop an image enhancement procedure that would highlight the watermarks, chain lines, and wire lines while minimizing the distraction caused by the ink of the text. This I accomplished using computer technology, converting the Dylux exposures to digital form and then manipulating them with inexpensive and readily available software.

Dylux has three technical features that make it extremely useful for such digital analysis: a sensitivity to small changes in the amount of light exposure, thereby giving it the ability to reveal not only watermarks but also chain and wire lines; a broad palette of color within the blue spectrum, allowing one to isolate a detail or group of details in part through color differentiation; and a chemical coating of fine grain which produces images that do not break down under repeated enlargement. These features make Dylux exposures particularly apt subjects for digital image enhancement. The software I employed can also reduce to manageable background haze the type clutter that frequently obscures a watermark. By applying various digital enhancement routines one can easily increase the clarity of a watermark image.

In the observations that follow, I suggest kinds of insights that can be gleaned from this scrutiny of paper. The study is based on a close examination


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of 60 copies of the Jonson Folio and is further informed by a survey of paper stocks used in the 74 titles known to have been printed by Stansby from 1615 through 1617. The evidence provides insights into overall patterns in manufacturing the Folio, and it also confirms and expands earlier insights about the production of several problematic sections of the book, including about possible authorial intervention while the volume was at press. While serving as a methodological study, then, it also provides a keener understanding of the forces acting upon the Jonsonian text, and it offers new insights into the workings of one of the busiest printing houses in early modern London.