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Reading Decorative Papers III: A new finding about FH

Infrared reflectography has more to tell us about the over-marbled sheets of Fanny Hill. The IR image below, labeled ‘NjP’ in the upper left, is the lower portion of FH page 13. (This FH fragment is on the front cover of Princeton’s copy of The Medical Repository (New York, 1810) [Ex item 5483676])

Note the line below the last line of text reads ‘Vol. I B’ — Such a notation, called a ‘signature,’ signaled to both printer and binder that all text printed on this sheet was a unit which in turn was part of series. Text on sheet ‘B’ follows text printed on the sheet signed ‘A’, and in turn, is followed by text on sheet ‘C’, and so on.

The Princeton example is not the only ‘B’ sheet fragment known. There are others at the American Antiquarian Society, under call number BDSDS 1810. However, the following image, labeled ‘AAS’ in upper left, is an unmarbled fragment and it shows theirs is a variant ‘B’ sheet. At the foot of AAS’s p. 13, the ‘B’ is positioned under the ‘r’ and ‘e’ of ‘frequently’ and lacking the preceding notation ‘Vol. I’ (In the Princeton example, the ‘B’ is below the ‘y’ of frequently.)


What can we learn from the above evidence? First, this evidence contradicts what Richard Wolfe says about the printing of FH in his Marbled Paper (Philadelphia, 1990). He states “…its first twenty four pages had been printed (that is, one whole sheet had been perfected)… (p. 91)” Clearly, the case is otherwise: more than one sheet was involved, viz. sheet ‘B’ and a sheet prior to ‘B’ were printed. In fact, at AAS, among the FH fragments, are a group of 11 that clearly belong to the sheet prior to ‘B.’ This sheet is signed ‘☞ 2’. (Piecing together the ‘☞ 2’ fragments shows that the original sheet size was 43.5 cm. wide by several mm. more than 55 cm. long. These dimensions are within the range of the paper size contemporarily called ‘printing demy.’)

Second, the signature ‘Vol. I B’ in the Princeton fragment, in contrast to the ‘B’ alone in the AAS fragment, provides a more nuanced understanding of the printer’s thinking the project. ‘Vol 1’ implies at least a second volume. Indeed, late 18th century London editions were issued in two volumes. Moreover, fragments of sheet ‘☞ 2’ at AAS, include the title page, here transcribed: MEMOIRS of a WOMAN OF PLEASURE. Written by herself. Volume I. — Seventeen Edition. With Plates designed and engraved by a Member of the Royal Academy. LONDON: Printed for G. Felton, in the Strand, 1787.

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