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.

Reading Decorative Papers II: Infared reflectography

Front cover: The Scholar’s Arithmetic, Keene, N.H., 1814

Back cover: The Scholar’s Arithmetic, Keene, N.H., 1814

We’re still not there yet, that is, at a full answer to the question about how this fragment of Fanny Hill was used as covering material. However, we now have a better sense of what the fragment looks like overall. Thanks to the work of Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator, Princeton University Library, we now have two images of the printed fragments of “Fanny Hill.” These pictures were obtained by a method called “infared reflectography.” [ ] In brief, he used a high quality SLR digital camera with a filter than excludes visible light but passes infared. The CMOS array of the camera is sensitive to the IR end of the spectrum, 830-1100 nanometers. The technique is useful in this case because the printer’s ink has different optical properties from the pigments of the marbling. In other words, the ink absorbs / reflects light differently than marbling paints. This differential is then carried over into an image which is visible, with the ink rendered darker than the pigments.

[More is available on this technique in C. M. Falco, “Invited Article: High resolution digital camera for infrared reflectography,” Review of Scientific Instruments 80, 071301 2009 [link]