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Example of yellow-dyed or stained text block

Yellow Text Blocks

Paper can darken and yellow over time, but some books have text blocks that were coloured yellow, in tones ranging from straw-like to vivid, lurid, greenish, even acid. Many were printed 1530-1600 for the English market, some earlier, some later. The texts are of all kinds, but mainly biblical or devotional. The yellowing was not part of the printing process but of the binding (at least for the Sammelbände with a consistent yellow throughout all texts), and it cannot be a later alteration (at least for those in contemporary bindings). So, the books were probably yellowed at the commission of early owners.

Each yellow may have come from a different recipe and been applied in a different way. They could represent the work of a single bindery, a lesser-known but established workshop practice across a small or large area, or individual, unrelated attempts to appeal to a yellow-page-craving collecting market. Although dozens have been identified, each yellow book is effectively an outlier. It remains unclear why, for whom, how, or with what their pages were yellowed.

As yellow-ness is not normally recorded in collection catalogues, I am publicly sharing the working data on Google Docs in hopes that others may be able to add to the list, spot patterns, or make some sense of the confusion.

If you have any comments or have come across any titles that you would like to add to the list, or if you would like to be notified when there are any updates to this research, please contact me.

More Information

Elizabeth Upper (now Savage), ‘“Yellowed” Books’, in Tudor Colour Printing (Cambridge University Library, Dec 2013–Jan 2014), https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/tudorcolour/case/yellowed-books/

See the discussion below Caroline Duroselle-Melish, ‘A Yellow Book’, The Collation, 7 March 2017, http://collation.folger.edu/2017/03/a-yellow-book/.


Census of early modern frisket sheets for printing red

Frisket Sheets for Printing Red

In the hand-press period, many books were printed in multiple colours. Liturgical texts had rubrics with instructions for priests, for example, and calendars included ‘red-letter days’. The first book with colour printing was the first book—some copies of the Gutenberg Bible (c.1455) have red text—but the first instructions for printing in colour (text in red and black) appeared nearly 250 years later, in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1683). Due to the absence of textual sources, the understanding of how these colours were printed has been based on visual analysis of the printed texts themselves and traditional hand-press techniques.

It has long been accepted that inserts called ‘frisket sheets’ were essential, but their construction and use in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries could be only hypothesized until 2000, when Margaret Smith identified a fragment of a sixteenth-century frisket sheet for printing in red. In 2014, I published two dozen others in ‘Red Frisket Sheets, c. 1490-1700: The Earliest Artefacts of Colour Printing in the West’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 108/4 (Dec 2014): 477-522. Others have since come to light, and the growing corpus is described in this periodically updated supplement. It includes all early modern frisket sheets that are known as of the date of publication.

Like the St Bride fragment, many of these sheets bear traces of three unrelated texts. First, they were manuscripts or printers’ waste (c.1100-1700). Then, the individual sheets were inserted into the friskets of printing presses to produce a second text (c.1480-1700). Finally, the materials were used in the bindings of a third publication (c.1480-1700). As they were used as frisket sheets over centuries in many areas over centuries, their common features revise the understanding of how texts and images were printed in colour throughout the hand-press period. Together, they indicate a previously unknown system of material exchange within the book trade across early modern Europe.

Working Data

If you have come across one that you would like to add to the corpus, or if you would like to be notified when the list is updated, please contact me at elizabeth.savage@sas.ac.uk.

The current list is at https://bibsocamer.org/wp-content/uploads/v4-2017.04.01-ESavage-FrisketSheetSupplement.pdf .

More Information

Elizabeth Upper [Savage], ‘Red Frisket Sheets, c. 1490-1700: The Earliest Artefacts of Colour Printing in the West’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 108/4 (Dec 2014): 477-522. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/681568

—-, ‘New Evidence of Erhard Ratdolt’s Working Practices: The After-Life of Two Red Frisket-Sheets from the Missale Constantiense (1505)’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society New Series 22 (Spring 2015): 81–97.

—–, ‘The Mystery of the “Scrappy Fragments”: Untangling Robert Steele’s Discovery of Frisket Sheets’, Printing History(American Printing History Association) New Series 19 (Jan 2016): 16–32

—–, ‘Frisket Sheet for Printing Text in Red Ink’, Leiden Special Collections Blog, 14 Nov 2017, http://leidenspecialcollectionsblog.nl/articles/a-frisket-sheet-for-printing-in-red

—–, ‘Early Modern Frisket Sheets: A Periodically Updated Census, v4’, Bibsite, Bibliographical Society of America, 1 April 2017, https://bibsocamer.org/wp-content/uploads/v4-2017.04.01-ESavage-FrisketSheetSupplement.pdf