Facsimile is a difficult bibliographical term to define in terms of textual scholarship. Arguably, there is a tendency to associate facsimile with contemporary technology such as photocopiers, scanners, and inkjet/laser desktop printers. Accordingly, it is essential to consult scholarly sources to analyse a definition in relation to bibliography studies. However, this undertaking was made problematic because bibliographical references books were not accessible. Consequently, online resources were employed, and the definition cited is from a German publication by Manfred Kramer, and translated into English by Eric Canepa.

A facsimile edition is the photo-mechanical reproduction of a unique, practically two-dimensional model; it eliminates as much as possible manualcopy work, reflects to the highest degree the inner and outer aspects of the original, incorporates all possible technical means available, guarantees the protection and preservation of the original, and is suitable for both scientific and artistic interests. A facsimile must act as a true surrogate of the original for research purposes and bibliophiles (Kramer).

Above all, the importance of a facsimile edition in textual scholarship is in its capacity to reproduce an accurate representation of original manuscripts, and books for future generations. There are three distinct patterns that emerge when researching this topic: pen facsimiles, type facsimiles, and photographic facsimiles.

Firstly, there was a rising bibliophile trade in old books during the eighteenth century, and new appreciation of their relative rarity, and it was inevitable that copies would be made good by new means (McKitterick, 144). To illustrate, books and manuscripts that have been around for a lot of time do suffer damage. It is not uncommon for a book to be missing title pages, leaves or entire sections. Accordingly, booksellers, private book owners and libraries sought means to repair any imperfections by employing the services of a pen facsimilist. He/she would use calligraphy as a means of imitating the type of the rest of the volume.

Figure 1 Pen-Facsimile of The First Folio of Shakespeare (1623)

Figure 1 Pen-Facsimile of The First Folio of Shakespeare (1623)

Figure 1 illustrates the basic concept behind this technique and while it is not very skilfully constructed it achieves its aim of making clear what the title page is. Notably, John Harris and others in the nineteenth century were engaged in making meticulously accurate pen-facsimiles of pages from early-printed books for England’s leading booksellers and collectors. Harris’s own advertisement in the early 1850s offered amongst other skills ‘Facsimiles of the early Wood and other Engravers, to supply deficiencies in imperfect books’ (Ibid, 145).

Secondly, the advances in typography and ‘desktop publishing’ made it possible to conveniently accomplish a line-for-line, letter-for-letter reprint of a book.

The type facsimile attempted to reproduce the actual physical appearance of the original by resetting the type to make it similar in appearance to the original. ‘It achieves this by observing the characteristics of the original document by reproducing the lineation, leading, type style and typefaces’ (Greetham, 387). However, if a book of several hundred pages had to be reproduced in this manner, the process of type facsimile reproduction would be very burdensome. In fact, the labour of editing and expense of type composition could be avoided if the process of photo facsimile reproduction is utilised.

Figure 2 Original Print The Pardoner and the Friar Rastell’s Folio (1533)

Figure 2 Original Print The Pardoner and the Friar Rastell’s Folio (1533)

Figure 3 Type Facsimile Edition The Pardoner and the Friar John Heywood, (1984)

Figure 3 Type Facsimile Edition The Pardoner and the Friar John Heywood (1984)

Primarily, the photo-facsimile falls into two groups. On the one hand, there is the expensive method of collotype, which gives the full tone of the original, including damp stains, dirt, and scribbling, and paper texture’ (Williams, 109). ‘At its best, collotype is capable of rendering extremely fine detail and, unlike a conventional screened halftone, betrays little or no discernible tone pattern’ (Pankow, 44). On the other hand, there is the black and white system titled photolithography, which usually eliminates all features of the pages except for the text. This method is very useful in reproducing old textbooks, especially where the book has some historical or cultural significance. For example, The History of the Town and County of Galway: from the earliest period to the present time by James Hardiman has been reproduced several times since it was first published in 1820. Reproductions have included aspects of type facsimiles, and photographic facsimiles. Consequently, facsimile versions of texts are extremely important in making rare texts available. They provide us with the general appearance of their originals, which enables preliminary textual studies without wear and tear on any scarce originals.

Greetham, D. C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York: Garland Pub., 1994. Print.
Kramer, Manfred. “What Is Facsimile? The History and Technique of Facsimile.” Imagination: Almanach 1986-1993. Trans. Eric Canepa. Graz: Akademische Druck- Und Verlagsanstalt, 1993. N. pag. Web. 18 Oct. 2014.
McKitterick, David. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print.
Pankow, David. Tempting the Palette: A Survey of Color Printing Processes. Rochester, NY: Rit Cary Graphic Arts, 2005. Print.
Williams, Jr. Franklin B. “Photo-Facsimiles of “STC” Books: A Cautionary Check List.” Studies in Bibliography 21 (1968): 109-30. JSTOR. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Contributed by Paul McDonagh.


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