Tag Archives: watermarks

The Common place book

I had an enquiry the other day about someone’s commonplace book. What was that? According to Wikipedia:

a commonplace book is ” Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. …. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses.  ”

When I read this I remembered that I grew up doing this in primary school. I wonder where they are now?

They are neither diary nor journal. The two examples in this blog will have some of the author’s own musings and writings in them.

Thomas Clifford’s commonplace book (NLA MS1097 – item 42) houses all manner of information:


MS 1097 item 42 - 1

Cambridge panel with full gilt spine panels

MS 1097 item 42 - 4

MS 1097 item 42 - 3


MS 1097 item 42 - 6

laced in

It is actually a great way to remember things. Indeed, as a bookbinding teacher I now deliberately leave information out of any notes I give; I recommend to my students that they add in information as a way of retaining it.

Here are some of the things Clifford wrote in the book:


Ambition like a torrent xxxx looks back…..


suspicio – jealousy


An index

On the endpapers I found this pot watermark

MS 1097 item 42 - 12

pillars or bollards

This is Nettie Palmer’s commonplace book of a much later period 1907-1936 (NLA MS 6531)

According to the catalogue, this is a notebook in which

 “she transcribed favourite pieces of poetry, extracts of prose writing, brief diary entries and personal reminisciences for the period 1907-1910, 1913-1914, 1918-1921 and 1936. Loose clippings, a drawing and manuscript notes inserted.”

I remember writing all sorts of notes. Maybe you could try as well.



Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, education, libraries, rare books, Uncategorized

What a bunch of fools!

At the beginning of each new school year, I would go to the newsagency to buy my required exercise books. Usually there was a tall one and some short fat ones.

2017-11-24 07.52.55

Foolscap and the shorter book

(If we are going down the past of nostalgia, who remembers roneos?)

I liked neither because I grew up in a French country where the exercise books were like this:

  You can learn cursive writing with this sort of paper

Since I can no longer buy these lined books, my preference now lies with the range of “A” size products. This sizing has become the standard, but in 1979, A4 books were not common.

2017-11-24 07.53.20

A4 and A5 notebooks

However what has all this got to do with the image below?


Yes it is a fool, with a very small head. He has a 7 bell collar, short even 2 bell hat, with a 4 and 3 circles under. And no hair braid.

Paper with the fool’s cap watermark was used quite commonly all over Europe. On the Continent, its size was quite varied, but in England in denoted paper 12 inches by 16 inches. The foolscap usually refers to the fool’s head with a cap. Sometimes the cap is a hat, sometimes it is a cap that goes over the ears. The cap or hat usually has two bells, sometimes on sashes of differing sizes. Early fools had braids, either diagonal or horizontal; towards the end of the 17th century the fools loose their braid and and the braid, in form of circles, is now found on the hat. The fool’s collar also differs in time and place: it can have from 4 to 8 points. Underneath the fool you will more than likely find a 4 with a crosse pommée and 3 circles. Sometimes in lieu of the 4 there might be a triangle.

In E.J. Labarre’s 1952 “Dictionary and Encyclopedia of paper and papermaking“(p110), you will find all the variety of sizes. They are too innumerable to list here, but let me mention a few: you could find small foolscap, double small, quarto, foolscap long folio. In his research, Briquet found fools caps in paper used in the Upper Rhine provinces dating to 1540. My own research has uncovered watermarks dating from 1478 to 1703; however the earlier date could be from more recent paper as it was found on endpapers used in a rebind. In England, the mark was replaced by the Britannia watermark, being paper exported from the Netherlands. It appears that the mark itself disappears altogether at about 1795.

In the above gallery you will see a variety of fools caps, with caps and braids or with short hair and hats.

Now that there are no watermarks in ordinary writing paper, I think I’ll stick to the standard A sizes!

For more pictures of watermarks click here to visit my Flickr site



Leave a comment

December 9, 2017 · 5:03 am

Driving force of research: strange watermarks and beautiful vignettes.

During the past few years I concentrated my research on books mainly from France, Italy and England. Luck of the draw really. However as my research draws to a close and my book on watermarks is now at the printer, I find myself with nothing to do. Haha , says she! Actually, when is research ever finished?

I have decided to turn my research data into a series of books called the Booksleuth Series. Why not?After all I as a rare book detective I am detecting strange and or usual marks in rare tomes.

These marks, although not that rare in the scheme of things. were all found in books by Spanish authors. The research needs some sort of focus, some sort of purpose. So I will be seeking examples of early Iberian writing in Australia.  I’ll be looking for early texts on theology, probably from Jesuit collections. These are more likely to be bound in vellum, and I can’t wait to see what watermarks are hiding in them.

From NLA collection RBq MISC 179.

I won’t just concentrate on watermarks and bindings. Now that I have a little nit more experience, and curiosity, I will be looking at the chapter headers and the motifs and vignettes used by printers.  Watch this space.

If you know any books worth examining, please send me their titles. Sharing information is one of the main reasons that drives me.


Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, libraries, museum, watermarks


So I am in the last section of the watermark book, having sent The Perfume of Books to the printer just this week.

I am working feverishly to get all the info corrected, add printers and do basic checking of the photos.

Today I discovered a few things:

  1. that the book entitled :
    Iournael vande Nassausche vloot, ofte Beschryvingh vande voyagie om den gantschen aerdt-kloot, ghedaen met elf schepen : onder ‘t beleydt van den Admirael Jaques l’Heremite, ende Vice-Admirael Gheen Huygen Schapenham,

    was written by one Johannes van Walbeeck (attributed) and printed by  Iacob Pietersz Wachter. Had I opened my eyes and read the title page, I would have read it months ago. But noooo. I relied on the internet.

  2. I had taken photos of lots of watermarks, and promptly forgotten about them. All were across the gutter, and not very easy to decipher.  However some of them are quite interesting.

Here is a screen shot. I am going this afternoon to Office works to print them out so I can make white outlines.


Original and enhanced images, awaiting white outlines. Because they go across the gutter, they are a bit hard to make out.

I happily spend hours researching this stuff; but if I had to write out a grant application and answer the question: How does this research benefit Australia and Australians? what do you think the answer would be?


Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, libraries, museum

A little research and hooray: answers to pesky watermark questions

You may or may not know that I am currently finalising research into watermarks, and putting the data into a book form.

So as I work on setting the data for the designer to change it into a book, I revisit watermarks I haven’t seen for while.This chase is very elusive. More often than not I am going around in circles. And with so much information entering my brain I feel like i am just a big sponge.

This week however I have been lucky. The watermark in Albrecht Durer’s head has been identified. It is not a self portrait as I had once surmised, but a work by one Erhard Schon. He is reported as having used a medallion as his inspiration for this portrait.

I found this print in a non contemporary rebind of the 1511 Passio Domini.


Portrait by Erhard Schon

Watermark in Albrecht Durer’s head – note the date 1527 and the AD upper left corner

coat of arms

Coat of arms of the city of Nuremberg; on the left side it is supposed to be an eagle with wings displayed. Looks more like a bear licking its paw. I can find no other. So dating is incredibly hard to do.

Here are pictures of both rebinds: on the Left the newest version, and on the right the older version, still not an original binding.


IN the new rebind the plates had been taken off their supporting material and placed on fresh acid free Barcham Green paper.

I am still not sure the mystery of this watermark is solved..

The other mark is this one:

Coat of arm of Augsburg

Grapes on candelabra? No. Coat of arms of Augsburg

This coat of arms has a pine cone on a type of bollard. It looks to me like a bunch of grapes rather than the pine cone.

This representation shows the design for the coat of arms; notice the shape of the cone and the platform on which it sits.

The watermark on the right is similar to the one I found, except I do believe that mine consists of a bollard as there is an oblong shape going into the cone.

Dard Hunter and other historians talk much about the paper that printers used. However, the papermakers who supplied these printers remain in the dark. I would like to know from whom or where  Albrecht Durer was supplied paper. Mystere and boule de gomme as the French say!

I still have other mysteries to solve.

Thanks for reading






Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, libraries

A handy collection

Pardon the puns

I have to

Five fingers

it to you : five fingers are handier than


Four fingers

Four fingers.   Well actually there is a thumb in that photo, it is just hard to make out.

A friend of mine gave me a


RBf208 B699

in the garden the other day.

However he got a flower stuck on his finger

Hand with stick

Hand with stick and flower. In the next photo you can see the hand a bit better



While in the early periods of watermarking the hand was used in Italy, 1450-1600 see the hand and its many forms, with star or flower on stick ,in France.



Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding, libraries

The Virgin Mary’s book

I have been collecting binding data ever since 2013, and in July’s post I showed you a watermark of the Virgin holding Baby Jesus. Since then I have scoured online databases and books, without being able to find an exact match. They are not very common, but this particular image remains a mystery.

This is RB MISC 3181 – Ignatii Coutino … : mariale, sive conciones super evangelia festivitatum sacratissimae Virginis Mariae / quas ex idiomate Hispanico in Latinum transtulit Henricus Hechtermans in the National Library of Australia catalogue.

Last year I enrolled in 4 units of Harvard’s online course, The Book: Histories through time and space. One course I particularly liked was Print and Manuscript in Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East (1450-1650). Since the beginning of the year I have ramped up my research, and because of the course I now pay much closer attention to the content. And I am finding frontispieces, layouts and vignettes much more fascinating.

I am in the process of writing a bindings catalogue of the rare book stack, and a watermark compendium. As I find interesting and wonderful items I will keep you posted.

1 Comment

Filed under bookbinding, libraries

Finding the Virgin Mary

Last day of the week; last book on the pile. And there she was, staring at me, the baby Jesus in her arms.

Virgin Mary holding Jesus, standing in a boat

Virgin Mary holding Jesus, standing in a boat

Found in

RB MISC 3181
Ignatii Coutino … : mariale, sive conciones super evangelia festivitatum sacratissimae Virginis Mariae:

The google translation is : Ignatius Coutino: marian, sermons on the Gospels or the most sacred festivals of the Virgin Mary.

I’m not sure whether she is standing in a boat; what else could it be. The image is fine and is located on the fly leaves.

Isn’t it just amazing? There were no watermarks that I could discern in the book.  The book itself is squarish; blind tooled leather over paste boards; 3 double cords, laced in.The text was printed in Cologne in 1661.

I just thought you might be interested…..


Filed under Uncategorized

Saints and saintly women

I am not a religious person; I tried to read the Bible once but got bored quickly. I believe that this has led to  a lack  in my art appreciation abilities. I might understand more symbolism if I had had a more thorough religious literary upbringing.

My random watermark discoveries have shifted my attentions to spanish papermakers and their marks. Did you know that the largest collection of Jesuit texts in the Southern Hemisphere is held at the library of the Compania de Jesus in Cordoba, Argentina. The National Library of Australia has over 5400 books in their Jesuit Collection.

In fact in terms of historical papermaking I haven’t been able to find much information on spanish papermakers. As I peruse the Library’s catalogue, and bring up from the stacks  a mountain of books on papermaking history, much of it is Britain-centric.

I have a lot of data; lots of watermarks to sift through. They are starting to look the same. So while having access to data on internet databases such as Piccard’s or Le Briquet  they hurt my eyes. Using books is perhaps limited, but online databases take longer

To help me sort my data I’d like to make lists of papermakers. Italians, Spanish, French, Dutch. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I can’t find a list of spanish historical papermakers. I am going to have to guess and amalgamate data.

This is just a long intro to the book of saints I was examining.

Leather bound, blind tooled landscape book

Oracvlvm anachoreticvm : Sanctissimo patri nostro / D. Clementi VIII

Printed in Venice by Raphael Sadeler, and bound with Musius, Cornelius, 1503-1572. Solitvdo, sive Vita solitaria lavdata. It’s about hermits and saintly women, who might have been hermits.

IMG_5521      IMG_5522

It is a strange landscape book. You don’t see many of those. Covered in leather with 5 single cord supports. Blind tooled. No introduction or title pages. In fact it looks like someone’s scrap book. The first and last third (more or less) of the book are cross -grained bound pages with text; it is landscape because correctly paper grained printed plates have been stuck on to make the book wide.


cross grain meets grain

Each page in these section has text and then an image. In between these parts, are engraving of different saints. Some of the plates are loose. What struck me was that the images were not what I was used to; more accurately, not what I expected.

The book is dated Venice 1600. The pictures are so naturalistic, cartoon-like in the mood they give.

Hermit's gardenThere are everyday scenes with hermits in. Some strange beasts and people.


So, picked at random because I was looking for spanish books, I come across some interesting watermarks:

This appears in the first third of the book:

Shield watermark

And a shadow watermark, maybe? Can you make out the face in the tree?

Mask like face under the bird cage in tree

And as the plates are printed on full pages, we get this mark:


The women return to the cross grain/grain pattern and have this mark:

Shield with 3 fleur d elis and crown aboveI was wondering if each of the women had their own mark, a saintly mark, but I think it was just random paper:

Can't make it out. Can you?

This watermark seems part lion, part snake. I’d really appreciate it if anyone had a clue to please let me know what you think it might be.

An anchor, which is typically Italian

The anchor above was found in the back fly. This is a typical italian mark. There were also horns amid the women’s skirts.

Chasing watermarks is a bit like trying to find the end of the rainbow; it is endless.





1 Comment

Filed under bookbinding

Not much happening outside my own head

I’m happy at work, and since I have finished all the books that are going away for competitions I am a bit slow in the home bindery.

This is what is exciting  me at the moment:


Horn watermark

Horn watermark

Perhaps not this one is particular, but certainly this one: two griffins? found in a book about Spanish royal lineage.

Two griffins around shield

Two griffins around shield

I posted about searching for watermarks a few months ago. Well I am still obsessed by them. However given that I now have so much data, I’ve decided to consolidate by using the light sheet on books that I have already examined for their binding structure.

Take a look at this:

Watermark in Albrecht Durer's head

Watermark in Albrecht Durer’s head

I was so excited to discover this watermark in a self portrait by Albrecht Durer. Unfortunately I can’t quite make out what it is. Amongst the same set of images here is a tower watermark:

there is a crenelated tower in there somewhere.

there is a crenelated tower in there somewhere. Can you see the doorway?

This is the best image I can take. I think there is a tall crenelated tower, with perhaps a smaller secondary tower next to it. I can’t find this in any resource.

So as I consolidate data, I am also searching books and online databases, such as Piccard online and Le Briquet online. These take hours to sift through and at the end of the day all the watermarks end up looking the same.

I mean, how many grapes can you possibly have as watermarks? Well I read somewhere online that Germany once claimed to have had 25 million watermarks attributed to their country before the 1800s!

I have found French pots; they can have one or two handles, lid or no lids.

Pot, one handle with flowers

Pot, one handle with flowers

Recently I found a snake, with shield?


Here we have grapes in a circle

2015-06-24 14.14.58

a hat,

this is a hat believe it or not

this is a hat believe it or not

and here is an axe:

An axe

An axe

As I sift through all my photos I see some marks that resemble each other. I suppose the biggest part of the job now is to compare all the similar photos and find them on the databases. I can’t tell you how  excited I get when I find a mark. It is such an overlooked item in a book. Even with the lightsheet, the printing can make the mark hard to decipher. I think I have trained my eyes to find them though.

In the libraries of Europe and America, these marks must seem so inconsequential; but in my small world here they are amazing to my colleagues and myself.


Leave a comment

Filed under bookbinding