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Pen Facsimiles

Pen facsimile title page from the Vail Collection

The longer a book has been around, the more time it’s had to suffer damage. When working with early printed books, it’s not uncommon to find single leaves, or sometimes entire sections, that have gone missing. Increasingly in the 19th century, those responsible for the care of books–often librarians, but likely some booksellers and private collectors–sought to perfect their imperfect copies by pen facsimile. An expert pen facsimilist, working from a complete copy of the imperfect book, would be hired to copy the missing text exactly as it appears in the original.

Original title page from a copy in the British Library. Image courtesty of Early English Books Online

Original title page from a copy in the British Library

The Vail Collection contains a spectacular example of this technique. Our copy of Richard Baxter’s The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits is missing its original title page, which has been supplied in expert pen facsimile. At first glance, it looks just like regular letterpress printing. On closer examination, however, tiny variations betray the page’s true nature.

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